Hate, Heartbreak and Georgia Tech.
Well, hello again, Tiger nation,
The last time we came together I regaled you with the tales of old that led me to root for the boys in the orange on Saturday. Now, I know the last decade of heartbreak has been comparatively less than say the 90’s? The early 00’s? The late 00’s? But as an elder millennial, true 90s kid Clemson football fan (including being part of the sellout crowd of the ’98 Clemson/South Carolina game with 3 combined wins between the 2 teams), my early Clemson years introduced me to a level of ire that I could not experience in any other part of life.
And that is what I wanted to touch on today:
Who was the first team or what was the first game you attended that broke your heart as a fan?
I’ll break it down like this: The first time I got my heart broken by a team and the first game I attended where I came away furious. Both of these moments are tethered together by a singular team, one that might even surprise some younger Clemson fans. The culprit?
North Carolina? If it’s basketball, maybe. But this is a sport with more than 5 players, so no.
South Carolina? As much as I hate them, still no.
Who is this team that led me to experience my first orange clad moment of anguish? Somewhere between my disgust for Tyler Hansbrough and my complete disdain of Beth Dutton from Yellowstone, you will find just how much I could not stand Georgia Tech in my youth. Yes, the same Georgia Tech that we have come to expect to roll over in the past decade was a team that somehow found the most inexplicable, incomprehensible, and unfathomable wins.
For a lot of people, Georgia Tech doesn’t make the list of teams to care about beating. After all, we have enough to deal with in our feathered brethren to the south, our Atlantic Division rival from Florida, and the actual successful team in Georgia.
But for me? I enjoy every point we put on Tech. In 2020, Clemson won 73-7, and to be honest, I wanted 80. Why? Let’s roll back the clocks to October 28th, 2000, and I’ll tell you.
It was the Saturday before Halloween and Clemson was 8-0. They were coming off a come from behind win with a backup quarterback and were a win away from a Gameday show down with Florida State the following week. All they needed to do was beat Georgia Tech. This team was different from years prior; gone was Joe Hamilton, the South Carolina native who made it a point to beat Clemson every time they played (and he surely did). In his stead? A much less dynamic George Godsey at the helm.
This was supposed to be my head start for a primo Halloween; I had a sick costume (I was heavy into Pokémon at the time) and we had the route ready to cash in on a ton of candy in a few days. That candy was soon the only thing I’d be looking forward to.
The thing is, Georgia Tech just never went away that game. Even with Woody Dantzler hurt, Willie Simmons had helped Clemson battle back, giving them the lead with about 90 seconds left. The defense had every opportunity to get just one stop. But with 13 seconds left, the aforementioned Godsey found Keith Watkins for a touchdown with 7 seconds remaining.
Complete devastation. I had never felt so furious in my life. That was the first time I had ever just gotten fuming mad over a game. Clemson had it, right in their grasp, and then Tech just took it. That was the maddest I ever was at a Clemson game…..until 4 years later. When I attended the Clemson game against (you guessed it) Georgia Tech.
That was a huge weekend for my middle school self. Going to games with my brothers and sitting in the student section was the absolute pinnacle of living for a 14 year old me.
I got to listen to music I had never heard before like Hillsong and Jamiroquai (I know they are 2 vastly different genres, but I still listen to that same Jamiroquai album to this day). I got introduced to this new fangled church called NewSpring and for the second time in a row in the student section, my brother almost got in a fight (it was awesome). The cherry on top? Getting to watch Clemson beat Georgia Tech.
And it seemed like it was going to happen after Kyle Browning took it to the house to make it 24-14 with just a few minutes left. Even after Tech scored to cut it to 24-21, Clemson could just run out the clock right?
Or just get off a punt, right?
Which team lands first on your hate and heartbreak list?
Instead, I got to witness the sequence of a muffed Cole Chason punt that was recovered in the Clemson redzone, followed by getting to watch Calvin Johnson make a name for himself. Again, I was devastated. I was furious on a level that I have only been a handful of times after (Ask my wife about the Pitt game in 2016).
And that’s not even mentioning all the times that Georgia Tech just found ways to win after. Believe me, I could spend a whole article on the debacle of going to my first road game in Atlanta in 2011.
So there you have it: the reason Tech lands on my yearly most wanted list where they share space with Clemson’s most hated rivals. So I ask you:
Which team or game broke your heart first as a Clemson fan?