My name is John Carter-Hirt and I can honestly say that Clemson University sports have changed my life. I transferred to Clemson from The University of Miami and the two years I have spent in this small South Carolina town have completely changed the way I define school spirit and what it truly means to be a fan.
Being a fan at The University of Miami mostly means partying before football games and checking to see if Sports Center is covering anything to do with The Canes. Clemson is a whole new ball game, literally and figuratively.
It is difficult to put into words how different the sports experience was when I came to Clemson. People here live and breath Clemson sports, especially football, even if they never took a college class. Of course, there are super fans everywhere, even in Miami, but the concentration of people who spend most of their free time watching or reading about our teams at Clemson was previously unheard of in my experience.
I personally know many many people that can name our football team’s entire starting lineup on both sides of the ball, and the relevant backups for every position, including linemen. I think this example in and of itself can be projected to explain why Clemson sports are so amazing and unique. People here really take the time to get to know their team, even from the minute the players sign that piece of paper in their high school gymnasium.
I cannot say enough about how genuinely invested the general population is in our sports programs. Even some of our club sports have garnered a following, with the shotgun team winning recent national titles and the bass fishing team getting covered on national television. Sports in Clemson are simply a part of life. As an average student, this kind of environment makes it pretty difficult to do anything other than dive into the culture as well.
One specific story comes to mind as a perfect example of why I love sports at Clemson. It’s a cold night in early January 2016 I’m standing on an old wooden bench in some kids backyard watching the game projected on the side of his house. The Tigers are in the fight of their lives up to that point against Alabama to win the 2015 National Championship.
It still pains me to describe the details, and most sports enthusiasts know what happened anyway. Long story short, Clemson loses in an extremely upsetting fashion, and Alabama continues their reign of terror on the college football world.
As we all stand there in shock, shivering to the core, tears begin to flow all around the yard. A few people throw beer cans at first, but the overwhelming theme is silence and the need for solitude, as if we just lost a member of our collective family. No one is complaining, no one is angry, everyone just feels sad because we know how hard The Tigers fought that year. More importantly, each and every one of us as fans invested a big part of ourselves in that season, so what the players must have been feeling was basically unfathomable to us, all we could do was mourn.
However, it’s what happened the very next day that makes this story notable, and describes why Clemson sports are so unique. I remember waking up that next day and everything I was reading on social media and in my personal group chats had the overwhelming theme of positivity. Everyone was saying “it’s ok, we’ll be back next year” and even cracking jokes like “We have to let Alabama have one so they don’t feel too bad about themselves when we take home the trophy next season”. But wait, the odds of any college football team making it to back-to-back titles, especially in the Alabama era are pretty slim. Also, what if Deshaun Watson (our beloved QB affectionately known as DWat) declares for the NFL Draft? While these were ideas and questions that were running through my mind and probably everyone else’s’, no one was saying them out loud. Everyone maintained the theme of positivity regardless of the circumstances. And when the team came home, there was a crowd waiting for them to show our support in this time of need, even though we had lost.
Fast-forward to the next January, it was a similarly cold night, and I am standing in some kids house watching my Tigers in the fight of their lives against Alabama. It’s the fourth quarter of an extremely close game, DWat throws a short pass down the right side to Hunter Renfrow, a play that will be forever etched in my mind. Everyone knows what happened after that and thus was the night that many Clemson students will describe as the single best night of their lives. This story just captures the Clemson sports experience so well to me, I refer to it as the Clemson allegory in my head. The singular set of feelings that was simultaneously felt throughout the whole Clemson nation in that year encompassing the two championship games is why Clemson sports are so special. We stayed strong as a unit, we stayed positive as a unit, and we won The College Football National Championship as a unit. Now maybe you will believe me when I say that Clemson sports have changed my life.
There really is something in those hills, and I promise you we are ever loyal.