Who is the face of Clemson Football?

When you think of Clemson Football, who comes to mind first? There is no right or wrong answer.

This was the question thrown at the website Show outside the boundaries Thursday afternoon on 105.5 The Roar in South Carolina. I liked the question so I thought I would borrow it, or in this case, take it.

I think I know the answer for most of you. The answer is Dabo Swinney.

And that is completely understandable.

Swinney is without a doubt the best football coach Clemson has ever had. We all know his record and what he has meant to the Clemson Football Program.

Some of you are probably thinking of Danny Ford. I understand that too.

Ford was Clemson football in the 1980s, led the Tigers to their first national championship in 1981 and owned the ACC for an entire decade. The run Clemson had in the 1980s was unprecedented until Dabo Swinney came along.

However, when I think of Clemson Football, I think of Frank Howard.

Howard is Clemson Football. He is to Clemson what Bear Bryant is to Alabama or Wood Hayes is to Ohio State.

“When you think of Clemson football, you think of Coach Howard,” Ford said. “He’s the one who set it up for us and what we were able to achieve during our time here. People knew about Clemson long before us because of Coach Howard.

Howard walked the sidelines of the stadium he built for 30 years. His Clemson teams won a total of 165 games, only one of three active coaches at the time of his retirement with 150 or more wins.

In total, Howard won eight conference championships, including six Atlantic Coast Conference Championships. He also led the program to national prominence with multiple bowl appearances in prestigious games such as the Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Gator Bowl.

His 1948 team went undefeated and untied with an 11-0 record, which was capped off with a win over Missouri in the 1949 Gator Bowl. In 1951, the Tigers completed another undefeated season, 9-0-1, with a win at Miami in the 1951 Orange Bowl Classic.

It was the 1951 Orange Bowl that made it Howard’s mission to highlight Clemson as often as possible. After the regular competition the 10e-ranked Tigers accepted an invitation to play in their first Orange Bowl game.

No one in South Florida was happy when it was announced that Clemson was undefeated and 15e-Miami ranked in the Orange Bowl. They wanted to know why their local team and the prestigious bowl game were hosting a school that no one knew about.

When Howard got word of this response, he was not happy. It bothered him. Normally he would just wave some of this issue away. However, this one got him. He felt his team and Clemson deserved more respect.

At a banquet after the regular season, Howard expressed his displeasure.

“They should read the AP poll if they want to know more about Clemson,” he said.

Clemson once again felt disrespected after it was announced that national champion LSU would play the Tigers in the 1959 Sugar Bowl Classic in New Orleans.

Clemson was 8-2 and finished 12the in the last AP Poll in 1958. Sugar Bowl officials were impressed with the ACC Champions and invited the team to play in their bowl game.

The local press wanted to know why the Sugar Bowl had chosen such a lowly school as Clemson to play the mighty Bayou Tigers of Baton Rouge. The New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote, “Oh, Frank Howard, we beg you to warn that team of yours that LSU now reigns supreme; and when it reigns, it pours.”

However, Howard wouldn’t be ready.

“This coaching company will get you if you let it. More and more letters are coming in from alumni and even little boys and girls telling me what to do about (Billy) Cannon and the Chinese bandits,” Howard said in a speech to the Biloxi, Mississippi Chamber of Commerce, holding newspaper clippings waved. “If I didn’t have a coaching job, I would be between the shafts of a team. But despite all its trials, coaching is better than ploughing. I’ve always noticed that you come across a lot of stupid guys in the newspaper and radio business, and tonight is no exception.’

The ACC’s Tigers held their own against the national champions in the Sugar Bowl. Cannon’s 9-yard touchdown pass on a halfback option to Mickey Mangham, in the third quarter, proved to be the only score in a 7-0 LSU victory.

“Clemson is the best football team we’ve faced this year,” Cannon said after the game. “They really hit the mark.”

With Howard bragging to the media about Clemson and his teams performing well on the biggest stages, no one asked, “Where’s Clemson?” or “Why do we play them?”

Howard retired as head football coach at Clemson after the 1969 season and remained as athletic director until he officially retired in 1974.

Even in retirement, Howard remained Clemson’s greatest ambassador, and his wit and sense of humor made him a popular guest speaker across the country. The media, especially columnist, called him just to hear one of his stories.

Almost until his death in January 1996, Howard booked speaking engagements, selling the Clemson brand and making sure everyone knew about Clemson. From the day he took over from Jess Neely in 1940, Howard’s sole mission was to make sure everyone knew where Clemson, South Carolina was.

That’s why, when I think about Clemson Football. I think of Frank Howard.

A limited number of signed footballs from Clemson’s 2022 class are still available. Get yours while supplies last! Visit Clemson Variety & Frame or buy online!

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