Thursday, December 6, 2007

Auburn and Clemson

One of my favorite Southern Humorists/Satirists was the late Lewis Grizzard. I have read all of his books, listened to most of his works that are on CD, and was a religious reader of his column when it was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For me, he will always be regarded with the same admiration as other writers of southern literature such as William Faulkner, Sidney Lanier, Pat Conroy, Harper Lee, Mark Twain and Flannery O’Conner.

Lewis Grizzard “cut his writing teeth” as a sports columnist, and it is credited to him with the description that “Clemson is Auburn with a lake”. I am not sure how much Grizzard actually knew about the Auburn/Clemson history, but his assessment was very accurate. Both schools are southern land-grant institutions, both are called “the tigers”, and both had the legendary John Heisman as the coach. During the days of Shug Jordan and Frank Howard, games between Auburn and Clemson were common. However, in more recent history, the two schools with so much in common, may have lost touch with their similarities and, more importantly, their common history. Clemson isn’t just Auburn with a lake, for without Auburn, there would have been no Clemson football.

Walter M. Riggs graduated from Auburn with an engineering degree in 1892, and was a member of Auburn’s first football team. He loved football so much that rather than going into the field of engineering after graduation, he became a graduate assistant coach. In 1895, he was given the task of finding a head football coach for Auburn, and after an extensive search, hired John W. Heisman as the Head Coach of the Auburn Football Team. His negotiated contract (boy isn’t THAT a timely topic!!!) was $500 / year.

Riggs left Auburn in the hands of J.W. Heisman in 1896, and headed for Clemson, South Carolina to start a football program. Clemson had no uniforms, no mascot, no colors…nothing. So what did Riggs do? He brought some old Auburn practice uniforms with him (orange jerseys and navy jerseys) that, because of washboard washings, were no longer navy and orange, but looked more purple and orange. He also brought the name “tigers” with him, and named his brand new football team the Clemson Tigers. He chose orange as the dominant color, because those jerseys weren’t quite as faded as the navy ones. And from that time forward, Walter M. Riggs has been known as the “father of Clemson Football”.

But the story BEHIND the story is….without Auburn, Clemson would never have been Orange and Purple, would never have been “the Tigers”, and would never have begun a football program in 1896. Maybe Lewis Grizzard is right. Maybe Clemson is Auburn with a lake. But Clemson is even more than that. It is the beneficiary of the great, grand and storied history of the Auburn Tigers.

War Eagle! Beat Clemson!


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