I must admit to being a bit spoiled when it comes to Boston College's biennial trip to Clemson's Death Valley to take on the Tigers. The fact that Jeff lives in South Carolina makes the logistics for getting to the game and tailgating pretty easy for us. Despite the relative ease of having all the logistics squared away ahead of time, I always have a great time on my trip to South Carolina and all accounts were that first-timers had an equally positive experience.
If you have yet to get to Clemson for a game between the Eagles and Tigers, you are doing Boston College football fan-dom wrong.
This was my fourth trip to see the Eagles play in Death Valley, having previously made the trips in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2013 - only missing 2011 due to the recent birth of our only daughter. I've witnessed first-hand great games between two ACC Atlantic heavyweights (2007), low-scoring, OT slugfests (2005), a dominant, lightning delayed BC beatdown (2009) and an upset bid over a Top 5 Clemson team that fell just short (2013). Regardless of the outcome of the game the trip to Clemson is always, always well worth it.
From what I heard, the rather sizable Boston College student group that made the RV trek down to Clemson this week had a similar experience. The student section was out in full-force on Saturday. I can't tell you how many compliments I got about the contingent of students that made the trip down from Clemson fans after the game. Almost to a person, the student section was clad in Superfan gold and was LOUD the entire game. A few opposing fans mentioned that the number of BC fans that traveled to the game rivaled that of the number of Georgia fans for the Tigers' season opener against the Bulldogs.
Here's the student section shortly after BC went ahead 14-10 on Amidon's TD grab:
Until the 77,000+ Clemson fans really got into the game in the second half - really getting loud and making life extremely difficult for the Boston College offense and the OL - Boston College fans were near as loud as a more or less stunned Memorial Stadium crowd through the games first 30 minutes. The BC fan section's noise level reached its peak after the Eagles needed just one play - the Rettig to Amidon 69-yard strike -- to regain the lead at 14-10 halfway through the third quarter. The play unfolded right in front of where our seats were and I nearly lost my mind on what was a beautifully designed play, well run route and one hell of a throw. And yes, that was me with the Johnny Hockey t-shirt.
@bcinterruption are you in the front row in a Johhny Hockey shirt?— Amy Calhoun (@ACal6888) October 12, 2013
Following the conclusion of every game, Clemson leaves Memorial Stadium open for 30 minutes for fans to walk the field and congratulate the players walking off the field. (And no, this was not Clemson fans rushing the field after a win over an unranked Boston College squad). This has always struck me as one of the more understated but very cool college football traditions out there. Younger kids get to run onto the field and look up at the two imposing walls of bleachers -- gaining the perspective of what it must be like to play a college football game in front of 77,000 rabid fans. If possible, I would love to see Boston College similarly open up the Alumni Stadium turf to fans and visitors at the conclusion of the game after the band plays the alma mater.
As you'd expect, the tailgating scene is vastly superior to BC's if for no other reasons than a) Clemson having plenty of real estate to park cars all over campus and b) you can tailgate as long as you like. Jeff's tailgate has graduated to include a generator, an HD DirecTV satellite dish and a flat screen TV, so we were able to watch the South Carolina-Arkansas game at noon (much to the delight of the Clemson tailgaters next to us) and the Michigan-Penn State and Texas A&M-Ole Miss games after, staying well past 10 PM before packing up and heading back to our lake house.
Did I mention that Clemson is near a lake? There are any number of houses and rentals surrounding the Clemson/Seneca area with easy access to both the tailgating lots and the local watering holes. If you can find a deal and can forego the hotel route, I highly suggest finding a house on nearby Lakes Hartwell or Keowee and holing up there for the weekend.
On Friday, we hit up The Esso Club for the Boston College Gridiron Club event with all-you-can-eat BBQ and beer specials. The Esso Club is an old, 1920 gas station turned bar with a bunch of outdoor seating where the gas pumps used to be. It was recently picked as the #1 college football sports bar by ESPN Magazine. Think: MaryAnn's, if MaryAnn's was built in an old grocery / gas station. Despite three previous trips down to Clemson for this game, I had never been to The Esso Club so it was great to finally get there and check out the scene.
At some point in the night, the Gridiron Club event broke up and they started playing live music, so we walked down to Tiger Town Tavern for a few more drinks before heading back to the house. We must have hit Tiger Town Tavern a bit early in the evening because the bar was as empty as I've ever seen it for the Friday of a BC-Clemson football weekend. This may have been due to the fact that Clemson students were on fall break, or that BC students were still en route, but accounts were that it filled up much later in the evening after us old guys had already called it a night.
I'd be remiss if I didn't thank and draw attention to how incredibly hospitable Clemson fans truly are. Clemson earns the award for having the most hospitable fan base in the ACC going away. Truly, it's almost a little unsettling how friendly these folks are. Many fans come right up to you, shake your hand and genuinely thank you for making the trip down. Before the game, when you mention the massive point spread or that you don't think BC has that great of a chance in the game, these guys are the ones that are quick to point out that "nothing is a given in college football." After the game, Tigers fans were highly complimentary of how BC played and had great things to say about the direction of the program under Addazio. I'd say it was 70/30 BC played well vs. "Clemson almost pulled a Clemson," though there were some comments that focused more on how Clemson played vs. anything BC did.
Like I said, if you have yet to make the trip to Death Valley for a Boston College game, start saving up and marking your calendar to make the trip in 2015. With the series with Notre Dame moving to once every three years (and a game in South Bend roughly just once every six), my hope is that the trip to Clemson becomes the de facto student RV rite of passage trip over time. Unlike many of Boston College's other ACC series, these two schools have a much richer shared history dating back to the 1940s and play for an actual trophy and funny-looking leather helmet (which hopefully BC will win back one of these years).
This year was tough for much the same reason as many fans chose to fly out to southern California for the @ USC game over this game, which is understandable given the uncertainty of whether BC will ever get the chance to return to LA Memorial Coliseum for a game against the Trojans. While USC is one of three programs never to have played an FCS school, the Trojans most assuredly will play Notre Dame and a local Mountain West school annually. Combined with a nine-game PAC-12 schedule, that leaves USC just one non-conference game a year to be filled by any number of BCS AQ opponents. The supply/demand forces for another home-and-home with USC is not in BC's favor here. As such, Boston College fans responded with a huge turnout in Los Angeles - the best road/neutral turnout since last year's Army game and the 2007 Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando before that.
Unfortunately, in 2015 @ Clemson goes up directly against @ Notre Dame, meaning many Boston College fans may once again miss out on this trip. And while it's tough to compete against the allure of Notre Dame football, Touchdown Jesus and the Lady on the Dome, most objective criteria -- quality opponent, weather, location, accommodations, opposing fan base, etc. -- actually point to heading to South Carolina over northern Indiana, if you have to choose. Having attended games in South Bend in 2004 and 2009, I don't have much of a desire to ever go back - especially now that the series will be played with much less regularity. On the other hand, I don't plan on missing another road trip to Clemson and look forward to returning to Death Valley in 2015. Then again, I suppose I'm a bit biased and just enjoy seeing a good friend. That and I don't know anyone that lives in northern Indiana.
Above I've put together a bunch of pictures from my trip. Click on the right arrow to browse through them. If you attended this weekend's game in South Carolina, leave your thoughts on your own experience below.