Clemson's 10 Most Controversial Games (Part I)

The third article in this series is the <i>10 Most Controversial Games</i> in Clemson's modern history (the past 25 years).

This article is one in a series of articles in Scott Rhymer's "10 Most" series. Stay tuned as next week Scott will break down Clemson's 10 Most Electric Crowds.

The third article in this series is the 10 Most Controversial Games in Clemson's modern history (the past 25 years). "Controversial" is defined by a discussion marked by the expression of opposing views.

For reason of argument in these articles, the past 25 years were used as a barometer for the discussion.

The 1978 Gator Bowl with Ohio State would most certainly rank as the most controversial games in Clemson football history. Woody Hayes hitting Charlie Bauman and the subsequent firing of Hayes has been replayed on millions of television sets throughout the years. But that game is 26 years old, and was not considered in this top 10 list.

While there have been many minor controversies throughout the last 25 years, these 10 have caused the most for either Clemson fans or the opposition. And, of course, these are up for debate on our message boards by clicking here.

#10: 1999 Florida State 17 Clemson 14
Bowden Bowl I already was destined to be a freak show with the first ever father/son match up in the history of coaching at the collegiate level. Added to that was the fact that Florida State entered the game ranked #1 in the nation and Papa Bowden was gunning for win number 300 in his career.

Clemson entered the game 3-3 but the Tigers had just beaten Maryland 42-30 in their best performance of the year to date.

But much of the pre game buzz centered around Peter Warrick. The All-American wide receiver was arrested the previous week for shoplifting at a Dillards department store in Tallahassee. The immediate assumption was that Warrick would be suspended for multiple games…if not the rest of the season. But Bobby Bowden bucked the public outcries, deciding instead to internally discipline Warrick by sitting out a few practices and running extra laps.

Almost as if to rub salt in the wounds of Clemson fans who booed Warrick profusely in the pre game warm ups, the first FSU play from scrimmage was to Warrick on a slant pattern.

Clemson would bolt out to a 14-3 halftime lead but the Seminoles finally found their footing and took a 17-14 lead late in the game. Tommy Bowden reached into his bag of tricks on a double reverse throwback from Dantzler to Travis Zachery to Rod Gardner, who then completed a 14-yard pass to Dantzler that went to the Florida Sate 44. On 4th-and-3 with less than two minutes to play, Bowden elected to kick a potential game tying field goal from Tony Lazzara. Lazzara had struggled from distances of 40+ yards the entire season, and the 42 yard kick ended up well short after being tipped by DB Tay Cody and Florida State escaped with a gut wrenching victory.

Adding to the Warrick controversy, many observers in Death Valley that night swear Tommy did his dad a favor by playing for the tie instead of gambling on a chance to win. While Lazzara almost certainly was out of range for the kick, getting a first down on the tough FSU defense would have not been a guarantee to say the least.

And 4 years later in Death Valley when son whipped father, some of those same conspiracy theorist said Papa Bowden repaid his son in Tommy's darkest hour as Clemson coach. All of which makes for a controversial games…at least in the minds of the conspiracy buffs!

#9: 1984 South Carolina 22 Clemson 21
On a sun baked day in late November of 1984, Clemson and South Carolina went toe-to-toe in one of the best games in the history of the 100 year rivalry.

Clemson entered the 1984 game with the Gamecocks 7-3, with losses to Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Maryland. The Gamecocks were having one of their best years ever under the direction of Joe Morrison and the Black Magic era. South Carolina won their first 9 games of 1984 before being stunned by Navy the week before the Clemson game. At 9-1, the Gamecocks National Championship hopes were over, but a major bowl bid still awaited them in January.

The electric atmosphere of Death Valley with the contrasting orange and black in the stadium on this day was awesome. Clemson jumped out to an early 21-3 lead and seemed poised to whip the their archrival. But a safety of Mike Eppley and some nice throwing by the arm of Mike Hold got the Gamecocks back in the game.

Trailing 21-15, the Gamecocks started a drive late in the 4th quarter that would prove to be decisive. Converting several 3rd down plays against the screaming fans of Death Valley, Hold guided the Gamecocks inside of Clemson's 10-yard line with less than two minutes to go in the game.

The Gamecocks rushed for a touchdown to the wild delight of the Gamecocks fan in the West endzone stands.

Back in 1984, Clemson would put a large chunk of South Carolina's fans in that West stands to the point where the entire structure would be dominated by garnet and black. While the West stands shook with Gamecock fans going wild, the score was knotted at 21. In the ensuing confusion and celebration, people forgot that an extra point still had to be converted.

South Carolina, realizing this very point, hurried their kicking team onto the field. Clemson, meanwhile, had 12 men on the field. Realizing this, the Clemson coaches screamed for one of the Tiger defenders to rush off the field…which he began to do. But as the ball was snapped, the Clemson defender (to this day I do not know his name) was 5 yards from the sideline in a full sprint. This would result in a penalty, which under any normal circumstance would have not made a difference on an extra point.

This was no ordinary circumstance.

The extra point was missed. As Clemson fans rejoiced, the yellow hanky was clearly visible on the field. As the penalty was called, Clemson fans once again stood in disbelief as the 2nd attempt sailed through the uprights for a 22-21 Gamecock lead.

After a few unsuccessful passes by Eppley, the Gamecocks would take back over to run out the last few seconds of the clock. Mike Hold, taking the last snap of the game, took three steps back before kneeling on the ball as Clemson defensive nose guard William Perry barreled towards him. The scrawny Hold held out the ball in front of the 300 pound Perry and dropped the ball at his feet. That moment would be capsulated in thousands of posters and banners throughout the Gamecock nation that offseason.

