A Look Back: The 1981 National Championship

Twenty years ago, hardly anyone in the Clemson community could have anticipated what was about to happen. Sure, the Tigers were coming off an impressive victory over South Carolina and Heisman Trophy Winner George Rogers to end the 1980 season. But, the Tigers finished the 1980 year only 6-5, and there were even rumblings that Danny Ford was not the man to lead the Tigers to the top in football.

What was about to take place in the fall of 1981 still ranks as the greatest sporting achievement in the state of South Carolina. Where were you, what were you doing, and what was going on around you during that incredible run to the National Championship? Here is your refresher back to the good old days. (Note: All events are from 1981, but did not necessarily happen the same week as the games themselves).

The unranked Tigers opened the 1981 season on September 5th by pounding Wofford 45-10. The game jump-started the season, even if it did not impress the pollsters who still gave zero votes to the Tigers in the AP Top 20. Meanwhile, after 444 days of captivity, the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini, setting off American pride throughout the country, released America hostages in Iran.

On September 12th, the Tigers traveled to New Orleans to face Tulane. Nearly 10,000 Tiger fans, fearing there may not be a bowl game this year, decided to travel to New Orleans as a "Bowl Trip". The Tigers struggled to a 13-5 win over the Green Wave, with the biggest highlight coming when Clemson punter, Dale Hatcher, hits the Superdome ceiling speakers with a punt in warm ups. Meanwhile, IBM sells its first personal computer using an operating system, called MS-DOS, which was developed by Bill Gates.

The still unranked Tigers turned heads September 19th by defeating defending National Champion and 4th ranked Georgia and Hershal Walker 13-3. Vince Dooley's Bulldogs were punished all day by the Tiger defense, and only managed a Kevin Bulter field goal in the game. The Tigers wore orange pants for the second time in history, improving the magical pant's record to 2-0. Meanwhile, a gunman wounded President Ronald Reagan as he was leaving a hotel. Reagan, the nations 40th President, would fully recover and implement his "Supply-Side" economics plan that leads to an explosion in the national deficit.

The Tigers jumped into the AP poll at #14 after the victory of Georgia, then traveled to Lexington, Kentucky for a 21-3 victory over the Wildcats on October 3rd. The win moved the Tigers to 4-0 on the young year, and the doubters were slowly singing a different tune. Meanwhile, the fairy tale wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer is watched on television by millions across the world.

On October 10th, the Tigers jumped into the AP Top 10 at #9, then proceeded to shut out Virginia 27-0. The unbeaten streak over the "White Meat" Cavaliers continued, and the season reached its mid point with a Tiger team that had yet to be beaten by anybody. Meanwhile, MTV launches into homes on cable television, despite the fact that most Americans do not have cable television. "Video Killed the Radio Star" is the first video aired, and hardly anybody knew what a wild trip it would be from there.

The #6 ranked Tigers improved to 6-0 with a thorough beating of the Duke Blue Devils on October 17. The 38-10 victory in Durham established the Tigers as a legitimate contender for the ACC Championship. Meanwhile, Kim Carnes wins a Grammy for the song, "Betty Davis Eyes". The late John Lennon, with Yoko Ono, wins a Grammy for album of the year with Double Fantasy.

On October 24th, the 4th ranked Tigers made it 7-0 with a victory over the NC State Wolfpack. The 17-7 victory improved the Tigers to 2-0 during a pivotal 4 game stretch of Tobacco Road teams. Meanwhile, Pacman mania begins sweeping the nation. The tremendous success of Pacman spawns video companies such as Atari to begin developing personal game systems.

On Halloween day, the Tigers set the record books afire with an 82-24 demolition of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. The game broke more than 10 individual and game Clemson records, many of which still hold on today. The 3rd ranked Tigers now looked forward to a showdown with North Carolina that would have national and ACC championship implications. Meanwhile, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Chariots of Fire, and On Golden Pond ruled the box office.

The #2 ranked Tigers traveled to #8 ranked North Carolina for an ACC showdown. It was the first time two ACC teams had met while ranked in the top 10, and the game did not disappoint. The defensive struggle ended with a 10-8 Clemson victory, guaranteeing the Tigers a tie for the ACC Championship. Meanwhile, Chris Evert Lloyd became the women's champion at Wimbledon, and John McEnroe won the men's championship. The McEnroe/Borg final remains one of the most dramatic finals in Wimbledon history, and no doubt the pinnacle of success in men's tennis.

For the first time since entering the polls, the Tigers remained stationary for two weeks in a row. The #2 ranked Tigers captured the ACC Championship with a 24-22 win on the road versus Maryland. The Tigers finished 6-0 in the ACC, which was a four game improvement from the previous year. Meanwhile, Jim Plunkett was leading the Oakland Raiders to a 27-10 victory over Philadelphia in the Super Bowl. The Boston Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets 4 games to 2 to capture the NBA Championship.

The 10-0 Tigers capped a perfect regular season by defeating archrival South Carolina 29-13 in Williams Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks actually led the game early, before a blocked punt by the Tigers turned the momentum Clemson's way. As oranges cascaded onto the Astroturf at Williams Brice, the Tigers accepted a bid to play Nebraska in the Orange Bowl on January 1st. In addition, the Tigers advanced to #1 in AP poll for the first time in school history. Meanwhile, the LA Dodgers were defeating the New York Yankees 4 games to 2 to capture the World Series. Indiana defeated North Carolina 63-50 to win the NCAA basketball tournament.

The Tigers won the consensus National Championship in the Orange Bowl by defeating the Nebraska Cornhuskers 22-15. Homer Jordon threw a touchdown pass to Perry Tuttle to propel the Tigers past Nebraska. The image of Tuttle with arms raised after the touchdown appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated on January 12, 1982. The victory capped a remarkable year for the Tigers, which to this day remains the most memorable year in Clemson football history.

Meanwhile, around midnight on January 2nd, Clemson fans across the state and country go to bed with a smile on their face. The Clemson Tigers are the best college football team in the country.

My, where have the 20 years gone?

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