Remembering '87: Clemson 21 Georgia 20

The 1987 season was chopped with smattering of National Championship talk. Danny Ford's Tigers had just come off an 8-2-2 record in 1986 with a young football team, and the talk was that the Tigers would be a serious contender for an undefeated season.

Clemson was ranked #9 in the pre-season AP poll, adding fuel to the growing fire from the Tiger faithful.

Clemson had a host of All Americans in 1987, including offensive guard John Phillips, defensive tackle Michael Dean Perry, cornerback Donnell Woolford, and place kicker David Treadwell.

In addition, super freshman sensation Terry Allen had wrestled playing time away from incumbent running back Wesley McFadden. Rodney Williams had firmly entrenched himself as the starting quarterback after a solid sophomore season in 1986. And James Earle was wreaking havoc at his outside linebacker position.

Clemson opened the 1987 season with two convincing wins over Western Carolina and Virginia Tech. The Tigers entered the September 19th match up with rival Georgia ranked #8 in the nation while the Bulldogs entered at #18. Mother nature intervened with a gloomy day where rain fell out of the sky for most of the afternoon. CBS was on hand for the nationally televised contest with the play-by-play call coming from Brent Musburger.

The game was charged from the very beginning, with both teams seizing early momentum only to see it evaporate later. Georgia finally seized apparent control of the game late it the 4th quarter, taking a 20-16 lead. The air had finally been sucked out of the wet Death Valley crowd, and it was about to get worse.

Trailing 20-16 with less than 7 minutes to go in the game, the Tigers embarked on a must score drive. Crossing into Georgia territory, Clemson seemed poised to make a great late drive, and the Clemson faithful sprung to life once again. But the drive stalled, and Danny Ford was forced into a decision on whether to go for a first down or punt the ball back to Georgia.

The ever-conservative Ford chose to punt and it turned out to be the best decision of the game. Rusty Seyle lofted a beautifully high punt that was downed on the one-yard line closest to the West end zone.

And that is when this 1987 game versus Georgia became surreal.

Death Valley's noise level rose to screeching volumes. Vince Dooley, a mastermind for the Georgia football factory for what seemed like a billion years, allowed a terrible play to be called by his offensive staff. Georgia tried to use the elusiveness of quarterback James Jackson on a roll out option play to the left side of the field. The play never developed, and Jackson was forced to desperately try and avoid getting sacked in the end zone. He could not. James Lott and Gene Beasley smothered Jackson 2 yards deep in the end zone for a safety.

A soggy Death Valley crowd was now going bonkers. And the fun was just beginning. The score was now 20-18 in favor of Georgia, and even though the clock was under 5 minutes to play in the game, all the momentum had shifted to the Clemson side of the field.

All Clemson did at that point was let super freshman Terry Allen march the Tigers down the field. Allen gained 35 yards on the drive (he had 97 for the game) on simple pitch sweeps to both sides of the field. Allen used his elusiveness to cut back against the grain several times, and he used his power to knock Georgia's defenders backwards.

The Tigers were now in Treadwell's range, but there was a major concern. Clemson had used all of its time outs earlier in the half, and the clock was winding down at a feverish pace. Treadwell had kicked the game winner the year before in Athens, but he did so with the benefit of a time out and with the benefit of a tie game. If Treadwell had missed in '86, the game would have ended in a tie. No question, that was still a lot of pressure on the young kicker. But Treadwell had no such luck in 1987. If he missed Clemson would lose, and that constituted a heightened level of pressure on Treadwell.

Ford sent the kicking team on the field as the clock ticked inside 20 seconds, 15 seconds, and then 10 seconds. As the clock ticked under 10 seconds, Treadwell took his three steps backwards and his two steps to the left to ready himself for the kick. 9 seconds, 8 seconds, the crowd in Death Valley was on its feet with hands clasped in prayer. Some could not even look.

Brent Musburger simply stated to the national television audience, "The crowd will tell you the story".

7 seconds, 6 seconds, the ball is finally snapped. It was a good snap, a perfect hold, and Treadwell spilt the uprights as the deafening crescendo of 80,000 joyous fans echoed through the town of Clemson.

Treadwell had done it again. He had ripped the heart out of the Georgia Bulldog faithful for the second year in a row. Those that sat though the rain will never forget the emotion of that day.

The Tigers would not win the National Championship that year, despite climbing to #7 in the polls. N.C. State would end the magical run in the 7th game of the season.

But looking back on that game some 16 years later, the loss to N.C. State is long forgotten. The win over Georgia where Treadwell simply "threw his heart over the crossbars" remains etched in the memory of Clemson faithful everywhere….myself included.

The Bulldogs return to Death Valley next Saturday and a national television audience will be watching along with 85,000 fans in Death Valley. I'm sure David Treadwell will also be watching, maybe even from the sideline at Memorial Stadium. And I'll be thinking of Treadwell and that game in 1987, hoping for just a little bit of that magic to manifest itself in 2003.
Scott Rhymer can be reached at Scott and publisher Roy Philpott are the co-hosts of the Pregame Show on WCCP 104.9 FM, which airs 2 hours prior to the Tiger Tailgate Show on Clemson Gamedays. Top Stories