Morris: Title stays with Jordan

Former Clemson QB led Clemson to perfect season

May 12, 2013 

  • HALL OF FAME

    WHAT: Induction of S.C. Athletic Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013

    WHEN: Monday, 5:30 p.m.

    WHERE: Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center

  • HALL OF FAME

    INDUCTEES: Ray Tanner, Bill McLellan, Homer Jordan, Jim Phillips, Hank Small, Clyde Mayes, Travis Jervey and David Horton

    MORE INFO: (803) 779-0905

MOST OF THE time, Homer Jordan is remembered as one of the great high school athletes Athens, Ga., has ever seen. Yet every once in a while, a customer will enter National Champions Detailing in Athens and recognize the owner as the starting quarterback on Clemson’s 1981 championship football team.

Jordan’s father was taken from him at a young age. His mother died a couple of years ago. His wife of 29 years, Deborah, is battling breast cancer. Whatever the curves thrown his way, though, Jordan says the national title will live with him forever.

“That’s something that can never be taken away from you,” says the 53-year-old Jordan who will be inducted Monday into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame. “An entire lifetime, it stays with you. That’s amazing.”

From an early age, Jordan says he was driven to leave his mark in athletics.

Jordan was 11 when the father he was named for died, leaving behind his wife, Alice, and four children. Jordan was the lone boy among older sisters Betty and Dathne and younger sister Iris.

Mom was a registered nurse and also worked for Atlanta Life Insurance Company to support the family. Unlike many such families, the responsibilities of being the father-figure did not fall on young Homer.

“I played sports. My responsibility was taking care of my athletics,” Jordan admits. “(Mom) spoiled me rotten, so I could do what I wanted to do. There was no responsibility like taking care of the house, things like that. I played a lot of sports. ... I wanted to play in the NFL. I kind of made a commitment then that I wanted to go to the top.”

Jordan soon was a star defensive back at Cedar Shoals High in Athens, where he started as a sophomore and junior. Then he moved into the starting quarterback position for his senior season, continuing to attract the attention of college scouts who liked his strong arm and quick feet.

Nearly every school that recruited Jordan, including Clemson, told him he could pursue being a quarterback in college. But, if that did not work out, he would be moved to defensive back.

Jordan saw that Buck Belue, who was a year ahead of him, likely was the starting quarterback at Georgia. Then Jordan visited Clemson.

“When I went there on a visit, it just felt like home,” Jordan says. “Clemson got into my heart, and that was the end of that.”

That Jordan would become the first black starting quarterback at Clemson never was an issue. It might have helped that J.C. Watts at Oklahoma, Condredge Holloway at Tennessee and Warren Moon at Washington already had paved the way.

Clemson had a black quarterback previously, but Willie Jordan did not play much in 1975 and was moved to another position. The spring prior to the 1981 season, Jordan was in stiff competition with Mike Gasque and Andy Headen for the starting quarterback position.

Gasque was the best passer of the trio, and Headen was the best runner. Jordan proved to be the best quarterback.

“Homer could do the best of both them,” says Danny Ford, Clemson’s coach at the time, “but not as good as any one of them.”

Ford also said Jordan possessed the perfect personality to deal with being a pioneer at Clemson.

“He couldn’t have been a better young man to be in that situation in those days,” Ford says. “He always smiled. He never said much. He was very quiet. The kids really respected him. They respected him, I guess, because he never said anything.

“I don’t know how he called a play in the huddle because he was so quiet.”

If there were any critics, they were silenced on two fronts: Jordan won games, and he performed well. His 3,643 career passing yards still rank 10th in Clemson history, and his 4,614 yards of total offense rank ninth. He also quarterbacked the only 12-0 season in program history.

“We didn’t ask him to do a lot, but what he did do was win. All he did was win,” Ford says. “(Fans) would have gotten on him like they get on any quarterback, it doesn’t matter what school. If you’re not winning football games, they’ll get on you. He just never gave them a chance to get on him.”

That carried true all the way to New Year’s Day 1982 when top-ranked Clemson took on No. 4 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for the national championship.

Jordan earned offensive MVP honors by completing half of his 22 passes for 134 yards and throwing a third-quarter touchdown pass to Perry Tuttle. He also ran the ball a team-high 16 times for 46 yards as Clemson held off Nebraska, 22-15.

In the wild celebration afterward, which included the presentation of the Orange Bowl championship trophy on the field, Jordan was taken to the Clemson locker room where he was given fluids for dehydration and exhaustion.

Jordan might have missed the national championship celebration that night, but he will carry Clemson’s title with him for the remainder of his life.

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