While many newbie's think of the antics of Steve Tannyhill in Death Valley, Mike Hold was the first to officially rub Clemson's nose in it on their home field. It would be another 10 years before the Gamecocks won in Death Valley…with (you guessed it) Tannyhill leading the way.

#8: 1999 N.C. State 35 Clemson 31
Clemson entered this game in October in Raleigh 2-2 on the year but 2-0 in ACC play under first year head coach Tommy Bowden. State had yet win a conference game, which magnified the importance of the game for both teams.

Clemson stormed out to a 14-0 lead in the first 5 minutes of the game and dominated the first half. Late in the first half with Clemson leading 24-14, the Wolfpack lined up to punt the ball back to the Tigers. However, a questionable personal foul penalty by Clemson gave the Wolfpack a first down. N.C. State took advantage of the break and scored a touchdown with under one minute left in the first half to cut the Tiger lead to 24-21.

Both teams went back and forth in the 2nd half and Clemson held on tightly to a 31-28 lead. After a Clemson stop, the Wolfpack punted the ball to Mal Lawyer, who fumbled inside of N.C. State territory to give N.C. State another chance to take the lead.

Barnette moved the Wolfpack down inside of the Clemson 5 yard line. With a 2nd and goal from the three yard line, the play clock wound down to 0 as Barnette got the play call from the sideline. With Clemson fans in the stadium screaming for a flag, approximately 5 more seconds elapsed with the clock stuck on 0 before Barnette got the snap and threw to Andy Vanderveer for the game winning touchdown.

While there was still 14 minutes to go in the game, the momentum had finally shifted to the Wolfpack as they went on to win 35-31.

In the aftermath, Bowden was given an apology for the poor officiating in the game by league officials. Of course, the apology was not going to change the outcome, even though the officiating crew would be reprimanded with internal penalties from the league office.

#7: 1986 Clemson 17 Maryland 17
The Tigers entered this November 15th game in Baltimore with a lot riding on the outcome. With a win or a tie, Clemson would win the Atlantic Coach Conference Championship. Maryland, under head coach Bobby Ross, had struggled to a 5-5-1 record in 1986.

Bobby Ross and Danny Ford were coaching this game from the press box because of the arguments and altercations the year before in Death Valley. There was still a little bit of bad blood between the two schools that seems to have stemmed back to Maryland's 1983 ACC Championship, the same year in which Clemson was on probation.

But cooler heads prevailed on this blustery November evening. The two teams battled back and forth the first half before Maryland was able to stake itself to a lead in the 4th quarter. Trailing 17-14, Clemson took procession inside its own 10 yard line with less than 5 minutes to play in the game.

Clemson methodically moved the ball down the field through the air and on the ground. The Tigers converted two 4th down conversions on the drive and moved into field goal range for David Treadwell with less than one minute to play. The Tigers then moved inside the Maryland 5 yard line and appeared headed for a possible game winning touchdown.

However, the drive stalled.

Facing a 3rd down at the 3 yard line with 2 seconds left in the game, Danny Ford had a decision to make. Should he take a stab at winning the game, or should he play for the tie?

Remember, a tie or a win gives Clemson an ACC Championship, while a loss means no ACC title. Rumors floated around all week that Clemson could possibly receive an Orange Bowl bid if they were to win out against Maryland and then South Carolina the next week. A tie or loss would throw Clemson out of the Orange Bowl mix altogether.

So Ford, from the press box, had to decide what was most important. An almost guaranteed ACC Championship assuming Treadwell made the kick or a possible Orange Bowl berth if you take the risky route and go for 6.

Ford, as one would expect, chose the conservative route.

Treadwell booted the game-tying field goal as time expired and Clemson won the ACC Championship without much celebration on the field. In the process, Clemson's Orange Bowl hopes were dashed and the Tigers would eventually accept a bid to the Citrus Bowl.

Second guessing is a natural part of any decision. The fact that Ford was up in the press box and removed from his players and sideline coaches brings into question how the decision came about. Would he have gone the same route had he been on the field in the middle of the discussions? It's one of those questions that we will never know the answer to, but the decision to kick for the tie makes this game controversial enough to fit on the list.

#6: 2001 Virginia 26 Clemson 24
Clemson and Virginia hooked up in Death Valley in the first game for both following the 2001 terrorist attacks in September of 2002. Clemson entered the game 2-0 with wins over Central Florida and Wofford and the Tigers were ranked 19th coming into the game. The somewhat somber mood that enveloped Death Valley in the pregame quickly turned into a raucous crowd that would see a controversial end to a strange game.

Clemson seized the momentum from Virginia and appeared on their way to defeating the Cavaliers as minutes ticked away in the 4th quarter. A Travis Zachery touchdown had put the Tigers ahead 24-20, and after a Clemson stop, the Tigers had the ball and were driving again on before Woody Dantzler fumbled on a blindside hit.

With only 1:43 left to go and with no timeouts, Virginia marched calmly down the field and was perched at the Clemson one-yard line.

UVA quarterback Bryson Spinner hurried the Cavaliers up to the line in an apparent move to spike the ball and stop the clock. Instead, Spinner threw a fade pass into the endzone for Billy McMullen who pushed off of Tiger defender Brian Mance to make the game winning touchdown grab with less than 5 seconds remaining.

While Mance and all of Death Valley screamed for a pass interference call, no such call was forthcoming. Virginia coach Al Groh shrugged off any talk of a missed call. "There's contact on a lot of plays. This is a contact game," said Groh.

To Groh's credit, his response would be the same in 2003 when a reversal of fortune took place in overtime as Kevin Youngblood hauled in the game winner against the Cavaliers by making contact with the UVA defender.

Even that reversal is not enough, however, to wash away the anger and frustration with the no call on this September day in 2001.

Stay tuned for the second part of Clemson's Most Controversial Games tomorrow on! Top Stories