CLEMSON – It was the quiet before the storm as the Tigers practiced for the last time Thursday…
A First Hand Account Of The 1961 Sigma Nu Pra
Yep, I was a member of the Sigma Nus. It was Nov 11, 1961. Big day against ClemSin. We had started the year 1-5, and so another losing season was upon us. But what the hell? We partied with the best of them! Question was, how could we save the season?
College Pranks were legendary back then. A couple of years before, ClemSin students had vandalized statues of respected Carolina Alumni on Sumter Street before the Big Thursday game! That had gotten a lot of state attention. So Carroll Gray, believe it or not, now the Pres. of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, came up, along with Doc Howard of Gray Court, SC (Doc later was instrumental with Ed Robinson in creating the Cockabooses), with the Prank of all Pranks: Our frat would dress up as the ClemSin Tigers and appear on the field of Carolina Stadium pregame, and spoof the ClemSin faithful! (in 1961, Carolina Stadium held about 47,000. Same location, and was the predecessor to W-B).
At any rate, the fraternity had 3 weeks to prepare for the big event. Bo Mullis, my college roommate who was later to become the President of the South Carolina Trial Lawyers Association, and I, were USC cheerleaders, and therefore were not part of the Clemson pre-game team as we had to go on as usual as cheerleaders egging on the crowd with our hottie partners! (Mine was Anna Louise Long, Bo's was Carole Jones, whom he later married). But we were privy as to what was going to happen, and had participated in the three week practice.
No kidding. The fraternity practiced looking like a football team for three weeks in secret, running onto the field, doing drills, synchronized push-ups, stretches, and so forth.
The secrecy was made as a collective blood oath: It was great! like being in the CIA! Unbelievable, but more than 50 kids all kept it to ourselves, a remarkable task. The more I reflect upon it as the years passed, the more I realize what a monumental secret we all kept, because when it happened, it was shocking to 47,000 people, and ultimately to all of college football!
Anyway, we had an inside track to Orangeburg High School through one of our members. Their colors were Clemson colors, Orange and Purple, and we were able to appropriate Orangeburg's uniforms for the weekend.
In years past, the Carolina-Clemson game had been played on Thursdays, and as most of you know, it was the only game in the US played on Thursday. In the State of South Carolina it was known as Big Thursday. But Frank Howard and the Clemsin folk, didn't like playing the big game in Columbia every year during state fair week, so on Nov 11, 1961, it was the first Big Saturday in Columbia.
Meanwhile, as the Big Saturday approached, the Sigma Nus practiced and practiced doing the Clemsin warmups.
We had found an old milk cow and Ed Hancock was in charge of trucking it to the stadium. The cow was going to have a sheet tied on it declaring her the Clemson Homecoming Queen. Ed and a few others loaded Bessie onto the back of a pickup truck and headed to Columbia from Lexington County.
Meanwhile, inside the stadium, the pregame crowd was loud, and the Clemson band was playing Hold that Tiger, and the Carolina Band was playing our Old Fight Song. (Which is great and should be brought back!) They were like dueling bands! We were cheering Culture vs Agri-Culture! and Beat the Damn Farrrrmers! and the Clemsin rats (frosh) were in unison standing and giving Carolina hell.
Then it happened. The Sigma Nus came streaming out of the Southeast corner of the endzone, and Clemson fans could be heard yelling Here Come The Tigers!!, and the ClsmSin cannon went off! And their band broke into Hold that Tiger!
And the Sigma Nus lined up and started doing precision drills, doing synchronized pushups and exercises, and then Ronald Leitch comes strolling out on the field with a pillow stuffed under his all black outfit, posing as Coach Frank Howard (of Howard's Rock fame), and the Clemsin crowd goes nuts! And then Ronald starts spitting black stuff from his mouth like tobacco juice from an oil well, and the Sigma Nus degenerate from precision drills to spastic displays of ineptitude. The punter starts practicing punts which go over his head. The erratic qb starts fumbling, the running back starts doing somersaults at the line of scrimmage, the football starts slipping out of the hand of whoever has it, and suddenly, the Clemsin fans know they've been had! First the rats come pouring onto the field, then the rest of the Tigger faithful, and there's an old fashioned rip roaring riot on your hands, right there on the middle of the field, with the entire Carolina faithful laughing their collective asses off as they realize what's happened! The poor Clemsin students lose the fight as they are cracking knuckles upside the heads of Sigma Nus protected by helmets, shoulder pads and other articles of exoskeleton attire. Young turks such as Guy Meares, Alden Sweatman, Jerry Ballentine get in serious punches to unnamed Clemsin rats! Not to mention future Lt. Governor of SC, Mike Daniel from Gaffney who cracked a couple of skulls, or Chuck Simons from Aiken, a future SC Supreme Court Judge, or scrappy future attorney from Gastonia, Ben Morrow, who gave a lick or two, or Guy Meares, and Alden Sweatman from Columbia, Bennie Pendarvis from Barnwell, and Jeffrey Brooker from Denmark, all future medical docs of note who were two fisted that day, and held their own! It was one heck of a fraternity, and one heck of a prank!
We won the game by the way 21-14!
And the riot was reported in papers as far away as the Los Angeles Times and the Detroit Free Press.
By the way, Sigma Nus who were on the team and could not participate in the big prank, were John Caskey, who later was an All-ACC end, and Johnny Jones, and Richard Lomas. Later, Dan Reeves pledged Sigma Nu, largely because of them.
And finally, the old cow, Bessie, the Clemsin Homecoming Queen never made it to the field. She actually died enroute to the stadium on the back of the truck. If you don't believe me, ask Ed Hancock!
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