The Valley of Discontent

I'd probably had the date September 1st marked on my calendar since the Gator Bowl loss to Virginia Tech. As soon as the game was over, the more disconcerting news was not that we lost but that I had to wait 7 months until my beloved Tigers stormed the Valley again. Following recruiting, the football junkie's version of watching soap-operas, helps to pass the time, but it can't replace football season.

Finishing up my last semester as a student at Clemson during the spring, I was fortunate to have seen spring practices, which provided a great opportunity for me to get caught up on several of the younger players that would be relied upon to step up this year. BUT, it still was no substitute for a game in the Valley.

Withdrawal symptoms during the summer have to be the worst, though. Discussions on the dimensions and regulation units of shoulder pads are fair game then. Without exception, however, football season eventually comes crawling around the corner. For the Clemson faithful the daily discussion topics are over and the meat and potatoes of the football season have arrived, as football season is now well underway.

That's why I was so confused after the Central Florida game. The day that Clemson fans have waited for during the last 7 months came and went, and all I saw was heartache. After hearing a disproportionate number of Tiger fans last Saturday in the Valley who seemingly came to complain, point fingers, and criticize our players and coaches at times when our team sure could have used their support, I was hoping that kind of sentiment would simply go away. However, I realized during the Wofford game when the boo birds starting making their presence known how troubled and disillusioned our Tiger fanbase really is.

My motive is not to judge, convict, and cast out these Tiger fans, but to try somehow give some advice how to enjoy football season more, a time of year that is so important to so many around the Clemson family. I don't consider myself an expert or anything like that, but I feel compelled to somehow try and remedy the situation. By being more content with how the season unfolds, we will not only maintain a healthy state of mind, but more importantly, our players and coaches will less often fall victim to malicious blaming and other angry sentiment when their performance is somewhat of a disappointment. This advice/insight I'm offering is as much for our players and coaches as it is for our fans.

Before I begin, I'd like to issue a disclaimer stating that I'm not fooled into thinking I can be a miracle worker and change everyone's mind or that I have all the answers.

One fallacy that I see is that the performance of our football team is the true cause unhappiness among some of our fans. That is simply not true. The true cause of pain/disappointment in this case is rather their own creation of a false high expectation that hasn't been lived up to by 18-22 yr. old student athletes who represent our beloved school to the best of their abilities. The Clemson coaching staff didn't promise us we'd win by 50 and neither did the players. Woody didn't promise us he'd win the Heisman -- in fact, he doesn't like all this Heisman talk. These expectations/hopes are nothing more than elaborate creations from the fans, people who are removed from the day-to-day functioning of the team and the teams we play. There is no substance/foundation to that expectation.

As for the bigger picture of our football program, I've repeatedly heard the following destructive grandiose vision of conference dominance in the coming years from a lot of Clemson fans I've encountered:

After a 9-2 season w/ losses to Georgia Tech and Florida State, all we have to do is conquer those 2 foes and we're dominating the ACC. With FSU losing Bobby Bowden any year now and GTech w/o the Fridge, it should only be a matter of time before we start dominating the conference.

This is exactly the mentality adopted by many fans that causes unnecessary heartache, ultimately leaving the fans greatly disappointed and looking for someone to blame, namely defensive coordinator Reggie Herring and Woody. If Woody makes a couple bad passes or our defense doesn't look dominant, sometimes I get the feeling that that is threatening to a good many Clemson fans because they've created this vision of our team on the quick road to conference domination.

There's no guarantee that Tech and Florida State will drop off any time soon. Tech has recruited tremendously over the last 5-6 classes, and I don't think we should underestimate O'Leary as a head coach, even if Ralph Friedgen is now gone. As for Florida State, they're the Noles -- 'nuff said. For both those teams, I don't think it's fair to expect them to abdicate their stranglehold on the top of the conference, although it's possible.

Burgeoning powers are NC State and Maryland who are no doubt on the ascension. If last Thursday night is any indication, NC State is no push-over that we should simply expect to manhandle. Philip Rivers looked tremendous sans Koren Robinson, and the Wolfpack defense dominated. Plus, we're not the only school renovating their facilities. Over $100 million -- that's what NC State is in the process of adding to their facilities. They have too many good things going in their direction right now to expect us to beat them this year or next.

Maryland has the Fridge. Not only has their defense surrendered just10 points in their first 2 games, but their offense in just the second week under the mastermind's watch put up 50 points on Eastern Michigan. From prior experiences, I think that's enough right there to establish that expecting total dominance by Clemson in the upcoming years as a highway to disappointment.

Now I'm not predicting we're going to lose to those teams by any means. I'm simply trying to extinguish any lingering false expectations that we'll win those games handily or that we have a cakewalk to the top of the conference. I hope and believe we have a great chance to surge to the top of the conference, but there's not a chance in Hades that these teams are just going to move out of the way and let anyone waltz into the top spot. Rather, we're going to have to actually beat them……consistently…..and that just takes time to build a quality program, especially when you're competing against premier national programs year in and year out.

There's simply no reason to worry, though, at this point. Shifting perspectives can greatly ease potential bumps in the road during this journey under Coach Bowden. I seem to recall that we're only 2 seasons removed from a 3-8 debacle where we lost to Duke and Wake. Now, we should all be up in arms and singling people out if we don't win big enough over the nation's 28th best defense from last year and the nation's 6th most efficient passer and stumble for a quarter against a premier Division I-AA contender? How quickly some of us forget…. Shifting perspectives there could ease some fans' disappointment and replace it w/ contentment.

