“Put about 10,000 seats behind the YMCA. That’s all you’ll ever need.”
Those were the words of Coach Jess Neely as he left for Rice after the 1939 season. Fortunately, Clemson didn’t follow his advice.
In 1941, the S.C. General Assembly authorized the issuance of $100,000 in bonds to build a stadium. The project was a mid-1900s version of a Creative Inquiry project: Civil engineering students did the preliminary surveying, Professor H.E. “Pop” Glenn and Carl Lee, a 1908 engineering alumnus, provided the design and construction drawings, and players cleared the hill- sides. Coach Frank Howard and returning football players laid the sod in the summer of 1941. Legend has it that Howard put a plug of tobacco into each corner of the stadium as the concrete was poured.
When all was said and done, it seated about 20,000 fans in 26 rows. The University’s trustees named it Memorial Stadium, commemorating all of the alumni, faculty and staff who had died in service to the country.
The first game of the season in 1942 was against Presbyterian College, as it had been since 1930, and Clemson rolled over them 32-13. PC head coach Lonnie MacMillan is credited with providing the stadium its nickname in 1951 after being defeated 53-6.
“It’s like going into Death Valley,” he said.
The name stuck and gained even more traction with the addition of Howard’s Rock in 1966, presented to Coach Frank Howard by an alumnus after a trip to California’s Death Valley. It was at the 1967 game against Wake Forest when rubbing The Rock became a tradition. Legend has it that Coach Howard challenged the team by saying, “If you’re going to give me 110 percent, you can rub that rock. If you’re not, keep your filthy hands off it.”
Another 17,500 seats were added in 1958 (overseen by Professor Glenn), and in 1957, the first Tigerama was held. In 1960, dressing rooms, restrooms and additional concession stands were added along with 6,000 more seats.
Had the original plans for Hartwell Lake gone forward, Memorial Stadium would have been flooded up to the 26th row. Lengthy negotiations and the addition of dikes ensured the stadium’s survival.
More seats have been added over the years, with current capacity at more than 80,000. And just this summer, Yahoo Sports ranked Clemson as having the most exciting entrance in college football, referencing its designation by sportscaster Brent Musburger as “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football.”