Memorial Stadium, Death Valley – Clemson Football Stadium
Situated in what has become known as “Death Valley,” Memorial Stadium has a storied and mystique setting that has contributed to the home-field advantage so desired in the world of college football. Memorial Stadium opened Sept. 19, 1942, to a resounding thumping of Presbyterian College, 32-13.
The initial 20,000-seat stadium itself almost never was. As legend has it, head coach Jess Neely, just prior to taking the same position at Rice University, gave some sage advice to the university, pleading with representatives to never allow a big stadium to be built. In his eyes all that would be needed were “10,000 seats behind the YMCA.” Nevertheless, university officials moved forward and laid the groundwork for a stadium that would become as troublesome to build at its outset — clearing the poison oak-strewed land was difficult — as it would be for visiting teams to enter and leave with a win.
The Tigers play to a capacity of more than 80,000. The all-time attendance record was set in the first “Bowden Bowl,” in 1999, when in his first year at the Clemson helm Tommy Bowden faced his legendary father, Bobby, and the Seminoles of Florida State in front of more than 86,000 people.
The stadium also played home to the NFL’s Panthers in their inaugural season of 1995. The completion of Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., was not yet finished and Memorial Stadium had the seating needed to host an NFL franchise. The Panthers’ founder and majority owner Jerry Richardson intended to make South Carolinians feel a part of the franchise, even though the team would be permanently based out of North Carolina.
Two legends synonymous with Clemson football are Death Valley and Howard’s Rock.
Death Valley is thought to have been so named because there rests a cemetery on the hill where the press box now sits. However, the phrase was first coined by Lonnie McMillian, a former Presbyterian head coach. Prior to a game, he told writers that his team was going to play Clemson at “Death Valley” seeing as though his teams always got killed there.
Howard’s Rock is rubbed by the players in a pregame tradition for luck and to gain the mystical powers thought to be contained within the rock. Howard’s Rock was given to then head coach Frank Howard by 1919 Clemson alum S.C. Jones, who picked it up in California’s Death Valley. It was first placed on a pedestal at the top of the hill climbing from the stadium prior to a 40-35 Clemson win over Virginia on Sept. 24, 1966.