When college football fans think of Clemson football, many things come to mind. There are the 18 conference titles (14 of those in the ACC, the largest total in that conference's history). The nearly 70 All-Americans and 170 NFL players may also enter the thoughts of some. Still others may cite the 1981 national championship, Howard's Rock, or “The Hill.” Whatever makes you think of Clemson, its rich history and place in the game's fabric cannot be argued.
The school, once coached by none other than John Heisman himself, opened its current home, Memorial Stadium, in 1942. The facility has seen several upgrades from its initial 20,500-seat capacity, and now seats four times as many fans. Death Valley – so nicknamed by former Presbyterian College coach Lonnie McMillan in 1948, because his teams annually lost there – even served as the home of the NFL's Carolina Panthers during their opening season in 1995, before moving to Bank of America Stadium the following season.
It is far too often the case that experiences do not live up to the hype. We can all cite at least one example of a so-called “classic” that left us wanting more. Memorial Stadium needs to be on every college football fan's “to-do” list. The experience is unlike virtually any other you will ever have.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Let us start by giving credit to Clemson for their consistency. There are numerous points-of-sale ringing the concourse, and they all sell virtually the same thing. The stands contain brats ($5), jumbo hot dogs ($4.50), hot dogs ($3.50), jumbo Papa John's pizza slices ($6 for pepperoni or cheese), boiled peanuts ($6), regular peanuts and nachos ($5), pretzels ($4), popcorn and candy ($3), and potato chips ($2). A couple of the various stands (all marked "Concessions") had some other hot items, such as chicken fingers ($7), bacon cheese fries ($5), hamburgers ($5), and corn dogs ($3.50). Coca-Cola is the bottler for the campus, and jumbo souvenir sodas ($6), souvenir sodas ($4), and bottled water ($4) are available at these stands. Hot coffee is also available for $4. Since there are so many of these stands, the lines are never all that bad, even during the half.
The real variety is found at the various carts and ancillary stands around the concourses. There is a stand, for instance, that sells pretzels for $5 (they looked a bit bigger to me than the ones at the other stand, but I'm not totally sure), with the option of getting a cream cheese or jalapeño pretzel for the same price. Funnel cakes are also available for $5 at this stand. There are popcorn carts around the concourse that sell a souvenir popcorn tub for $6. This is indeed a tub, as it looked to be a bucket with a handle on it. Local coffee chain Moe Joe sells espresso freezes ($6 for a medium, $8 for a large), lattes, coffee, and iced coffee. There are also carts for Dippin' Dots, lemonade, cotton candy, and sno-cones.
There is a stand just off the closed-in end zone that sells "Tiger Treats". At this stand, you may purchase a Tiger Dog (quarter-pound hot dog with chili, fried onion strings, and ranch), a Coney Dog (quarter-pound hot dog with chili, onions, and cheese) or a Bratwurst (with onions and peppers) for $6. A Clemson BBQ Sandwich (pulled pork with slaw served in a Clemson helmet) or Solid Orange Salad (carrots, purple cabbage, sliced cucumbers, fried onions, grilled chicken, and your preferred dressing) are $7 each. If these choices are not enough to satisfy your palate, just take a walk through the tailgate area after the game. We will discuss this a bit later.
Let's call this what it is: Clemson is a major university in a small town. This creates an interesting dynamic on game days. Watching fans stream up the street behind the open end zone after a game is a staple shot of most television crews doing post-game shows from Clemson. The surrounding campus and Lake Hartwell in the distance make for an incredibly scenic way to spend a fall Saturday afternoon or evening.
The entrance gates into the stadium move a bit slowly, but this is to be expected with over 80,000 fans passing through these gates for every Clemson home game. If you walk through the tailgate lots, Gate 13 is the first gate you will see. Each gate will bring you onto the main concourse, and once the initial bottlenecks disappear, there are numerous signs guiding you to your seats.
Most of these seats are bleacher seats, however. If you are going to a Clemson game, bring a seat cushion or look into the Tiger Seatbacks service. These seatbacks stay attached to the "seats" of season ticket holders, or can be rented from one of four kiosks around the concourse. The seatbacks are $45 for season ticket holders, with the cost going to benefit Clemson athletics. I saw several fans bringing their own stadium seats, so that may be a preferred option.
