Updated: Nov 7, 2020
Clemson’s star quarterback Trevor Lawrence tested positive for COVID. That was the headline for sports talk radio as we headed to the upstate, or God's-country as Clemson fans like to call it.
Game-day Saturday morning found me in and out of that good sleep you get in the car on the way to game with a noon kick off. The chatter about stats and back-up plans made excellent white noise for my naps.
We were wherever you are when you see the tiger paws on the road when I heard an unfamiliar accent on the radio. I didn’t know who he was – still don’t – but he was definitely more “youz guys” than “y’all.” Had to be from the Boston side. This man was telling stories, not talking about stats. He praised Clemson fans and talked about the importance of tradition. When he referred to Clemson fans as the country mice and Boston fans as the city mice, I put my seat up, took a sip of Diet Coke, and turned up the volume so I could hear more.
The reason for all the anecdotes? Turns out there is a rich history between Clemson and Boston College, so in 2008, the BC Gridiron Club created the O'Rourke–McFadden Trophy. Each year, the winner of the BC/Clemson game receives the trophy that honors BC’s Hall of Fame quarterback Charlie O'Rourke and Banks McFadden, the triple-threat All American from Clemson. These men played against each other in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas, in 1940.
Coach Swinney wasn’t a part of the radio interview, but I found an article where he said as a kid he didn’t know much about BC (a country mouse wouldn’t) because he grew up in Alabama. He said the BC match up would always be special because it was his first ever win.
Saturday’s game marked the 13th time that Clemson and Boston College played for the O’Rourke-McFadden Trophy. Eleven out of twelve years, the trophy went to Clemson, but this year during the first half, Clemson fans worried in 2020 that trophy might be heading up north to BC.
I’m new to the world of Clemson football, but I’m catching on quickly. I’ve learned that everybody misses the tiger walk. I’ve learned all about the rock and love the classic quote from Frank Howard: if a player isn’t willing to give 110%, they can keep their filthy hands off his rock. Sounds like a man who means what he says. I love the way Clemson recognizes important key folks along the edge of the stadium. Beside Frank Howard’s name is his iconic hat; former Sports Information Director Bob Bradley who covered 502 consecutive games has a typewriter beside his name; and Banks McFadden has his leather helmet, just to name a few.
Yes, I can see why the man I heard on the radio, the one with the Boston accent, says Clemson is a special place, full of traditions. He’s right.
Sadly, there’s a dark spot on the Clemson/BC tradition. A quick google search delivers a little more history. Back in 1940, the Cotton Bowl Committee banned BC’s star running back and first black football player, Lou Montgomery, from playing. The Cotton Bowl Committee and Clemson raised the objection, and BC consented.
According to my research, BC folks wanted him to accompany the team to Dallas, but not only would Montgomery not play in the game, he would not stay in the same hotel or eat in the same restaurants. No pre- or post-game activities for him. Montgomery refused to make the trip.
About the time I was reading that bit of history (yes, I was doing research during the game) a video about race relations and Clemson’s commitment to make things better popped up on the big screen. Must have been a TV time out. It was powerful and impressive. I tried to find the video online, so I could quote it accurately, but I couldn’t, so I’ll loosely paraphrase. A heartfelt line comes from a man who says something like, “We won’t always get it right, but we will never stop trying.”
What happened to Lou Montgomery in the 1940’s is awful. No doubt about that. But things have changed. We are not like that anymore. Things are different now. We still have work to do, but like the man said in the video, we will never stop trying to make things better.
I sat in the game and compiled my notes about the O’Rourke-McFadden trophy. After I read about Lou Montgomery and saw the powerful video with Clemson players and coaches and trainers, I thought of another reason why the trophy is important. The O'Rourke-McFadden trophy represents how far we’ve come since the days of the Jim Crow south. Maybe that’s the most important reason of all.
I really hate that I don’t know more about football because I would love to give the man from Boston that I heard on the radio the credit he deserves. He is right. Clemson is a special place with special people. I love his analogy about the way the country mice and the city mice always welcome each other to their very different cities or, in this case, campuses.
We should all feel good that we can add improved social equality to the list of things that make the O’Rourke McFadden trophy important. Certainly, things are not perfect, and like the man in the Clemson video said, we won’t always get it right, but we will always keep trying. That’s all we can do.
Listen to this week's podcast by former WAGS radio station personality, Cal Johnson. I grew up listening to Mr. Johnson on the radio station in Bishopville, SC. Many,many years later....I love hearing him read my stories each week.