Those Tiger Paws That Lead You Home

By Nancy Spitler
Photography by University Photographers

There are some things that happen around Clemson that we have come to simply accept as part of the local culture. Corporations changing their building colors to show a bit of Tiger pride, all the roads going in and out of town filled with cars on game days, Solid Orange Fridays. And Tiger Paws painted on the streets. 

One might pause and wonder how that tradition got its start. 

Backstories of traditions often involve defying the laws of nature, or in this case, laws regulating what can and can’t be on the streets of our state. Patricia Roffe ’74* shares what she dubs “the true story of those first Tiger Paws on pavement:”

“I started my freshman year in August 1970, the same year the now iconic Tiger Paw was introduced. Giveaways showcasing the new Tiger Paw were common. I remember receiving a padded stadium seat with a black Tiger Paw on one side and several downtown sponsors listed on the other. The town bank hadn’t quite caught up. I was disappointed that my checks had a tiger cub in the corner and not the Tiger Paw. The radio and newspaper had features hyping the Tiger Paw to increase excitement.

“It was in this spirit that an idea was hatched by Jim, Tom and Will to paint a Paw on the highway ramp. They came back into what was then married student housing with their paint can and brushes, excited and laughing about what they did. The gang that was there mirrored their enthusiasm.

“The next morning, the Tiger Paw was the talk of the campus . . . including the police. Word was they were looking to arrest the ‘vandals’ who defaced public property. Those of us who knew who was involved stayed mum, of course. Events changed quickly when alumni arrived for the next football game! The alumni went crazy for the orange painted Paw. 

“From that day on, official Tiger Paws were painted everywhere.”

We thought after so many years, the statute of limitations wouldn’t apply, but apparently, the laws of memory still do. Roffe did give us one last name, which we haven’t been able to confirm, so if you’re Jim, Tom or Will, you have the appreciation of thousands of Clemson alumni and fans who have enjoyed the Tiger Paws leading us home. 

“From that day on, official Tiger Paws were painted everywhere.”

* We misspelled Patricia Roffe’s name in the print version. Our apologies. It is “Roffe,” not “Joffe.”

2 replies
  1. Kelly Rusinack
    Kelly Rusinack says:

    Not just alumni & fans.
    I applied to do my graduate studies at Clemson after years of working in DC.
    I had driven down I-95 many times on my way to my Florida vacations, but I’d never been to the upstate before. I applied to the Clemson History department based on its reputation back in 1991, and was accepted to begin my Masters degree 30 years ago this August.
    As I exited the interstate in my little moving van, it was a very welcome guide to see that orange tiger paw! It got me excited to know I was truly close to my destination. I will never forget the thrill of seeing that first painted tiger paw. In the days before GPS and cell phones, we used paper maps and atlases, so seeing something other than road signs and highway designations was unique. I realized then that Clemson was going to be a fun experience.
    Just a side note, by contrast, where I did my undergrad is in a Pittsburgh suburb & so secluded, many people don’t even know a school is tucked into that little exclusive neighborhood. Very different experiences, wouldn’t trade either for the world.

  2. Allissa Savage East
    Allissa Savage East says:

    I was attending ODU, and living at home, but after two years I was looking at colleges to transfer so I could have a full collegiate experience, former Clemson professor Col. Norton encouraged me to come take a look at Clemson, so on a dark, sleety, cold December night, my mother and I drove towards Clemson. As soon as those tiger paws appeared I got goosebumps, looked at my mother and said, This is it, this is where I want to go to school. She replied, but you haven’t even see it yet, we’re still on the road. I simply said, I just know this is where I belong, it’s home!


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