The obituary of Tatum Wannamaker Gressette ran in the Charleston Post and Courier on July 20, 1997: “Tatum Wannamaker Gressette, 97, a former head football coach and athletic director with The Citadel from 1931-1940, a former assistant to the president at the University of South Carolina and a retired teacher, died Saturday in a local hospital.”
And that wasn’t the half of it. The obituary also noted that Gressette left this earth as the member of four separate halls of fame. During his life, he was inducted into The Citadel Hall of Fame, the University of South Carolina Hall of Fame, the South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame, and the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame.
He is credited with helping form South Carolina’s Gamecock Club, which raises funds for the school’s athletics teams, and he was the director of the state’s retirement system.
And all those accomplishments came after his playing days, when he earned the nickname “Tiger Killer,” according to Mike Safran.
“(Gressette was) just a remarkable man, really was,” said Safran, owner of Safran’s Antiques in Columbia and the owner of the largest known collection of Gamecocks memorabilia. “I enjoyed knowing Tatum. He was sharp as a tack at 97.”
In Gamecocks football, there can be no greater nickname than Tiger Killer, and Gressette earned it in 1920 and 1921 against the archrival Clemson Tigers.
When Gressette arrived from tiny St. Matthews, the Gamecocks hadn’t beaten Clemson in eight years. In fact, they were 3-13-1 all-time in the series at the time.
Gressette changed that luck in 1920 when he hit a 25-yard drop kick field goal for the only points in a 3–0 win over the Tigers.
“There were these buildings in St. Matthews that he would practice drop kicking between, and it became known as drop kick alley,” Safran said. “He was just an incredible fella. Knew Knute Rockne. Knew the people of the day. Whenever I would visit with him, I’d feel like I was stealing from a library. The stories he was telling, you’d have sensory overload.”
Former South Carolina sports information director Tom Price, in his book “Tales from the Gamecock Roost,” wrote that it remains the only successful drop kick in Gamecocks football history.
“I (told my teammates that) if you’ll keep those fellas off me for two seconds, I’ll get us three points,” Gressette said in 100 Years of Gamecock Football. “I knew I could because my leg was grooved. Sure enough, I put it down and it went in.”
Gressette played one more season, serving as captain of Sol Metzger’s team in 1921 when the Gamecocks beat the Tigers 21-0.
For his two years of service, and 2-0 record against the Tigers, Gressette was named to the school’s all-time Pre-World War II team as one of four backs. (In a strange twist that in some ways is typical of the nature of the South Carolina–Clemson rivalry, Gressette’s son and namesake would go on to attend Clemson College.)
Gressette told Safran that he was likely the first South Carolina football player to be paid to attend the university. He told Safran he was given $800, the equivalent of more than $10,000 today, in 1919.
“They brought me to Carolina to help them defeat Clemson,” Gressette said. “We wanted to beat Clemson just as bad then as the players do now. And we did.”
Most Gamecocks would call it money well spent.