“Running down the hill” at Clemson University was part of my weekly routine during the falls of 1965 and 1966. I was a student trainer for the Clemson University football team, and our locker room and training facilities were at the top of a hill. The stadium was built in a traditional “Bowl” configuration. Many of the students sat on the bank of the hill by choice. When the stadium was not sold out, the slope where the students gathered was a playful place. When tickets were at a premium, the hill was used for the overflow from the stands.
One of the giant textile firms that populated the upstate of South Carolina in those days donated a carpet that ran down the center of the hillside. It was very natural for the football team to gather at the top of the carpet after walking over from Fike Field House when they dressed for the game. When a cannon sounded (Clemson’s history includes being a military school), the team ran down the carpet (which was purple rather than red or orange, if my memory is correct). At the foot of the hill, they were met and led toward the sideline by cheerleaders and flag-wavers and a lot of noise from the fans.
When the locker room moved into the stadium, at the opposite end of the field from the hill, the tradition of running down the hill before the game had been embedded. By then, Frank Howard had placed a rock from the real California “Death Valley” at the top of the hill and challenged each player to rub it as a sign of commitment to play at their best. Nowadays, the players board buses to be taken from the locker room around the stadium, then to the top of the hill.
For football fans, the experience is high drama. According to football analyst Brent Musburger, this is “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football.”
Musburger made that claim in 1985 about Clemson’s tradition of rubbing Howard’s Rock, then running down the hill before home football games. The process, depending on when you begin timing it, actually takes from one to six minutes. It is hard to imagine a more exhilarating start to any football game. It’s not a long trip, but it is one of my favorites:
The short version:
The long (better) version: