The Tiger Paw Turns 50

By Tim Bourret

 Clemson’s iconic symbol has been a lasting source of pride for alumni and fans

When Hootie Ingram succeeded Frank Howard as head football coach in 1970, he believed the program needed some changes to its image. So, he set up a meeting with sports information director Bob Bradley and other administrators.
One of the items on the agenda was the logo for athletics, which had been an image of a real Tiger for many years. The discussion went up the food chain and eventually reached the desk of University president R.C. Edwards.
Edwards was good friends with Clemson alumnus Jim Henderson, founder of Henderson Advertising in Greenville, so he asked him to come up with some ideas.
Henderson delegated the design of a new athletics logo to John Antonio, who had spent most of his career with the company working with corporations. He was part of the team that came up with the “Fly the Friendly Skies of United (Airlines)” campaign. Antonio contacted 32 different schools that had a tiger as their mascot. “All of them had some drawing or picture of a live tiger,” said Antonio. He wanted something that would make Clemson stand out.
One day, Antonio brainstormed a logo in the image of a tiger’s foot. He contacted the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and asked for a plaster-of-Paris cast of the imprint of a tiger’s paw. A print was made of the object, and while local legend holds that the tilt of the Paw is because of the 1 p.m. kickoff during that time, apparently the print came that way from the museum, simply because the angle is the natural turnout of a tiger.
In June 1970, Henderson invited Clemson officials, including Howard, who was still the athletic director, to a meeting in which they would unveil this unique logo. Antonio brought some tangible uses of the paw to the meeting, affixing it to blazers and schedule cards. He even included a mockup of Death Valley with the Tiger Paw at midfield and a similar picture on the floor of Littlejohn Coliseum. During the presentation, there was tension in the room; Howard basically showed no reaction.

But that all changed when Antonio pulled out an orange Clemson helmet from under the desk. He had emblazoned a white tiger paw on it. In those times, it was unusual to have any logo on a college football helmet. “That helmet made a big impact on Coach Howard,” then-sports information director Bob Bradley recalled years later. “He was so impressed, he wanted to bring that helmet back to Clemson and show everyone.”
On July 21, 1970, Clemson unveiled the Tiger Paw with a blitz of press conferences around the state, including Florence, Charleston, Columbia and Greenville — plus trips to Charlotte and Atlanta. The caravan included new head football coach Hootie Ingram, new head basketball coach Tates Locke, All-ACC running back Ray Yauger and Wright Bryan, then-vice president for development. The group left Greenville-Spartanburg Airport at 7:15 a.m. and returned to Greenville for the final press conference of the day at 5 p.m.
Soon after its release, the Tiger Paw was everywhere. That included being painted on all highways headed into Clemson. It did not take long for the Tiger Paw to grow in popularity, especially among other schools with a feline mascot. Clemson did not copyright the logo for many years because the theory was to get the “Paw” as much exposure as possible.
The Tiger Paw was finally copyrighted after the 1981 National Championship football season when Clemson merchandising exploded. This year, we celebrate 50 years of the Tiger Paw as one of the most recognizable logos in the nation. It is synonymous with Clemson University and is a tangible source of pride for all Clemson fans.
“Last summer I traveled to Europe and all over the United States,” said Dabo Swinney. “Everywhere I went, I ran into people proudly wearing the Paw.”

9 replies
  1. David W. Dailey
    David W. Dailey says:

    I read with interest the article in the e-edition of the Clemson World. I thought you might like an interesting story about the paw. I enrolled in Clemson in Industrial Education in the Fall of 1969. I was asked to be involved in The Navigators, a Christian Organization that was forming on campus. During the Spring ’70 semester, I took my first graphic arts class and as a part of the class, I designed and printed a brochure for our Navigator group. If I can add attachments later, I’ll post the brochure. I came up with the tiger paw idea in the Spring of 1970, while the university was spending who know how much for the Fall debut of the official tiger paw. I searched the library for a paw print for my brochure.
    Just thought you might like to know a different paw story.
    Clemson Degrees
    BS – Industrial Education, 1971
    MInEd – 1973
    Specialist – 30 hrs beyond, though not officially a Specialist degree in 1988

    • Bill Willis
      Bill Willis says:

      Very interesting PAW story David as well as being very interested in learning more!
      And, probably ditto for the guys & girls on TigerNet Sports Blog.
      Saying, they would certainly enjoy this new twist of the PAW.
      Cheers & Go TiGERS!
      “Lightbulb” BiLL (Class ‘66)

    • Bob T
      Bob T says:

      I was in the same class/year at CU, also in the engineering school. It was reported in some publication that year that the development cost for the tiger paw logo was about $3000-not enough to make anyone wealthy, even in inflated dollars!

  2. Robert Truesdale
    Robert Truesdale says:

    I, too entered Clemson in the fall of 1969 (incidentally, while Woodstock was drawing to a close a little further north) and embraced the Frank Howard legacy of football and tradition: the last meaningful year of participation in “rat” season, for instance. I think—as students—we all marveled at the new and exciting turn, as represented by that simple tiger paw—my first glimpse was on the handbook for the start of the 1970 school year. We were told at the time that the logo was developed by an advertising firm, for the sum of . . . $3000. That’s a lot mileage—over the years—for a seemingly simple logo changeover.
    Incidentally, I think we have all wondered at the small, crescent shaped scar (?) in the pad of the footprint—an artifact of the actual cast of the tiger’s footprint [or, perhaps, a nod to the crescent moon in our state flag]?

  3. Tim Bergin
    Tim Bergin says:

    I was a graduate student in 1964 in environmental health engineering at Clemson. At that time there was a fullback who had graduated from Clemson playing for the BC Lions in the CFL. They had the paw on their Helmets. A year or 2 later, the paw appeared on the Tigers helmets

  4. Nelson Woods
    Nelson Woods says:

    After graduating Clemson University in 1969, I was at various stations in the army in 1970 and 1971 including Vietnam. Since our school communications was not like it is today, with social media, I really was not aware of the change to the PAW in the early 1970’s. My first PAW experience was driving off I-85 to Clemson homecoming game in 1972 and seeing the PAW tracks on the road. It was great. I love the PAW. Thanks

  5. John Perkins
    John Perkins says:

    Coach Howard, from time to time, would be interviewed on the pregame radio show. One Saturday he was asked about the paw. My only specific memory of that interview is the coach’s observation that he wished they had put claws on the paw so that it could “huh..rt” [hurt] somebody. Coach Howard played to win.

  6. David O. Reynolds
    David O. Reynolds says:

    The scar on the Paw. I read an article from Clemson some years ago about the Paw and it’s development. The article stated that the scar was actually on the tiger’s paw when the cast was made. It is authentic and natural.
    Clemson graduate Jan. 21, 1965
    BS English & History
    Sigma Kappa Epsilon fraternity
    US Army, 1st. Lt. Vietnam


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