WANT SOMEONE TO pick the numbers to play the lottery? Try the folks who chose the game sites for the road show called the Nissan Heisman House Tour.
Back in the summer, the brain trust looked over the schedule and Florida State at Clemson jumped out for serious consideration on Oct. 19. OK, a big game — and bigger now than then — but little did they know.
They hit the daily double.
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Not only did they come away with a match featuring top-five teams — Florida State at 5, the Tigers at 3 — but also they came away with two of the leading Heisman Trophy candidates on the Death Valley stage. And what better way to promote their Heisman House than a game with two prime contenders for the famed trophy?
“Perfect,” publicist Susan Storey said, and no one could argue.
With the GameDay set being taken down and stowed on tractor trailers for its next stop a short pass away, the Nissan Heisman House on Bowman Field became the “in” place to be in the hours leading to the 8 p.m. kickoff.
The governor herself, Nikki Haley, came through, appropriately attired for a Clemson graduate in orange and purple. And thousands followed her example. Fans could get their picture taken with the Heisman Trophy, try their skill in a virtual place-kicking exhibit and listen to Clemson legends Michael Dean Perry and Woody Dantzler before lining up from here to yonder for autographs.
No sooner than GameDay signed off, fans headed to the Heisman House and did not stop for eight hours.
“We got slammed” with fans, Storey said, and that’s a sponsor’s delight.
Fans went away with almost instantaneous pictures of posing with the trophy or sitting in one of the sponsor’s SUVs for a digital photo opportunity with a former winner of college football’s most famous award.
“Pretty cool,” Clemson fan Eric Boughman said after posing with the trophy. “It’s amazing what they can do with technology.”
Perry and Dantzler agreed, loving being part of the scene and relishing Clemson’s climb back into the national limelight.
“I’m very proud of this football team,” said Perry, an All-America defensive tackle who enjoyed a long pro career. “Other (Clemson teams) have had some hiccups, but these players have showed they can stay the course.”
That’s music to the ears of the orange-clad faithful. That’s what they wanted to hear in the hours leading to kickoff. The waiting and wondering is exciting, and receiving Perry’s endorsement added to the fervor.
“Look at the Clemson teams I played on and the team now,” Perry said. “We had some pretty good players, but these guys play collectively together. (The teams) are different, but the end result is the same.”
If Perry represented the Tigers before the program nose-dived into mediocrity in the 1990s, Dantzler represented the future. He played like one of today’s mobile quarterbacks — an early version of Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota, Tajh Boyd or Jameis Winston.
“I came along after Charlie Ward and about the same time as (Antwaan) Randall El, and coaches didn’t know what to do with us,” said Dantzler, who rewrote the Clemson record book. “They guys today benefit from how we played.”
The winner? Perry called the Tigers 31-17. Dantzler dodged a bit, “saying what I’ve always said, ‘It starts up front.’ The lines will decide the game. But if (Clemson) can avoid mistakes, (the Tigers) should win.”
That suited the masses at the Heisman House, many of whom had turned out by the dawn’s early light to get prime positions behind the ESPN cameras for GameDay. Having GameDay in town says the obvious: Hey, this is a big deal. Indeed, the show that originated in 1987 has developed into college football’s seal of approval.
Lee Corso, the only holdover from GameDay’s original panel, put together an outstanding career at Florida State, but he revealed that he had received a scholarship offer from Clemson all those years ago, and said, “Seeing the excitement today, maybe I should have come here.”
Meanwhile, the crew of host Chris Fowler and analysts Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard, went about their business of mixing and matching, comparing and critiquing not only the game at hand but also the top battles around the nation
Fans — some Florida State folks showed up, too — waited patiently for the climatic moment: the exuberant Corso’s prediction that included his donning the mascot’s identity.
They waited through debates about Ohio State’s chances to play for the national title with an undefeated record against a weak schedule, a preview of next year’s national playoff selection committee and a look back at Louisville’s shocking loss Friday night. The booed a look-in picture from Knoxville of South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and chanted “overrated, overrated,” a strange choice of taunts considering his four-sack game against the Tigers a year ago.
Eventually, Corso became a Chief Osceola look-alike — and the crowd booed.
But they would have cheered had they been backstage at the Heisman House. There, sitting on a table waiting for autographs from Perry and Dantzler sat about a dozen football — some modern, some the balloons from yesterday — containing the signatures of stars from each of the exhibit’s stops.
“We’ve got LaDainian Tomlinson, John David Crow, Tim Brown,” said ESPN’s Neil Everett, who conducts the on-stage interviews. “We’ve got Desmond Howard, who’s a god in Michigan. All of it’s pretty cool. A lot of the kids who come through don’t know about the old stars like John David Crow.
“This week is good. Michael Dean came along toward the end of Clemson great teams and Woody is one of the players who started the climb back. The kids today probably don’t know about Michael Dean Perry.”
Could the Tigers reach the top again? Anticipation stirs the soul like little else and questions that must wait for answers hung in the crisp fall air Saturday afternoon. The waiting is wonderful.