Memorial Stadium – Clemson Tigers
Photos by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.14
Memorial Stadium Avenue of Champions Clemson, SC 29634
Year Opened: 1942
Death Valley Days
Clemson University was founded in 1889, as the result of a will from the Clemson family leaving their plantation property and assets to start a college in upstate South Carolina. Today Clemson is a major science and engineering research institution with more than 20,000 students. It offers more than 80 major fields of study.
Football has a long history at the school, as it first fielded a team in 1896. It originally played at Riggs Field, which now serves as Clemson’s soccer pitch. Over the years, Clemson has had several well-known coaches, including John Heisman, Frank Howard, Charlie Pell, Danny Ford and its present leader, Dabo Swinney. In the modern era the Tigers have won 16 ACC Championships and two National Championships. It has also had more than 100 All American players and sent more than 200 players on to the NFL. Some of the more familiar names in the NFL include William “Refrigerator” Perry, Dwight Clark, Charlie Waters, C.J. Spiller, Sammy Watkins and the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner DeShaun Watson.
The home for Clemson football since 1942 is Clemson Memorial Stadium, better known as “Death Valley”. Appropriately it was designed by a Clemson graduate and an engineering professor on the faculty at the university at the time. It is a daunting place for visiting teams to play, as the Tigers have a home winning percentage of .716 since the stadium opened. After several renovations and expansions, Death Valley is the 16th largest football stadium in college football with a capacity of 81,500. It is the largest stadium by capacity in the ACC. To fit all those Tiger tails into the stadium aluminum bench seating is used in a majority of the seating bowl. It is wise to bring a seat cushion or rent a seatback at the stadium.
Food & Beverage 3
The food and beverage offerings at Clemson Memorial Stadium are about what you would expect at any stadium. There are 24 general concession stands equally distributed throughout the facility. They carry your more traditional football fare such as hot dogs ($4.50), nachos ($5), popcorn ($3), pretzels ($4) and peanuts ($6) Drink options include water ($4), Coca-Cola products ($4), and coffee ($4). Alcohol is not served as the stadium is on a college campus.
Clemson Memorial Stadium has a wide variety of product specific concessions in addition to its more generic stands. These stands include the Blue Ridge Beanery, Healthy Grab and Go, Nuts About Clemson, Papa John’s Pizza, Tiger Bites, Death Valley Dogs and Tiger Oasis.
Death Valley has one of the best football atmospheres in the country. Start with a football program with a great football heritage, add a small college town setting, fill a stadium with 80,000 purple and orange clad fans and serve it with some it wonderful football traditions and you have a football Saturday in Clemson.
The vibe gets started early with Solid Orange Fridays. The entire student body, the faculty and the townspeople all wear purple to show their solidarity with the Tigers. Gameday brings a series of traditions together in fast order. The first step is Running Down the Hill. In the early days, the team’s dressing rooms were in a gym up the hill from the stadium and players ran down the hill to the stadium. Over time that gym disappeared but the Tigers still run down the hill and onto the field in what Brent Mussburger has called “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football.” Before the players descend to the field the players rub “Howard’s Rock” for good luck. This is a rock supposedly transported to Clemson from Death Valley, California by a friend of former Coach Frank Howard to motivate his players. The third element in the team’s entry is the playing of “Tiger Rag” by the Clemson band. Most people know it by its refrain of “hold’em tigers.”
Howard's Rock, Photo by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey
This all sets the tempo for the rest of the day and is a big reason why the Tigers have a 71% winning percentage in home games.
Though Clemson is a small town, it offers an above average experience as a neighborhood.
Clemson is a small town of 14,000 residents located in the Piedmont region of South Carolina. The Princeton Review cited it as the #1 city for excellent “town and gown” relations with its local university.
Most of the restaurants and retail locations in Clemson are found along College Avenue, which is within easy walking distance of the stadium. Popular restaurants and bars along Clemson’s “main street” include the Tiger Town Tavern, Brioso Fresh Pasta and Palmetto’s Smokehouse and Oyster Bar. Just down the hill on Old Greenville Highway is the legendary Esso Club. The former gas station has been a Tiger watering hole and eatery since 1933.
Most of the lodging establishments are located on “hotel row” along Tiger Boulevard (Highway 123). Some of the larger hotels are the Comfort Inn Clemson and the Hotel Tillman. Due to the huge capacity of Memorial Stadium and the small-town nature of Clemson on most days of the week, finding in-town accommodations can be difficult. Additional lodging options can be found in the nearby towns of Anderson, Pendleton or Seneca.
Clemson fans are in a league of their own in their support of the team.