The Clemson Tiger Band is present at every game, and they keep the crowd entertained throughout. The Tiger Rag and the "C-L-E-M-S-O...N!" chant are Clemson traditions, and they are heard after each touchdown, at the half and after big third down stops. There are two video boards (one in each corner) in the closed-in end zone, and a large video board on the main scoreboard in the open end zone. These boards all display replays, down and distance and other key game information throughout the game. There is virtually no bad seat in the house here, especially with these boards.
Clemson is very much a college town. As such, a lot of the options near the campus are "tavern"-type establishments. These options all require a little bit of a walk (at least a half-mile), but there are numerous choices for you after a Tiger game. The preferred choice of many is the Esso Club, a former gas station located on Old Greenville Highway (South Carolina Highway 93). This sports bar began its service station roots in 1933, and now offers a variety of food choices and drink specials. The Esso Club is also open late six nights a week, until 2am during the week and midnight on Saturdays.
TD's Tavern, Tiger Town Tavern, and Friars Tavern are all similar options and are all within a decent distance of the stadium. Friars Tavern advertises themselves as a family-friendly option, so if you attend the game with kids, this may be the place for you. If you prefer a pizza, Mellow Mushroom Pizza is also located on Old Greenville Highway. They also offer different specials each day.
Though a lot of walking is involved in attending a Clemson game, you will often be surrounded by fellow fans. There is never a concern for safety when walking on the somewhat-rural campus. One other option of note is the South Carolina Botanical Garden, located on Perimeter Road just before SC 28 and U.S. Route 76. There are 295 acres of nature and wildlife to explore here, and everything is free to visit. The Garden is open from dawn to dusk each day.
Clemson features an amazingly loud group of fans. They get involved early in the game and only seem to settle down when Clemson has the ball in a key situation. They are a smart group and truly give the Tigers a home field advantage. As previously mentioned, the fans' chant at the end of Tiger Rag is so popular that it is even done in the glassed-in President's Club box.
Southern hospitality is also on display here, as even after the game, Clemson fans welcome opposing fans to their tailgates. I saw a number of visiting fans eating, drinking, and talking with Clemson supporters on the day I attended, which is quite unusual. While we speak of tailgates, if you want to tailgate, Clemson is your place. There are two large parking lots just outside the stadium gates full of orange tents and tailgates. There was even a small band playing a few songs at one of the gatherings. There are groups in just about every surrounding lot, as well, so if you want to get together with fellow fans, you will certainly have ample opportunity to do so.
This is the lone downfall at Clemson, as most of the on-site parking at Memorial Stadium requires a special pass to access. This will leave many fans making a walk, in some cases, of over a mile to get to the facility. Much of the parking is in grassy areas around the campus, so this might be a concern on rainy days. There are buses outside the gates of Memorial Stadium to take fans to various locations after the game, however.
Since the parking situation is so confusing, it is strongly recommended to follow the gameday parking map provided by the university. Also, plan ahead for traffic. The closest interstate, Interstate 85, is approximately 10 miles from campus, leaving U.S. Routes 123 & 76 (the latter co-signed with SC 28) and SC 93 as the main roads into and out of Clemson. Traffic can back up for as much as five miles at times, so this can add considerable time to your trip.
Once inside the stadium, the concourse is quite large and allows plenty of room for movement. The concession and restroom areas are, for the most part, under the seating bowl. This prevents you from being able to view the action from most of the stands, but Clemson helps that by having a closed-circuit feed of the game on televisions at several of the concession areas. The bathrooms are clean and plentiful, with no real lines to speak of all day when I attended. Considering how many fans attend a typical Clemson game, this is pretty incredible.
Tickets are, as one might imagine, quite expensive if bought through the university. Most single-game tickets go for $50, though the blow is softened a bit by free parking options. Tickets are also available via StubHub, to which the school provides a link on their ticketing page.
Concessions are reasonably-priced, considering the level of football you are watching. Most of the prices are referenced earlier in this review, but there are inexpensive dining options for those who prefer eating in the stadium. The ticket and food prices are about on par with most ACC schools, and the action on the field makes the value that much better.
There is so much tradition at Memorial Stadium, and much of this tradition could produce five extras in itself. Everyone is familiar - or should be - with the story of Howard's Rock, which rests at the top of the hill down which the Tiger players run at the start of each game. The rock was presented to then-coach Frank Howard by a 1919 Clemson graduate, Samuel Jones. It sat neglected in Howard's office for years, then found its place in the end zone before a 1966 Clemson victory over Virginia. The tradition of Clemson players rubbing the rock before each game began before the 1967 season. It is a common photo opportunity for Clemson fans and visitors alike, and fans love to rub the rock for good luck as they pass by.
