The chant started at one end of Memorial Stadium and soon it filled the whole stadium.
“ROD-ney! ROD-ney! ROD-ney!”
The scoreboard above the west end zone stands even got into the act.
“It sounded a lot better this time,” Clemson quarterback Rodney Williams said after his Tigers beat rival South Carolina, 29-10, on November 19, 1988.
The year before Williams was greeted with a similar chant at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia. Except on that night, it had a negative connotation to it. His last pass—which was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by safety Brad Edwards—lifted the Gamecocks to a 20-7 victory, which got the 77,000 fans in Columbia, S.C., that night to chant, “R-o-o-o-d ney! “R-o-o-o-d ney!”
That night, and that chant specifically, haunted Williams for a whole year. But with 10:44 left in the 1988 tussle, the Columbia native spun into the end zone to cap Clemson’s final scoring drive of the afternoon.
It was fitting that Williams scored the game-clinching touchdown, and that he did it the way those who remember watching him play know him for … running Danny Ford’s triple-option offense to near perfection.
“It was just a regular option,” Williams said. “We had been running it to both sides during the game, but we decided to run it to the weak side then. I came down and faked it to Tracy (Johnson). The defensive tackle took Tracy and the defensive end took Terry (Allen), and the tackle did a great job blocking the outside backer and making a seam for me.”
Williams had 43 of the Tigers’ 225 rushing yards on that rain-soaked afternoon in Clemson. His 7-yard touchdown, on his final carry at Death Valley, put Clemson securely in front 29-7 at the time. Usually calm and reserved, Williams finally showed some emotions by pumping his fist to the crowd and then hugging Ford as he came over to the sideline.
“Scoring on my final play was a great thing to happen,” Williams said.
Williams, who is still tied with Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson today as Clemson’s all-time winningest quarterback, threw for 192 yards in his final game at Death Valley.
“Rodney played well, and he has excelled for us for a lot of different reasons,” Ford said after the game. “He has had a great four years with us, and we’re glad all of our seniors went out winners.”
But few in the history of Death Valley have gone out the way Williams did. With a little more than four minutes to play, Ford let Williams take the field to start the last drive of the game, and then after one play, he substituted him for backup Chris Morocco.
As Williams jogged over to the sideline and was greeted with hugs and high-fives from his teammates and coaches, the 84,687 fans that were wearing orange in Death Valley stood to their feet and gave him a standing ovation, and soon the chants of “ROD-ney! ROD-ney! ROD-ney!” filled the stadium once again.
“I definitely like to know that they know my name,” Williams said. “But it means even more when they’re yelling your name because they appreciate you.”
After the South Carolina game, Williams went on to lead Clemson to a win over No. 10 Oklahoma in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. The Tigers finished the season 10-2 and ranked No. 9 in the final AP Poll. Williams finished his career with a 32-10-2 record, which included three ACC Championships and three bowl victories.
—photo courtesy Clemson Athletic Communications
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