How big is it?
Based on the polls, reputations and ambience, Saturday’s game with Notre Dame would easily be one of the biggest football games at Clemson University since Walter Riggs beat Furman, 14-6, on Halloween in 1896.
George Bennett, who came to Clemson as a student more than 60 years ago and served in a number of capacities, including head cheerleader and two stints running IPTAY, believes that in similar context the 1953 game with Maryland was "huge."
Cars were parked on the same field occupied this weekend by ESPN College Gameday, and a crowd estimated at 25,000 saw third-ranked Maryland beat Clemson, 20-0, 62 years to the day of this game. Maryland went on to be voted national champion.
Never miss a local story.
Bennett has seen bigger since.
“I think the Bowden Bowl is as big as it gets,” he said, “and the ’77 Notre Dame game was huge.”
But the trouble with quantifying the scope of this week’s game is identifying which criteria to apply. Weather permitting this could be an epic event, and raw attendance might not be sufficient because it cannot account for the thousands willing to bask in the experience.
Early in the week – before so much rain was in the forecast – Clemson police estimated up to 150,000 people converging on the city Saturday afternoon, comparable to the masses camped for the Georgia game here two years ago.
If purely for the spectacle, the 1999 Florida State game famously dubbed the Bowden Bowl – the first father-son, Family Feud game – might lead the conversation. A record 86,092, nearly 5,000 over capacity, crammed into Death Valley.
ESPN College GameDay makes its fourth appearance. Clemson has a 2-1 record when the ESPN traveling show plops down on Bowman Field beginning with the 31-7 win over Georgia Tech in 2006. In 2013 No. 8 Clemson beat No. 5 Georgia, 38-35, but later that season No. 5 Florida State beat No. 3 Clemson, 51-14.
“Obviously, as a competitor you want to have opportunities to be a part of games like this for sure,” said coach Dabo Swinney. “I think it's great for our town, for the city of Clemson, for our university.”
According to a 2012 report produced by the Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson, an average home football game generates $10.3 million for the community. A similar report by a University of South Carolina researcher estimated College GameDay creates an additional layer of revenue with more people coming to town earlier than normal for the morning show.
Rooms are always at a premium in Clemson during game weekends. More fans than ever opened their homes for a price with owners advertising on several sites were asking $1,000 to $1,500.
Kade Herrick, tourism director for the Clemson Chamber of Commerce, said the base rate for a hotel room in Clemson was $599 with a two-night minimum, up nearly 50 percent for a Florida State game. Several enterprising folks snapped up rooms in Anderson, Easley and Greenville and offered to transfer them for tickets.
While the logistics of moving that many people in and out could be a major headache, studies of traffic patterns resulted in a new plan this year that seemed to work well for Wofford and App State. This will be the litmus test. Clemson city police coordinate with eight separate law enforcement agencies.
And with campus parking at a premium, Clemson City Council this year officially passed an ordinance which allows parking in residential yards, a practice that skirted the spirit of the law for years. “We wanted people to do it,” said Andy Blondeau, Clemson’s assistant city administrator. “It provides a service. People need a place to park.”
Visibility for the community is priceless, so Clemson intended to put on its best “game face,” Blondeau said.
Cameron Pratt from StubHub! said he expected that this game would surpass Clemson’s 2013 games with Florida State and Georgia for total volume. Seats traded on StubHub! averaged roughly $375 similar to the Georgia-Alabama game.
Blondeau doesn’t get the fans that offered their seats at a premium rate to finance cover the cost of season tickets. “Miss the game? No way,” he said. “There’s no price you can put on the experience.”
Swinney said his ticket supply was tapped out long ago, claiming this week, “Jesus couldn’t buy a ticket,” but it hasn’t stopped almost anybody from trying. Assistant coach Tony Elliott said he his pregnant wife assumed responsibility of fielding calls.
With newspapers downsizing, media requests are fewer than the record set before the first Bowden Bowl, but media relations director Tim Bourret said internet affiliates fill the press box.
As a Notre Dame grad and after nearly four decades in the business, Bourret knew requests would come fast and furious, so he began buying tickets months ago. “I’ve never had so many ticket requests,” he said.
Bourret placed college basketball personality Dick Vitale, his wife, daughter and son-in-law in former Clemson quarterback Rodney Williams’ box. Bourret said Williams could not understand why he had more people angling for invitations to this game than all the others on the schedule.
Swinney was asked if hosting Notre Dame was special.
“They’re Notre Dame!” said Swinney, a fan long before he became a player and coach. “Are you kidding me?”