It is called the “Most exciting 25 Seconds in College Football” and when Will Shipley thinks about it, he gets goose bumps.
“I just got chills from you even talking about it,” Clemson’s freshman running back said earlier this week as part of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame panel.
Shipley will get his first in-game opportunity to touch Howard’s Rock and run down college football’s most famous hill on Sept. 11, when the Tigers host S.C. State in their home opener.
Clemson has been rubbing Howard’s Rock and running down the hill before every home game since 1973.
“I got a little bit of a taste of it during the spring game with a limited capacity. I have been dreaming about that since I was a little kid, since Pop Warner Football,” Shipley said. “When I went to my visits at Clemson, that is one thing they always emphasized … Howard’s Rock and running down that hill.”
In the late 1950s, Clemson alum S.C. Jones was driving through Death Valley, Calif., when he stopped his car and picked up a 10-pound rock and put it in his trunk. He carried the rock all the way back to Clemson, where Memorial Stadium had taken on the moniker “Death Valley.”
Jones thought it would be nice for Clemson’s Death Valley to have a rock from the real Death Valley in California. Frank Howard accepted the gift and placed it in his office, where it sat on the floor for nearly seven years. Legend has it that Howard used the rock as a doorstop and, when he began to clean his office one day in the spring of 1966, he decided he did not want it anymore.
The longtime Clemson coach told Gene Willimon, the executive secretary of IPTAY at the time, to get rid of the rock. He suggested to Willimon to toss it over in the Valley with the rest of the rocks around the stadium.
Willimon did not think that was such a nice thing to do, since Jones had gone out of his way to bring Howard this rock from Death Valley, Calif. So, without telling Howard, he placed the rock at the top of the east hill on a pedestal under the scoreboard. It was in place in time for the opening game of the 1966 season as the Tigers hosted Virginia.
The Cavaliers went up 18 points, 28–10, on the Tigers by the end of the third quarter and looked as if they would get their first win over a Clemson football team. But the Tigers rallied for one of the greatest comebacks in Death Valley history and won the game, 40–35.
Clemson went on to an undefeated season that year at Memorial Stadium, giving birth to Howard’s tale of how his rock has “mystical powers.” Howard figured he could use this tale to his advantage, maybe giving his players a little extra motivation.
At dinner, the Friday night before the Tigers’ season-opener against Wake Forest in 1967, Howard told his team, ‘Here, boys. If any of you boys are gonna go out and give me 120 percent, I’ll let you rub my rock; and it’ll give you supernatural powers,’” Howard is quoted in the book The Clemson Tigers: From 1896 to Glory.
His players promised they would. The next day, they rubbed Howard’s Rock, ran down the hill and beat Wake Forest, 23–6. The Legend of Howard’s Rock was born.
Clemson players have since touched Howard’s Rock and run down the hill more than four hundred times. The Tigers have been doing it the current way since the second home game of the 1973 season when they hosted Texas A&M.
“I can’t wait. I can’t stop smiling just thinking about it,” Shipley said. “It is going to definitely be an experience I am going to be able to tell my kids about and be able to remember for the rest of my life. I definitely can’t wait for it.”
— Clemson Athletics (@ClemsonTigers) July 30, 2020
—photo courtesy of Clemson Athletics Communications
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