Howard’s Rock has become an iconic part of the Clemson football program’s history, but it almost never saw the inside of Death Valley.
Every Clemson football fan knows the iconic line from historic coach Frank Howard when he told his players: “If you’re not going to give 110 percent, then keep your filthy hands off my rock” during the 1967 season.
To this day, Howard’s Rock sits in the east end zone of Death Valley and serves as a symbol for the Clemson football players to always give their absolute best every time they step on the field.
But, what many don’t know, is that ‘The Rock’ almost never found its way on to the pedestal where it sits today.
The rock was brought from Death Valley, California and given as a gift to Coach Frank Howard from Samuel C. Jones in the early 1960s. For nearly half a decade, the rock simply was used as a door-stopper in Howard’s office until an absolute program-changing moment happened in 1966.
Howard was cleaning out his office and told Gene Willimon, a Clemson booster, to get rid of it.
"“Take this rock and throw it over the fence or out in the ditch,” Howard said. “Do something with it, just get it out of my office.”"
Thank goodness Willimon didn’t listen.
Willimon decided to sit the rock on a pedestal in the east end zone inside of Death Valley. The very next season- in 1967- is when Howard and the Clemson football players began the tradition of rubbing the rock before entering Death Valley.
It’s amazing to look back at the history and tradition of the program and think about what could have been.
What if Willimon had simply listened to Howard and thrown the rock away?
The rich tradition of this program would be absolutely changed. Think of the thousands of Clemson football fans who have gotten their pictures taken with the rock and what the symbol has meant to Tiger fans over a half-century.