And while College Football News did a great job in compiling a pretty darn good list, I don't know if I would agree with all of their picks and the order with regards to the Tigers. So, I humbly put together Clemson's top 10 most exciting finishes in modern day history. Your feedback (and disagreements) are welcome, but keep in mind the criteria being most exciting finishes….not necessarily the best games.
#10 1993 Clemson-14 Kentucky-13 Peach Bowl
It seems like forever ago, but Tommy West's debut as the Tigers coach was a memorable one. A lasting memory in my mind was Patrick Sapp throwing the interception with a minute to go only to see a Kentucky player fumble it back over to the Tigers. Sapp then connected with the late Terry Smith for the game winning touchdown for Tommy West's first win as head coach.
#9 2000 Georgia Tech-31 Clemson-28
A truly thrilling game as the undefeated Tigers hosted the streaking Rambling Wreck. A game of big plays was seemingly leaning to the Tigers as Willie Simmons connected with Rod Gardner for the go ahead touchdown with less than five minutes to go. But Tech drove the length of the field converting several long third down situations. The Tigers, for their part, dropped two interceptions during the drive that would have protected the perfect season. But George Godsey connected with Kerry Watkins (who made an incredible one-handed catch) to stun the Tigers in the final minute of the game.
#8 1996 South Carolina-34 Clemson-31
The Gamecocks opened a 17 point lead in the 4th quarter, sending many Tiger fans to their cars to ready themselves for the painful drive home. But Nealon Green created a furious rally to cut the Gamecock lead to 34-31. The Tigers then got the ball one last time with an opportunity to tie, or even win, the game. As many Tiger fans flooded back into Death Valley, the Tigers had a first and goal inside the Gamecock ten yard line. But a penalty and a sack pushed the Tigers back and Tommy West called on Matt Padgett to try and tie the game in the waning seconds. Padgett's kick sailed wide left, and the Gamecock celebration ensued. Maybe one of the most painful losses in recent Tiger history, the missed kick would plant the foundation for kicking problems for the Tigers that would last into the year 2000.
#7 1984 Georgia-26 Clemson-23
I still remember listening to Jim Phillips call the game from between the hedges. I, with many other Tiger fans, was stunned to hear Phillips say Butler was lining up for a 60-yard field goal in the waning moments of the game. No mortal can kick a 60-yard field goal, right? Not only did Butler nail the kick, he kicked the ball into the bleachers behind the hedges, which would have made the kick good from at least 70 yards. This was one of those clichéd moments when I simply could not believe what I was hearing on the radio. Payback would come, however, in just two short years.
#6 2000 Clemson-16 South Carolina-14
Rod Gardner and Aaron Hunt won't soon be forgotten, that is for sure. But what has been lost in all the hoopla after the game is the brilliant play called to free Gardner up for his controversial catch. Dantzler rolled left, taking with him the safety for the Gamecocks. As Dantzler planted and threw back right, Rod Gardner essentially was locked in man coverage. Everybody from USC wants to complain about the "push off", but the reality of the situation is Clemson out coached USC on that play. Gardner should have had three Gamecock defenders surrounding him, but he only had one. The result is one of the most satisfying Clemson wins ever.
#5 1987 Clemson-21 Georgia-20
David Treadwell stomped on the hearts of Bulldog fans everywhere for the second year in a row. This rainy day special from Death Valley was a classic game from start to finish. Getting lost in the afterglow of the kick was the fact that Georgia was dominating the game for most of the afternoon. Not until a boneheaded quarterback option called by Vince Dooley that resulted in a safety did the tide turn towards the Tigers. The Tigers then rode the back of Terry Allen into field position for Treadwell's game winner. The Tigers did not have any time outs remaining, and the kicking team hurriedly set up for the kick as time wound down. As Treadwell calmly kicked the game winner, a mad celebration ensued creating one of the most deafening roars in Death Valley history.
#4 1992 Clemson-29 Virginia-28
Trailing 28-0, there was little hope for the Tigers entering the second half. But Virginia became conservative, and Clemson turned to their ground game and overpowered the Cavs. The result was a furious comeback that still ranks as the biggest in Clemson football history. Nelson Welch sealed the furious comeback by drilling a field goal in the waning minutes to the amazement of the stunned Charlottesville crowd.
#3 1988 Florida State-24 Clemson-21
Momentum had shifted. Florida State sent on the punting unit with less than three minutes to play. The Tigers were going to get the ball back with an opportunity to set up for a game winning field goal. What happened was one of the greatest executed fakes in the history of college football. "The Puntrooskie" fooled me. I thought there was a bad snap and Clemson was running to recover the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. I did not pick up Leroy Butler until he was on the Clemson 30 yard line. To say I was stunned is selling the emotion short. To this day, I have a hard time believing that Bowden had the nerve to make the call that eventually beat the Tigers.
#2 1977 Clemson-31 South Carolina-27
"The Catch". "The Drive". USC players showing off their t-shirts proclaiming "No Cigars Tonight". All images emblazed upon Tiger eyes everywhere. When you beat your archrival, it is a special win. But the way it happened makes it one of the most memorable moments in Clemson history. The picture of Butler's catch is probably the most showcased picture of Clemson football. I was not in Williams Brice that night in 1977, but all accounts speak of complete disbelief on Gamecock fans faces. A priceless moment in the history of the Clemson/Carolina rivalry.
#1 1986 Clemson-31 Georgia-28
It is hard to pick the number one exciting finish in Clemson football history. But it is hard to go wrong with this gem from 1986. Sitting in the upper deck of Samford Stadium, I had endured the normal ritual of ribbings from Dawg fans on their home turf. But this back and forth game was punctuated into Clemson history on a 4th quarter drive that included a couple of great passes by Rodney Williams. Clemson finally made their way into field goal range and the Tigers let the clock tick down before calling timeout with three seconds left. David Treadwell earlier had missed a field goal from 40 yards…and he missed it short. This 46-yard effort as time expired cleared the upright by inches. Treadwell was picked up by his holder as he wildly kicked his feet in the air before being mobbed by his teammates. In the upper deck, I was jumping wildly hugging anybody and everybody in a ten row radius. The walk back to the car that day was the most enjoyable 2 mile walk I have ever experienced. I had a poster of that kick on my bedroom wall for at least 7 years, only taking it down when it became torn from the wear and tear of being kissed the night before Clemson football games.
E-mail me your top 10 and I will compile the results for a future article. Agree or disagree with my picks as you may, but keep in mind that this poll is for most exciting finish.
It is hard to imagine a more satisfying, and exciting win than Clemson/Georgia in 1986. But I am willing to give it a try this year!
You can reach Scott Rhymer at firstname.lastname@example.org.