So, the real issue is not how well our team is playing, but how they're living up to these grandiose expectations that aren't a fair barometer to use in judging our young team. Also, the very comforting news is that the number of Clemson fans that are actually up in arms and pissed off about the team is much smaller than most of us think. As with most open forums, the vocal few are usually the negative, miserable fraction of the whole and don't provide a fair representation of the group.

Getting back to the unhappy Clemson fans, blaming others (players and coaches) for their being in an undesirable situation (non-perfect football), only perpetuates their unhappiness and fuels those negative emotions to stick around. With maturity comes the ability to maintain one's peace of mind when an unfortunate event occurs in during a game or in life as a whole. Speaking of maturity, at age 23, I learn the hard way often that I have a lot to learn in that department. Nonetheless, I'm convinced that the sooner we accept responsibility for our peace of mind, the sooner we'll stop blaming others for our discontent and start saving people from unnecessary angry criticism and other ill feelings.

I think the real problem comes when the fan chooses to acts out on those angry impulses of not getting what he feels entitled to (a great performance from the Clemson youngsters) and starts directing and vocalizing the blame for robbing him of his own expectation towards others. Here, I'm speaking of the boo birds. Let's just consider for a moment all the destructive and/or futile results of booing. Honestly, it's quite mind boggling.

Let's start with how futile and pointless the practice of booing really is.

First of all, for those who want Reggie Herring gone and think your booing may bring about positive results for our football program by forcing him out, I honestly think you are gravely disillusioned. Coach Bowden is like Steve Spurrier in that he doesn't meddle much with the defense, so you know who he places in charge of his defense is of utmost importance to him. For a decision that critical, do you honestly think he would take the fans' opinions into consideration when a decision needed to be made in this department? Bowden hasn't risen in his 21 years of coaching football from a measly grad assistant to a successful head coach at a major university by getting feedback from fans about how to coach college athletes. He doesn't poll the audience when he calls plays or decides whether not to go for it on forth down, and he's not going to start using that method to select who he's going to hire.

Not only does Tommy know infinitely more about the game of football than the fans, but he's also in a much better position to determine if there's a problem with having Reggie as our DC. Bowden would know if there was a problem long before the fans would. If there is a problem, Coach Bowden won't boo, but rather he'll express his displeasure in a constructive way – hiring someone else.

Besides being totally useless, booing is destructive to so many different aspects. Consider recruiting for a moment. For the recruits on the sidelines, I'm sure they weren't too excited about the booing, and the recruits that didn't attend still read the paper. I know the booing was a front page story in the Greenville News, so I'm sure it was as well in the State Rag. If these boo birds are unhappy because they don't have a championship-caliber team, common sense would tell you that recruiting is a vital aspect of remedying the situation. Top talent doesn't dream at night about playing in front of a crowd that boos them when they don't perform to their satisfaction. That seems pretty self-defeating.

In addition, the fan reputation that comes along with booing can't be anything but destructive. I challenge you to name a fanbase of professional sports other than Philadelphia fans and to a lesser extent New York Mets fans that have a reputation of booing their teams. Do you honestly want that stigma to even be mentioned with Clemson fans? I sure know I don't.

Plus, just imagine for a minute how our players feel. Let's consider their feelings for a second. Take our disappointment and multiply it by about 50, and that's what they're experiencing. Criticising them for not living up to your expectations certainly doesn't alleviate their pain, their disappointment. If Jackie Robinson drops a pass or Woody Dantzler throws a poor pass, you have to know nobody in the world feels worse about it than they do. Plus, they read about it on message boards the next day or hear it from fans at the game. Although this seems like it shouldn't have to be said, you know it has to hurt their feelings and could possibly even make them doubt themselves. That should count for something, considering the fact that they give everything they have for our university 11 months out of the year.

As for the coaches, what top coach would be attracted to playing in front of a home crowd that boos them? You may get your wish in running off Coach Herring, but those boos don't fall on Reggie's ears alone. I'm sure with recruiting, watching film, having practices, and attending staff meetings, our coaches probably spend around 16 hours a day trying to make Clemson a great football team. A little appreciation for their hard work would be nice, but hearing boos has to be demoralizing. Shoot, Coach Bowden took the booing personally, as it would be hard not to do so. He even stated something to the effect that it "was the first time I have been booed." He then added one of the many one-liners that we've all come to know and love, but you know it hurt his feelings. I'm not implying that the booing will run him off necessarily, but you know the booing has to be a negative in his mind.

It's certainly your right to boo the Clemson football team, but it's also your right to throw a temper-tantrum at the grocery store if they're out of your favorite candy bar. It's also your right to boycott anything and everything that is associated with Clemson University if you wear garnet-colored glasses. It's certainly your right to be immature when things don't go right, but it's not going to do a bit of good. It'll only cause harm to Clemson – something I'm sure you care about when you really think about it. Like I said earlier, I'm not here to tell you that you're wrong, cast you out, or tell you that you shouldn't do it. However, try to think of what's constructive in a slightly unpleasant situation and what is destructive and act accordingly. I think that's fair to ask.

Shoot, we ask enough out of our players and coaches. Top Stories