Howard’s Rock

By Nancy Spitler
Photography provided by Clemson Athletics

The tradition that kicks off the most exciting 25 seconds in college football

Howard’s Rock is temporarily off its pedestal at the top of the Hill in Death Valley, thanks to construction. We thought it might be a good opportunity to revisit the origins of the famous rock that gets rubbed as players head down the Hill for home football games.

In the 1940s, Presbyterian College head coach Lonnie McMillan called Clemson’s football stadium “Death Valley” because that’s what they met when they came to play. PC’s Blue Hose had lost to Clemson 39-0 in 1946, 42-0 in 1947, 53-0 in 1948 and 69-7 in 1949.

In the early 1960s, Samuel C. Jones Jr. ’19 brought two rocks back to Clemson from Death Valley, California, and gave them to Coach Frank Howard. The whereabouts of one of those rocks is unknown; the other one served as a doorstop in Howard’s office until 1966, when he tripped over it then promptly ordered IPTAY Executive Secretary Gene Willimon to get it out of his office.

Willimon decided to place the rock at the top of the Hill in the east end zone. The first game Clemson played with the rock in place was against Virginia, and they came back from an 18-point deficit to win 40-35. It was a year later that Howard was heard to say to his team that they could rub the rock — only if they were going to give 110 percent on the field. “If you’re not,” he said, “keep your filthy hands off of it.” Clemson won that game over Wake Forest 23-6.

The original concrete pedestal was removed in 2000 to make way for the construction of the east end zone. John Fernandez ’69, owner of Stone Mart, carved a new granite pedestal that was installed on August 24, 2000. In June of 2013, the rock was vandalized, and about 15 percent of the rock was chiseled away, resulting in a sophisticated security system that has kept it safe since then.

This fall, when football season begins and the Tigers take their first run down the Hill, that rock will be back in place. We’re sure that Dabo Swinney’s language will not be as salty as Coach Howard’s is reputed to be, but the sentiments about the rock remain the same: “If you’re not gonna give 110 percent, keep your filthy hands off of it.”