After learning the hard way about sitting in football traffic all day, 10 years ago here in Clemson and then last year while barely moving toward South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium, I got wise today and left a relative’s house in nearby Pickens, S.C. at exactly 1 p.m.
That’s a full seven hours and 22 minutes prior to tonight’s schedule 8:22 kick between the nation’s Nos. 5 and 8 ranked teams at the venue the Tiger faithful lovingly call Death Valley. My cousin in Pickens drew me a map of the back roads, which looked to be the best bet to avoid the heavy traffic and make it into the media parking lot without a whole lot of hassle. And I couldn’t hardly believe it when I encountered no football traffic at all coming into Clemson on highway 29 from the east. But best laid plans often go awry and when I missed a left turn at the edge of campus which would have taken me onto the South perimeter directly to the media area, I ran smack into all that famous Clemson traffic everyone talks about here. And in a bumper-to-bumper line I found myself for nearly an hour until I wrapped around the North perimeter road of the campus and finally into the designated parking area, which was still a long country walk from Memorial Stadium.
All in all, though, it was the easiest time I’ve made it to a football stadium in the state of South Carolina. Safely in the press box at 3, still five hours until kickoff, all the other media that arrived early simply killed the long hours as best they could, fiddling with stories and clicking on other websites while occasionally glancing upward at the somewhat boring afternoon games on the TV monitors spaced along press row here.
Among the early arrivals in the press box were two members of the Georgia radio network, legendary former kicker Kevin Butler and a guy who knows as much about Bulldog football history as anyone I know, Bulldawg Illustrated’s own Jeff Dantzler. You followers of our print issue and website will be happy to know Butler, who drilled the Clemson Tigers with his school record 60-yard field goal in 1984, will once again be naming his Players of the Week for Bulldawg Illustrated beginning of course with his selected players from tonight’s game, which will appear in the South Carolina issue this coming week.
As I get ready to post this blog on the BI website, we are now just over an hour from a game that has excited the Bulldog and Tiger nations from the minute it was scheduled. And the weather conditions which looked very threatening three hours ago, with dark clouds and lightning looming off in the distance beyond the West end zone and some rain even falling on the empty stadium, have improved considerably with bright sunshine the last couple of hours. So barring a sudden thunderstorm coming out of nowhere, everything is looking very favorably for this national game of the week, one that will have the winner still riding high in the top 10 rankings and will have the loser likely plunging somewhere into the second 10 positions.
Notice I haven’t said anything about the game itself. If you’re like me, you’ve read and listened and watched all summer long about the so-called strengths and weaknesses of the Georgia Bulldogs and Clemson Tigers. You fully realize what this gigantic opener means to the players, to the coaching staffs and to the fan bases.
Like that guy with the golden voice, Michael Buffer, shouts before those premier boxing and wrestling events, “Let’s get r-e-a-d-y to r-u-m-b-l-e, let’s get it on! The talking is over with. Which of these two teams is a contender to a 2013 national championship and which is a pretender? Can Georgia’s young defense slow down Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins? Can Clemson’s also unknown “D” stymie Aaron Murray and his merry band of receivers? Can the Tigers even think about slowing two guys named Gurley and Marshall?
We’re just over an hour away from getting the answers to these questions. Both teams’ skill position players stayed on the field for nearly an hour practicing their throws, catches and kicks in t-shirts and shorts and, yes, Georgia’s supposedly suspended place-kicker, Marshall Morgan, was down there working on kickoffs. Whether Morgan will play or not, no one knows but Mark Richt and of course he’s not telling prior to kickoff. But the Clemson Tigers will be shortly touching Howard’s Rock and running down that hill in East end zone, the Dogs will be trotting onto the turf from the visitors’ dressing room on the other end of the stadium. We’re just over an hour away from feasting our eyes on the best spectator sport in the universe.
And I know that you, like I, are simply elated that King Football is here once again!