Clemson's 10 Most Demoralizing Losses (Part I)

This article is one in a series of articles in Scott Rhymer's "10 Most" series. Stay tuned to CUTigers.com for other "10 Most" articles including 10 Most Controversial Games and 10 Greatest Home Crowds, among others.

The second in this series is the 10 Most Demoralizing Losses in Clemson's modern history (the past 25 years, 1979-2003). Demoralizing is defined as "to discourage, dispirit, and to corrupt the morals of." Some of my choices were because of the manner in which the game was lost, the ugliness of the loss, the amount of the loss, or what possible great things were unfulfilled because of the loss.

Some were ranked on pure gut feeling.

And, of course, these are up for debate on our message boards by clicking here.

#10(a): 1994 South Carolina 33 Clemson 7
The 1994 season was a rebuilding year in Clemson as Tommy West took over the mangled mess that was left after the Ken Hatfield regime. The Tigers suffered a three game losing streak in October, but West had the Tigers playing a little better down the stretch as they reeled of wins over Wake Forest, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech to move to 5-5 on the season.

The Gamecocks also entered the rivalry game at 5-5 under their first year head coach Brad Scott. Both teams were playing for a bowl bid, not a small accomplishment considering the rebuilding that was going on under the two first-year head coaches.

The first half was a tight defensive struggle that had the Gamecocks leading 13-7. As fans filed back into Death Valley for the 2nd half on this sun splashed afternoon, the tide was about to quickly turn in favor of South Carolina. Borrowing from the coach that Scott had been offensive coordinator for at Florida State, the Gamecocks pulled off a daring throwback pass on the opening 2nd half kickoff that gave the Gamecocks field position inside the Clemson 5 yard line. South Carolina would eventually pound the ball into the endzone and the rout was on.

When the final ticks finally limped off the clock, the Gamecocks had whipped Clemson 33-7 and the celebration for the USC faithful in Death Valley was underway. The game also served as one of the worst beatings Clemson has ever suffered to the Gamecocks in Death Valley.

#10(b): 1989 Duke 21 Clemson 17
Danny Ford's 1989 team was generally regarded as his most talented in Clemson, and that would include the 1981 team that won the National Championship. The 1989 defense, with the exception of the 1990 defense, was one of the top units to ever play in Death Valley. Consider just some of the names: Levon Kirkland, Chester McGlockton, Vance Hammond, Ed McDaniel, Robert O'Neal, and Dexter Davis.

The 1989 season got off to a rousing start as Clemson upset #16 Florida State in Tallahassee in route to a 4-0 start and a #7 national ranking. By most experts, the Tigers were poised to make a serious run at the National Championship and an ACC Championship. Steve Spurrier had turned the Duke football team into a respectable program by going 7-3-1 in 1988. Despite the fact that the Blue Devils were ranked in 1988, Clemson had whipped Duke 49-17 in Death Valley.

A similar fate was expected this Saturday, but a dreary day would turn into a demoralizing loss for Danny Ford and the Tigers as Duke ended Clemson's hope of a 2nd National Championship run, 21-17. With about 10,000 Clemson fans watching from Wallace-Wade Stadium, Duke could do no wrong and the Tigers stumbled and bumbled to the loss.

Some would blame the weather. Some would blame the genius of Spurrier. Whatever it was, it was a tough loss to swallow.

#9: 1987 N.C. State 30 Clemson 28
Danny Ford's Tigers stormed out to an 6-0 start in 1987 and a #7 national ranking. Clemson had defeated Georgia in Death Valley on a last second David Treadwell field goal and had cruised through the rest of the schedule without breaking much of a sweat. And with Wake Forest, North Carolina, Maryland, and South Carolina remaining, it was not inconceivable that Clemson could enter the season finale against the Gamecocks 10-0, if they could get by N.C. State.

Problem was, State was a good football team that could do no wrong on this day.

The Wolfpack ran, threw and jumped their way to a blistering 30-0 lead at halftime. Clemson, back in 1987, did not exactly have a passing game that could come back from such a deficit.

But, to Danny Ford's credit, they tried. Rodney Williams came out throwing and did not stop. Slowly, Clemson crept back into the game and midway through the 4th quarter the Tigers had cut the lead to 30-28.

