|Getting ready to roll down the hill in a few minutes.|
First of all, Clemson is pretty dang close to us. Expecting a traffic nightmare leaving the day of the game from Atlanta at 8 AM, I was on location within two hours. It seemed strange to me all weekend that this little known college from my standpoint was just around the corner.
The campus was obviously a buzz with excitement for the big game, and from all accounts did a great job as a host. The campus is a quite beautiful place with echoes of Southern tradition, a nice mountain and lake backdrop, and a friendly place as well. All the fans I came across were extremely welcoming and looking to have a good time. Even the folks next to us at the tailgate gave us a quick "Welcome to Clemson" and offered us a beer. Every fanbase has their bad apples, but from a general perspective this welcoming notion was the norm for people we came across. It was sort of like they were excited to share their little slice of college football with another big time program they hadn't played in a while.
The tailgating scene was pretty well put together. One of the issues we obviously face in Athens is having to run all over town to see everyone you would like on a given gameday. Clemson's tailgate area was centrally located and close to the stadium, and furthermore the lots were clearly labelled and easy to navigate. Easy access to bathrooms, a clean campus, and well laid out logistical landscape made the tailgating day and short walk to the stadium a breeze. It was energetic, and much of what we were accustomed to seeing when visiting our common SEC opponents.
As a college football fan, I was pretty excited to see the unique tradition of the Tigers running down the hill. What I didn't expect was what a nice backdrop Memorial Stadium was. The story behind the stadium is pretty neat as well as it serves to honor all those who have laid their lives down as Clemson men and women for their country (they actually are number 2 behind West Point in war casualties, as until the 50's the university was a military school). Sitting up top I had a clear view of the sunset over Lake Hartwell, and got to take in the much noted entrance from a great perspective. The crowd was there early, and loud. It seems to be the norm in a few of the other stadiums we visit that the crowd is there early to create a hostile environment in big time games (which I know has been of some debate amongst the Georgia ranks). Getting to take in the entrance was pretty awesome and even had me up on my feet ready to roll for the game. Definitely something to take in at some point in your life as an unbiased football fan.
One of the really interesting aspects was the fact that after the game, anyone and everyone is allowed to enter the playing field. While some folks seemed to think Clemson was rushing the field, it was just the norm of what happens after every game. There were kids playing football, students hanging out, and old friends taking in the scene. It was pretty unique to be able to wander around the playing surface right after the game had taken place.
I also got to see (the much debated in Georgia ranks) newly built indoor football practice facility. The sheer volume of the place can't really be taken in from the outside. It's a full length football field with extra space on the sidelines and enough ceiling height for seemingly any kind of football operation you'd want to produce. It's complete with field turf, the ability to pump noise in, and I'm sure offers a nice advantage during the dog days of summer or rainy days throughout the season. These are the new trend in college football, and Clemson has a great one for the time being.
I think overall the thing I was most impressed with was the people and attitude that the campus held. I would compare it very similarly to Auburn. While I'll be the first one to throw a jab at schools that emphasize a sense of niceness as magoo sometimes, it is refreshing on occasion to not see a drunken debacle the whole day or have a bourbon and coke hit you in the head. As mentioned before all the opposing fans we met were more than welcoming. Likewise those who were peppered in my section were certainly there to enjoy a football game first and foremost, and I was able to engage in some good conversation pertaining strictly to the game and atmosphere. It was interesting that they didn't have to have security guards running up and down the aisles breaking up fights, but the fans were still rowdy as ever and able to deliver a good level of intensity. This is further emphasized in the fact that they can openly let everyone run out on to the field after the game (which ended around 12:30, and there surely was some bourbon pumping through the air after a long day of tailgating).
While some may think I'm being a little vanilla in my favorable view of Clemson, I'm merely stating my experience. It was a great setting for a day of college football. I wouldn't trade the town of Athens or the UGA gameday experience for anything, but I think there are some takeaways to be had from this game. The most important being the fanbases' ability to get there early, show up loud, and provide a real home field advantage. The other logistical items are something we have to weather being a school twice their size and having what I would say is a little "rowdier" crowd that opens it's doors to a much larger demographic of folks come game day. Heck, I'm as diehard of a UGA fan as they come and will give my all for the team, but at the end of the day I enjoy sharing what we all have come to love in college football with some good people.
We had some great Clemson friends that hosted us all weekend, and did a great job of giving us an overview of everything their gameday has to offer. Overall, a pretty nice experience despite a painful loss, and a road trip well worth your time if you get the chance as a college football fan.