For those who attend a Clemson game without sporting their gear, or for those who wish to add to what they brought to the game, there are numerous souvenir locations throughout the stadium. There is a nice selection of Clemson merchandise at each, including t-shirts, hats, and the other typical Tiger garb. I could not see a price list visible on the day I attended, but one would imagine there are different options for any budget.
We talked earlier about the three video boards inside the stadium, and the team has many cool uses for these boards. One of these uses is to share the tweets that selected fans send to the official Clemson athletic department Twitter account (@CU_Athletics) on the boards during the game. This is another great use of the video boards and helps promotes fan interaction with the team.
One of the sites fans need to visit in any trip to Memorial Stadium is the Scroll of Honor. This site, maintained by the Clemson Corps, pays tribute to Clemson graduates who have been killed in the course of serving their country. The Corps has also set up a web page for each individual who has been killed in any military operation. These pages list biographical information and other tributes to those Clemson grads who lost their lives.
In the spirit of honoring those who serve, the university conducted Military Appreciation Day on the day I visited. The school honored wide receiver and Purple Heart/Bronze Star recipient Daniel Rodriguez by having him carry the American flag down the hill before the game, as well as having two of his platoon mates visit him on the field before the fourth quarter and allowing them to be recognized by the crowd. The school had a flyover before the game, and the Tiger Band joined with the Virginia Tech Marching Virginians to play "God Bless The USA" and the anthems of each branch of service as veterans of foreign wars were honored on the field. Veterans of each individual service branch were also encouraged to stand throughout the crowd as their particular anthem was played to be recognized by those in attendance. The entire ceremony was incredibly touching, and it was a wonderful touch of class by those in the Clemson athletic department.
We often refer to historic and important stadiums as cathedrals, and the phrase often seems misguided. When you consider the history of football in this southwest South Carolina town, however, it almost seems defensible. There is a special feel to football in the south, and Clemson helps define that feel. Smart fans, good people, great times, and quality football are on display for each Clemson home game. If you have never had the chance to visit Clemson, put it on your calendar. Home and road fans alike will love the experience.
Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina, was built from 1941-1942 in a small valley on the west side of campus. In 1942, the Clemson Tigers won the first football game at the stadium, 32-13, over Presbyterian College. Since then, the wins have continued to pile up in Memorial Stadium, or, as it has become widely known as among Clemson supporters, "Death Valley." The Tigers have a 227-88-7 record in Death Valley, including a 3-0 mark against defending national champions (beating Georgia in 1981, Georgia Tech in 1991 and Auburn in 2011. Watch out, 2020 national champions).
The stadium was also the brief home of the NFL's Carolina Panthers, who played there in their first season in 1995 before moving to Bank of America Stadium. The main attraction here, however, is college football, specifically Clemson University football. There are few cities that are absolutely obsessed with their college football team. Clemson, South Carolina, is one of those few cities, as you can't go anywhere without seeing the Tiger Paw (Clemson's official logo). The town revolves around the school and the athletics program in a way few towns do.
One of college football's most popular traditions takes place in Death Valley, as the Tigers touch Howard's Rock and charge down the hill onto the field. This is known to many college football fans simply as "The Most Exciting 25 Seconds in College Football."
By far the best college stadium I've ever been too. The crowd is fantastic and never seems to quiet down. Easily the best in the ACC at a bare min.
This place is awesome. There is no stadium or atmosphere like it. The fans are electric.
Clemson is a true college football town. The place was crazy before the game and everything about the area was something else that I cannot really describe.
The stadium itself was okay. You pretty much have slabs of concrete making up the stadium but with some nice touches on the gates and the end zone exteriors as well as the brick facade on the walls around the field. But that green hill with Howard's Rock overlooking is definitely unique and cool.
The fans were awesome. They were knowledgeable, into the game, and most importantly classy. The food was okay as the variety felt limited.
Only complaint was that is somewhat of a challenge getting to the stadium and leaving. Not a great spot here. Overall though, if you're a college football fan, this place is a must visit.
Originally for SC but from Houston now I still come to Clemson games. Clemson have the best fans and they treat opposing teams better than anyone. 2013 Georgia coming back on schedule. Still waiting for Bama to visit Death Valley. If you make it to a game you will not be dissappointed.
I've been to nearly every Division 1 Football stadium here in the southeast and Clemson is by far the best of them
368 College Ave
Clemson, SC 29631
There are no local entertainment entries. Help us build with your expertise!
There are no local lodging entries. Help us build with your expertise!