on January 1, 2009 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Clemson-Nebraska bringing back a little bit of history

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Right when Andy Headen knocked down Mark Mauer’s heave that sealed Clemson’s 22-15 win over Nebraska in the 1982 Orange Bowl, linebacker Jeff Davis went looking for that one national reporter who earlier in the week had no idea where Clemson was located.

“I told him, ‘You know where Clemson is now,’” Davis said earlier this week. “We told everybody. We don’t only play basketball in the ACC, but we play some pretty good football too. I was very happy for the state of South Carolina as a whole, but mostly I was happy for Clemson University.

“No one expected that type of greatness from a small place.”

In some way, that’s what many think today as an upstart Clemson team, with a rookie head coach, takes on the Big ‘Bad’ Red from Nebraska in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.

“Several of this year’s players have asked me about that game,” said Davis, who is a director of player relations for the Clemson football team. “My words to them were that it was a defining moment for our university. They are somewhat at a similar juncture.

“They have fought back in a great way. Everybody had given up on them and no one believed in them, and here they are in the Gator Bowl playing against a great Nebraska team. This is an opportunity for them to put an exclamation mark at the end of the sentence as far as this season is concerned.”

Unlike Davis’ 1982 team, one that put Clemson back on the map, this year’s Tigers are trying to stay on the map. After starting the year as a preseason No. 9 team, the Tigers fell from grace after the Alabama game and six weeks later head coach Tommy Bowden was forced out after a 3-3 start.

But thanks to then-interim head coach Dabo Swinney, Clemson turned things around by winning four of their final five games of the season.

“Going up to Boston College and coming from behind and getting the plays when we had to have it and beating a team that had beaten us in each of the last three seasons, that was big for us,” said Swinney, who was named head coach on Dec. 2. “That was a very big moment and that’s when I said, ‘Hey, we have a chance.’”

That chance led to wins and that led to the unexpected reunion of a Clemson-Nebraska matchup that’s been 27 years in the making.

“It is amazing how many years have passed since we get the opportunity to play them again,” Davis said. “Both of the programs have somewhat been struggling and not living up to the expectations of their fans.”

When the Gator Bowl Association announced the matchup early in December, Davis, who was an All-American in 1981, said he could not help but think back to that night in the Orange Bowl.

“I have fond memories,” he said. “It was a great time for our program. We put together a tremendous season and no one thought we could do it. I don’t even know how much we thought we could do it.

“We found ourselves 11-0 and playing against Nebraska, which is a powerhouse program, and it was an opportunity for Clemson to establish itself and to be thought of in the same light. As a matter of fact, we were the underdogs. We knew it was going to be a great game and a great challenge. We understood the magnitude of the football game in South Carolina, at Clemson University and in the ACC.”

Now Davis hopes another Clemson win over Nebraska today would do to Clemson’s future what it did for its past on that hot and muggy night in Miami.

“At that point we weren’t known as a powerhouse, so I can’t think of a better fan base to have this applied to because they take a lot of pride in supporting this football program,” he said. “For us to show our gratitude that way on such a grand stage, I can’t think of anyone more deserving than Clemson fans.

“We had won 11 games in a row, so we felt like one more would be just like those other 11. There was no disrespect to Nebraska, but we felt like we had a lot of confidence in what we were doing and how we played that year. We were confident we were going to win that game.

“History says the last time we played Nebraska, we beat them. Now I hope after 27 years it will still be the same.”