The Tigers then got what they needed…another defensive stop from the Wolfpack. Clemson took over with less than 3 minutes to play and marched into Wolfpack territory behind the arm of Rodney Williams.

But the drive would stall, and so would the hopes of an undefeated season for Clemson. To this day I don't know whether to be mad that we fell behind so badly or happy with the valiant effort in the comeback.

I guess a little of both.

#8: 2000 Georgia Tech 31 Clemson 28
Clemson had stormed out to an 8-0 start on the 2000 season and had ascended to #5 in the nation when Georgia Tech came calling to Death Valley in late October. Tech was not ranked at the time, but the Yellow Jackets would finish the season in the Top 25 with a 9-3 record.

All of the Clemson Nation looked forward to the Tech game with one eye while the other was focused on Florida State the following weekend. The ramification of that game was obvious. If Clemson could get by Georgia Tech the Tigers would head to Tallahassee with a chance at an ACC Championship and a possible BCS Bowl game for the National Title.

In one of the most electrifying catches in Death Valley history, Watkins broke the heart of the Clemson Nation with less than 10 seconds remaining when he gathered in a George Godsey pass in the corner of the endzone.
Problem was, Georgia Tech was a good football team that would take a great effort to beat.

In a game that went back and forth with both teams taking and receiving punches, the Tigers seemingly had taken the lead for good with a 45 yard touchdown pass from Willie Simmons to Rod Gardner.

Kerry Watkins had other plans.

In one of the most electrifying catches in Death Valley history, Watkins broke the heart of the Clemson Nation with less than 10 seconds remaining when he gathered in a George Godsey pass in the corner of the endzone. The loss was gut wrenching for the Tiger fans and the football team, and it showed the next week when Florida State whipped the Tigers 54-7 in Tallahassee.

It is still fun to wonder: what would have happened had Watkins not made that catch and Clemson would have gone to Tallahassee undefeated? Nobody will ever know for sure, but you have to think that loss sucked some life out of the Tigers that October evening.

7: 2001 North Carolina 38 Clemson 3
A sold out homecoming crowd of better than 82,000 descended on Death Valley in late October to watch the 4-1 Tigers take on the Tar Heels. Clemson was off to a good start in 2001 with only a heartbreaking loss at home to Virginia as a blemish on their record. The Tigers were also coming off 2 of the greatest offensive performances in school history with the road wins over Georgia Tech in Atlanta and N.C. State in Raleigh.

The 13th ranked Tigers entered the game with a ton of confidence, despite the dominating defense that the Tar Heels had under first year coach John Bunting. An early drive from the Tigers gave some emotion for the sold out crowd, but Julius Peppers and company quickly quieted that emotion by thoroughly roughing up the Tigers to the tune of 38-3.

Losing on Homecoming is never a good thing, but the depth of the beating on this October afternoon was a tough pill to swallow for even the most die hard Tiger fans.

#6: 1993 Wake Forest 20 Clemson 16
Lets put it this way: losing to Wake Forest is never a pleasurable experience. And losing to the Deacons two years in a row is downright deplorable. But the icing on the cake is when you lose to Wake Forest two years in a row while the Deacs are mired in a season where they would win only one other game.

Such is the debacle that Ken Hatfield had on his hands in Death Valley on October 16, 1993.

The Tigers had lost in Winston-Salem the year before, but that Wake team went on to an 8-4 record. Clemson opened the season with an unconvincing 27-14 win over UNLV. The Tigers then were whipped in Tallahassee 57-0 (a game that almost made this list) then proceeded to squeak by Georgia Tech (16-13), N.C. State (20-14), and Duke (13-10).

To make matters worse, a terrible rain storm enveloped Clemson and a sparse crowd of no more than 55,000 ventured into the game. What they saw made them sick, as Wake out-hustled and ultimately outplayed the Tigers 20-16.

While the Tigers would eventually only lose one more game in 1993, the Wake Forest loss is generally regarded as the final straw for Hatfield, who would be "fired" after the South Carolina game in November. Wake Forest would finish the 1993 season 2-9 and the Deacons would not have another winning season until 1999.

Stay tuned to CUTigers.com, as we'll conclude our "10 Most Demoralizing Losses" series tomorrow!

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