The Tiger fanbase plays a major role in the 71% home winning percentage. They arrive early, dress and yell loudly and represent the team and the university well. The ascendance of the ACC as a football conference and the recent National Championship has only brought the enthusiasm to a more fevered pitch. There is a combination of factors that explain this passion for the Tigers: winning teams, great traditions, a lovely campus and a state with only two schools in a major conference in the football crazy South.
The spacious and beautiful Clemson campus offers plenty of room for purple and orange tent cities to pop up overnight. It is an all-day affair for Clemson fans and tailgating is quite an art. The Tiger band and cheerleaders come by to entertain and energize the masses before heading to the stadium. Unlike many stadiums where fans arrive just before kickoff, the Tiger Nation packs the stadium early, as no one wants to miss the spectacle that is the Run Down the Hill and the playing of Tiger Rag. This enthusiasm stays at a fever pitch throughout the game.
The Tiger fans do not limit their support to games at Death Valley. Clemson is known as a team that “travels well”. This means that the Tigers will bring a sizeable number of fans to away games… in some cases outnumbering the home team’s turnout. Bowls that have Clemson as a participant assure themselves of having a sellout.
While two schools have laid claim to the moniker of “Death Valley” to their stadium, a number of media outlets have established the clear favorite. Clemson was ranked #11 out of 142 cities throughout the nation as a Great Football Town and #2 in the country for having the most “engaged and friendly” football fans by WalletHub.com. According to Bleacher Report, “Clemson has a home field advantage that is one of the tops in all of college football.”
Getting in and out of Clemson before and after a game can be problematic and is average for towns this size.
Clemson is located 10 miles west of I-85 just above the South Carolina / Georgia state line. The main routes into town are via US 123 (Tiger Boulevard) and US 76 or SC 93. Either way, you need to figure in plenty of time to both get to the game and get home afterwards as traffic will be at a crawl. Due to limited accommodations, most of the fans will commute to a game. Clemson opens its game day parking areas at 6 am, so if you arrive early you will have plenty of time for tailgating and soaking in the Clemson football experience.
Once in Memorial Stadium, you will find that it offers wide concourses that will be easy to navigate. Concession stands are in sufficient numbers to handle the large crowds and restrooms are readily available. After you’ve enjoyed another Tiger game just remember to pack your patience as it takes quite a while for the stadium crowd and the traffic to thin out.
Return on Investment 4
The return on investment for Tiger home games is higher than average.
The Tigers have one of the largest season ticket bases in the country. This means that you are most likely going to check out the secondary ticket market or the visiting school’s ticket allotment for an individual game tickets.
Non-conference games at the beginning of the season are your best bet for acquiring tickets at a reasonable price. Parking in Clemson University controlled lots is $25 and must be purchased prior to game day. Many of the area hotels will offer complimentary shuttles on game days. The concession prices are very reasonable and of good quality. Lodging in the immediate Clemson area is limited and you can expect special event pricing ($150 or more) on home game weekends. You can save money by staying in towns such as Anderson, Seneca or Pendleton, which are just a short drive from Clemson.
There are many extras to enjoy when visiting Death Valley:
Frank Howard served as Clemson’s football Coach for 30 years and was associated with the school for more than 50 years. The playing surface at Clemson Memorial Stadium is known as Frank Howard Field to salute his long service to the school.
Clemson was unable to host a home game against its in-state rival, the University of South Carolina, until 1960. All games were played in Columbia until Clemson’s stadium was expanded to a size sufficient to hold the sellout crowds. The teams now alternate hosting the game.
Clemson Memorial Stadium is one of the few college stadiums in the country to allow “passouts.” Spectators may leave the stadium at halftime and allowed to re-enter for the second half. They must present their ticket, a “passout pass” and go through security again to use this privilege.
A number of factors earned the stadium the moniker of Death Valley. When the stadium was first built it utilized a natural valley on the school campus. Atop the hill looking over the stadium at that time was the Clemson University cemetery. Later in its life, a coach who had suffered many thrashings at the hands of the Tigers said that playing Clemson at home was like entering the “valley of death”. Coach Howard took advantage of the nickname with his “Howard’s Rock”, a motivating tool. It supposedly came from Death Valley, California. Players who touch the rock are required to give 100% on the field. The rock, in turn, provides good luck to the home team.
The South Carolina Botanical Gardens are located on the Clemson campus. The 295-acre facility is colorful on a year-round basis.
A trip to Death Valley is truly a bucket list item for any Southern football fan. The pageantry, the many unique traditions, and the history of the storied Clemson football program add up to an experience that is not to be missed.