September 25, 2009
Our weekly tailgating guide continues a southern swing this week with a stop in Clemson, South Carolina, where none of the colors you will see for TCU's visit Saturday occur in nature. But try telling them that.
Opposing fans not of the Gamecock persuasion will find their Tiger hosts a friendly bunch. As our Clemson correspondent tells it, "The unconditional love of Clemson fans for Clemson football is a constant shock. When Jad Dean missed a field goal that would have tied the South Carolina game in 2006, his Facebook page was flooded with messages of encouragement and support." That kind of positivity is rare in today's mercenary game, and just demonstrates how much Tommy Bowden really tried their last nerve.
The hub of activity at Clemson is actually fairly easy to locate -- if you don't spot an immediately apparent stream of orange-clad devotees to follow, just look for the trails of paw prints painted on surrounding highways. Once you get there, however, let caution be your guide -- parking signs are notoriously vague and ill-placed, and tow truck drivers are omnipresent and enthusiastic. IPTAY stakes out a large portion of parking space for its own, so try some of the downtown churches or the YMCA by the lake if you can't get a spot on campus (the latter also operates a gameday shuttle).
Your average Clemson tailgater is more likely to stake out a spot early with a satellite dish and settle in with Raycom than to bar-hop before a game, so prepare for a long day in the sun. Open container laws are apparently lackadaisically enforced on gamedays, though every Clemson student or alum we spoke with this week was quick to mention public urination will be frowned upon by police types. (Is this a particular trend at Clemson, or is relieving one's self out of doors so commonplace in the rest of South Carolina that this mark of civilization is worth pointing out?) If you're feeling the urge, note that the library is open on football Saturdays, which may not help beleaguered grad students but may keep you out of jail.
Clemson has the team walk to the stadium, and the band marching across campus like every other school in the country, but the event you want to catch is the team running down the hill onto the field. One embedded Tiger explains, "It's a bunch of guys running down a hill, but when 80,000 witnesses have been brought up to understand that it's the greatest 25 seconds in college sports, it is pretty intense." We're not going to argue with that -- the players are brave enough to run directly toward their own mascot, a yellow-eyed critter of indeterminate origin that may actually be more frightening than a live tiger, and for that they have our respect.
What to Wear.
Tiger fans are a preppy lot, though not quite as buttoned-down as, say, your average Virginia fan. Polos, khakis, blazers, and Lilly Pulitzer are the order of the day. The particular shade of orange can be a tricky one to match, but somehow they pull it off by the thousands. (And the less devoted are duly reminded of their inadequacy in delightfully passive-aggressive fashion by the "NEXT TIME I'LL WEAR ORANGE" signs on the stadium exits.)
• The Esso Club, 129 Old Greenville Highway. A Clemson institution in every sense of the word, patronized at one time or another by such cultural luminaries as Lewis Grizzard and Brent Musberger. Great view, and a section on the menu reading "Fanger Foods." There is nothing not to like about this mob scene.
• Skin Thrashers Hotdogs, 139 Anderson Highway. Grab a quick bite here if you're pressed for time -- the hot dogs are great and the service is oddly efficient for a college town.
• Super Taco, 1019 Tiger Boulevard. A hole in the wall containing what our tipsters swear is Clemson's finest dining, and less crowded on gamedays than the big sports bars.
• If sports bars are your poison, however, try T.D.'s, 339 College Avenue, and Wingin' It, 359 College Avenue.
• Tiger Town Tavern, 1310 Tiger Boulevard. An easy stumble from campus.
• Overtime, 102 Earle Street. Good late-night crowd with whom to finish the evening.
• Nick's Tavern, 107 Sloan Street. Clemson's home for beer nerds.
• Sloan Street Tap Room, 109 Sloan Street. We're going to defer to a Clemson buddy of ours here, because this is just too good: "During the week, it's like daycare for ornery retirees; during the weekends, on a good night, it's like a Eugene O'Neill play; on a bad night, it's like a Beckett play." Sold.
What to Drink.
Quoth a Clemson faculty member of our acquaintance: "To the untrained eye, the tailgating lots might appear to be giant Busch Lite filtration plants. I don't know how or why the kids drink it all." There's also (surprise!) a partiality to bourbon, and for the truly rabid orange devotee, pack some Orange Jubilee MD 20/20. (We didn't say you had to drink it yourself.)