When I lived in McClellanville, I was surrounded by the orange and purple of Clemson University.
My nearest neighbor was a Clemson grad. The mayor was a Clemson grad (who had a dog named Tiger — no, not Tiger Woods, he quickly corrected me). The contractor who built my house was a Clemson grad. Even the senior warden at my church was a Clemson grad.
After the Clemson Tigers football team won the national championship in 2016, I congratulated my neighbor and said I was glad they won, then added that I was not really a fan.
It was like heresy.
I told him I grew up in Big Ten country and graduated from Minnesota, not Clemson. I said I felt closer to South Carolina’s Gamecocks. I actually attended a game there and my daughter graduated from Coastal Carolina, which had been affiliated with USC. And I spent time at USC, judging newspaper contests for the S.C. Press Association.
Besides, I’ve never been to Clemson and don’t even know where it is. Somewhere in the mountains?
Well, I can’t use that last argument anymore.
I have spent the last week at Twin Lakes Campground about 10 miles from Clemson and its 17,000 residents, and on every trip into town have been bombarded with the Clemson Tigers, including huge orange tiger paws painted on some of the roads.
Many stores have some form of Clemson Tiger identification on their sign or windows; a Waffle House used half of its building for a giant Tiger paw.
I didn’t take a poll, but I would guess that nine out of 10 residents (students and non-students) wear some variation of Clemson Tiger logo.
The reason became pretty clear when I visited The Tiger Sports Shop on, you guessed it, Tiger Boulevard and was met by waves of Clemson Tiger shirts and sweaters and caps and shoes and belts and watches and cuff links and even little puppy sweaters — most everything you could think of and each one screaming “We Love Our Clemson Tigers!”
It was an impressive journey that forced me to remember that fan is short for fanatic — in a good way, dear Clemsonistas.
The week was topped off by a visit to an Episcopal church in nearby Pendleton and another Clemson surprise.
(Pendleton itself was a pleasant surprise, with a stunningly beautiful library and 1826 Bistro, a restaurant where we had the best lunch in two months of travel.)
But I digress.
On the grounds of St. Paul’s Episcopal church was a cemetery and there in the middle were the remains of Thomas Green Clemson, a former U.S. Superintendent of Agriculture and the founder of Clemson University.
Thomas Clemson was a slaveholder who played a a prominent role in the Confederacy. But years after the war — the “lost cause,” as he put it — he criticized the South, saying the Confederacy was “conceived in arrogance, matured in ignorance and delivered in imbecility.”
Clemson was described on a plaque at the church as a “scientist, agriculturalist, statesman and educator.” The plaque added that Clemson’s “promotion of education in the fields of agriculture and engineering is an enduring gift to the state, the nation and the world.”
So, OK. I get it. Clemson is a great university and South Carolina is lucky to have it. But I’ll still be cheering for the Gamecocks when they play those dang Tigers Nov. 30.
Contact Bob Bestler at firstname.lastname@example.org.