Chicken strips from a Wife Saver restaurant in Augusta, Georgia, honey mustard sauce, deviled eggs, cheese straws, three-bean salad, Kahlua cake and chocolate chip cookies were some of the standard pregame fare for the Four Fathers during football season at Clemson.
Ted Godfrey, one of the Four, co-owns and runs one of the Wife-Saver franchises. Ted always made sure we eat well. Some weeks he brought shrimp. Ted also contributed two daughters, Mandy and Amy to the rug rats that were always under our feet.
One week, when Rick Barnes, then our Clemson men’s basketball coach, stopped by, we were having lobster. Jim Davis, the coach of the Clemson Lady Tigers joined us on many Saturdays.
Marty Kearse was the three-bean salad guy, and usually provided the vehicle big enough for us to carry two tents, tables, chairs and the rest of the food from the Columbia contingent. Marty has two sons, Stacy and Stewart.
Fuzzy Thompson was the bachelor and the backbone of the Four Fathers. Fuzzy was the moving force behind the tailgating experience for our ever-growing group. We could not get to a game early enough to satisfy Fuzzy. Many mornings we left Columbia, South Carolina, at 5:45 a.m. to get to Death Valley in Clemson about 8:30 or 9 a.m. Our routine varied some, depending on which kids or guests were going, but our rut was pretty deep. I would pick up Fuzz in Melrose Heights, then we would drive to Irmo and either pick up Marty or get in Marty’s vehicle. We would drive to Pendleton, where we would meet Ted and his Augusta crew. Then we would drive bumper to bumper into our reserved parking lot at Clemson so we could park our two vehicles next to one another. We did not give enough money to have two numbered spaces, so this was the arrangement that worked for us.
I was the fourth Father with my two girls traveling to Clemson with us whenever they wanted to. Sally only rarely goes to a game, but she went when our seats were on the next-to-top row in the upper deck of the South stands. She was about eight months pregnant with Jenna. Yikes! When we tailgated, I would usually bring sweets and relishes as my contribution to the tailgate experience.
The first year I joined IPTAY (I Pay Ten A Year) was 1978. After a year or two, Fuzzy joined with me, and then, thinking we could get better seats if we gave more money, we asked Ted and Marty (we were all fraternity brothers in college) to join us. You can’t join as a group any longer, but we were grandfathered in. The Four Fathers paid our dues and attended games together for a bunch of years. We raised our kids in the Fike Field House parking lot. Depending on the year, we had 8-10 tickets between us.
Though I have never been a beer drinker, lots of beer was consumed. My role was designated driver before we knew the term.
Somewhere along the line I began smoking cigars and Randy and Diana Wright began to join us as part of the regular crew.
Larry Abernathy, the Mayor of Clemson for 28 years, was part of our group. On Fuzzy’s 40th birthday, while we were tailgating, Larry gave Fuzzy a Key to the City of Clemson in an impressive ceremony.
Listing everyone who tailgated with us is impossible. Some Saturdays we would have 20-30 people eating at our tables with their orange tablecloths. We would take a picture or two of our group every year and the configuration was always different.
When Fuzzy died a few years ago, the life went out of the party. We hung on for a while, but eventually gave up our IPTAY membership and our season tickets. We make the pilgrimage to a game or two each year. Our kids are scattered all over the Eastern seaboard, but sometimes we manage to get a group of us together.
Some folks who have never enjoyed the tailgating experience don’t understand the appeal. But on a Saturday in the fall in the Northwest corner of South Carolina, over 80,000 people partake in a picnic like no other.
Pass the chicken, please.
PS: This morning’s newspaper said Clemson was once again voted by Southern Living as the best tailgating venue in the South.