Photos by David Welch, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.43
Frank Howard Field at Memorial Stadium 1 Avenue of Champions Clemson, SC 29634
Year Opened: 1942
Frank Howard Field at Memorial Stadium – Clemson Tigers
In what otherwise would be a sleepy college town of just over 17,000 sits the 83,350-seat Frank Howard Field at Memorial Stadium, ominously dubbed “Death Valley”.
Originally founded as a military and agricultural school in 1889, Clemson began playing football in 1902. The Tigers were successful in their early years, but it would be Frank Howard who would bring consistency to the program, leading the Tigers for 30 years and nearly 300 games.
It was Howard who would start the tradition of rubbing the chunk of quartzite from Death Valley, California. Howard implored players, "If you're going to give me 110 percent, you can rub that rock. If you're not, keep your filthy hands off of it". The legend of “Howard’s Rock” was born and is the centerpiece of the famed, “Greatest 25 Seconds in Sports”.
Clemson would go on to national prominence in 1981 under Coach Danny Ford when the Tigers won their first National Championship in an Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska. It would be 35 years until Clemson would reach such heights again, winning the BCS Championships in 2016 and again in 2018.
Whether it is the history, tradition, or year-round passion for every morsel of the off-season and recruiting news, there is just something about college football in the South that resonates differently than it does in the rest of the county. Football at Clemson University is a true Southern football experience, rooted deep in traditions old and new.
Food & Beverage 4
As with schools with a heavy tailgating presence like Clemson has, there are always impressive setups and spreads throughout the tailgating encampments. Fans are eager to offer up a plate to passersby or to share with neighboring tailgaters.
Once inside the stadium fans have a bit more than just the usual concessions stand suspects. Hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and chicken sandwiches are the main staples but can be partnered with fries and a beverage for a combo meal.
Those looking for a bit of a taste of the south can grab boiled peanuts on the top deck, marked ‘TD’ on stadium signage. Mac Attack with their mac-and-cheese serves three variations of the comfort food classic, while Fort Hill Grill in the southeast corner of the main level concourse has a limited menu, but does provide grilled bacon burgers and chili dogs.
As with most schools in the south, Coca-Cola is the soft drink of choice at Memorial Stadium. Fans wanting something with a bit more of a kick to it are out of luck, as alcohol is not sold inside the stadium.
The game-day atmosphere of college football in the South has the feel of a highly formal event, from the tailgating to the game. By tradition with Southern Greek life, fraternity, and sorority members come dressed to the nines for college football games – sports coats and ties are common attire for fraternity members, while many female members of the student body don dresses in various hues of purple and/or orange. It is a rarity for any Clemson fan to show up without orange as a featured color in any outfit.
The team’s arrival at the head of the “Tiger Walk” two hours before kickoff signifies the unofficial end of tailgating, as many fans crowd the walkway from Perimeter Road to Memorial Stadium to catch a glimpse of the team as they head to make final game preparations.
Much of what makes the Clemson football experience so special are all the traditions that are interwoven from the pre-game warmups to after the final seconds tick off the clock, the highlight of these being what has been dubbed, “The Most Exciting 25 Seconds in Sports”. The Tigers board buses outside of their locker room on the west end of the stadium and ride them around to the east end.
The stadium of more than 80,000 then erupts as the buses come into view and stop at the gates under the scoreboard. Head Coach Dabo Swinney gathers players for one last word of encouragement before a cannon blast signals the Tigers down the hill as they rub Howard’s Rock. The band erupts into “Tiger Rag” and fans ring out with, “C-L-E-M-S-O-(PAUSE)-N!”, as the spirit squad leads the team onto the field with flags spelling out “CLEMSON.”
All this excitement comes in about 3-4 minutes, but the adrenaline of it all carries on throughout the game, from first down chants, touchdown cannons, and a well-choreographed musical selection that combines the traditions of the Clemson band with an in-house DJ.
The in-game entertainment staff does such a good job combining the importance of Clemson’s traditions, partnering them with keeping students and fans engaged to perfectly complement the game, while not taking the spotlight off the reason everyone is there.
As if there were not already enough traditions going on before and throughout the game, in one of the more...interesting...traditions in college football, win or lose, Clemson's students rush the field to sing the school alma mater with the team and coaches. While students rushing the field following a big win is not completely an uncommon occurrence, seeing it after handily beating a non-conference opponent does catch you off guard if you are not expecting it.
It is so easy to get caught up in the traditions and events going on to complement the game, it almost makes you feel as if you are a Clemson alum.
With a population of just 17,000, game days bolster that number significantly. What typically would be a sleepy rural South Carolina town is transformed into a moderately populated city.
Clemson, South Carolina is a great college town. College Avenue sits just off the northern edge of campus and is a stretch of apparel shops, bars, and restaurants. The sidewalks are crowded with fans dressed in orange, purple, and white. The street gets backed up with cars for close to a half mile. It is everything you would expect from a college town’s main thoroughfare on game day.
For fans looking to take the game day experience late into the early morning hours, the Clemson nightlife continues until 2 a.m.
If there is a drawback, it is that Clemson does not have a large hotel inventory city-wide, but does have a concentration of both locally owned and chain hotel options along Highway 123.
Clemson’s small-town nature, along with the tailgate culture of the area, helps make Clemson a great game-day college town.
Clemson football fans are every bit as passionate as any college football fan base you will find in the nation, and the recent successes of two National Championships in three years have done nothing but push that passion to a nearly unmatched level.
Even for evening kickoffs, fans start setting up tailgating encampments in the pre-dawn hours for a full day of revelry before the main event. Tents and pull-behind trailers are set up as far as the eye can see, as fans spend the day grilling and putting down a few beverages as they toss footballs and take in the day’s early matchups.
As game time nears and fans begin to empty the tailgating fields and head toward Memorial Stadium, they seem to already be filled with fervor in anticipation of kick-off. The game entertainment crew does a great job whipping fans into a frenzy before the game starts, but the fans need little help making “Death Valley” a difficult place for the visiting team to play, in turn making it such a memorable experience.
One of the biggest drawbacks is given its location, getting in and out of Clemson before and after games can be quite the challenge. Leading up to approximately 3 hours before kickoff, traffic patterns start to change with lanes and street closures.
The streets of Clemson are not overly wide to handle a high volume of traffic. The volume of traffic paired with the number of pedestrians in and around campus can make navigating the streets challenging.
There are free shuttles that bring fans from parking areas at the furthest reaches of the area and drop them off at Kingsmore Stadium. So, those who might not want to park in the heart of the game day festivities have the option to park closer to the main travel arteries into Clemson, to make getting out post-game a bit quicker. The most popular lots for tailgating enthusiasts though seem to be the intramural fields adjacent to Littlejohn Coliseum.
Some fans have tried to circumvent the traffic issues with golf carts to make getting around town a bit easier. It works well for those in the carts, but it does create some uncertainty with pedestrians.
As fans begin making their way into the stadium, the easiest access point is found along the northern side of the stadium and provides full navigation of the main level. Fans with tickets on the southern top deck will find an entry point at the apex of the steep hill. Some carts can assist fans in getting up the challenging grade.
When looking at the navigability of Memorial Stadium, the lower-level concourse is split into inner and outer concourses – one side allows for lines of concession stands to back up without impeding the flow of fans.
Other than some challenges in getting between levels on the southern side, Memorial Stadium does allow fans to get around the stadium with relative ease.
Return on Investment 4
When looking at price points for college football, there are a lot of factors that go into ticket pricing besides the face value. Tickets for many of the high-profile programs get snapped up almost as soon as they go on sale, which leaves fans to navigate the secondary market. The secondary market can end up being rather deceiving, easily turning what looks like a bargain of a ticket into an expensive venture once service fees are tacked on.
The further ahead you can plan, the more affordable the overall experience will be, and this will also increase the likelihood of securing a ticket when it goes on sale.
Parking can get a bit expensive if waiting until the last minute and the need arises to pay for private lots. Off-campus prices typically run $40-$60 whereas on-campus lots typically run $10 - $30 if purchased ahead of time. A free lot and shuttle are available from the New Spring lot in neighboring Seneca, approximately 2 miles from campus.
Clemson recognizes its heritage as a military school with a series of medallions honoring each of the branches of service. The medallions are embedded in each of the brick pillars that make up the exterior gates of the stadium along Williamson Road.
Not enough can be said about the role Clemson’s traditions play in creating a top-notch experience. Clemson’s entrance down the hill is one of the few that can legitimately be considered in the discussion of college football’s best entrances.
For $10 fans can rent cushioned seatbacks to make their game experience a bit more comfortable. Except for club-level seating, Memorial Stadium has exclusively aluminum bench seating.
A rarity in college football, Clemson does provide fans with a half-time pass out, allowing them to leave and then later return to the stadium.
Around the main level concourse, large banners highlight Clemson’s 1981, 2016, and 2018 championship seasons. Key bowl victories are also memorialized with similar type banners.
Clemson is one of the top game-day atmospheres in college football. Even in years when a championship season might not be realized, the passion from fans and the electricity that builds up inside the stadium leading to kickoff creates a one-of-a-kind college football experience.
From the pregame festivities along both University Avenue and in the tailgating lots around Memorial Stadium, the energy that is built up inside the stadium leading up to kickoff, and a typically high caliber level of football, both contribute to creating an unforgettable college football experience.