For Dookies, Clemson a Tough Pill to Swallow
Clemson. Clemson! Clemson?
Any way you punctuate it, it still doesn’t sound right.
After the final horn had sounded all I could do was shake my head in disbelief and mutter, “Clemson,” preceded and followed by the perfunctory profanities, of course. Even now, after they’ve been vanquished by Carolina – like I and everyone else in the hoops universe knew they would be – the brackets have been announced and the shock has worn off somewhat, it still seems inconceivable that the proudest of the proud could be humiliated by the worst of the worst.
And by worst I mean worst. Worst of all time. Worst in the history of the conference. No one else is even close in cumulative futility. The object of derision, the butt of jokes, the synonym for loser. Such an automatic W in the first round, you wonder why those folks in the orange sweaters continually shell out all that dough for tourney tickets to see them be one and done year after endless year.
Crimony, Clemson is so bad that they’re not even worth hating. That would be like hating a starting lineup that consisted of the Three Stooges, Barney Fife and Mr. Magoo. What’s the point in wasting all that energy that could and should be directed toward hating Carolina? It’s acceptable to lose to Carolina, because it fuels the healthy hatred of the boys in fruity blue, but Clemson? I don’t even know how to react. This is virgin territory, as no one ever loses to Clemson. And certainly not mighty Duke.
It must have hurt G-Man to watch it, although he held his composure like the legend that he is. The consummate color man, he paid the proper respects to coach Oliver Purnell, never veering from his objective broadcasting stance. But, once the headphones came off, you have to believe he must have sat there like the rest of us, shaking his head and muttering, “Clemson…”
The play-by-play man did inform us one too many times that Clemson had not played in an ACC finals since 1962 – and the team they beat to get there was Duke. If he’d mentioned it one more time I was hoping Gminski would give him a nice little noogie upside the head.
But, it so happens, I remember that loss 46 years ago and, to tell the truth, it hurt a lot more than this one. As you know, those were the days when only the winner of the conference tournament went to the NCAAs. Plus, that was one of the great Duke squads of all time. And, most importantly, I was in the eighth grade, when sports, particularly ACC basketball, were essentially the end-all-and-be-all of life. When you’ve cast your lot and pledged your heart and soul to one team – in my case, Duke – that’s a tough age to have your hopes dashed and your heart ripped out. Duke’s fortunes mattered. They really, really mattered. And I was crushed.
I couldn’t tell you one member of that Clemson edition. I know it was after Choppy Patterson and before Tree Rollins, but even that far back I seem to recall their being considered not much of a threat. They’d already established their tradition as a football power that fielded a basketball team as an afterthought.
Duke was also a football school (look it up if you don’t believe me) but was also coming into its own, under Vic Bubas, as a basketball power. That was the year that Art Heyman and Jeff Mullins, two of the ACC’s all-time greats, were both on the team, as well as 6-foot-11 center Jay Buckley. It was also the year that Wake Forest had two All-Americans in Len Chappell and Billy Packer, and it was those two teams who were supposed to meet in the finals.
Just as happened this year, Clemson peaked in the semis and got hammered in the finals. Wake went on to a Final Four berth, finishing third in the nation (they played a consolation game in those days).
Looking back, I suppose I did learn some hard lessons that year. More accurately, I had the lessons I’d been learning since 1957 reinforced. See, Burlington was a Carolina town, like the rest of the state having jumped on the baby blue bandwagon after the Rosenbluth et al national champions. Naturally, that was also the year I’d made up my mind that Duke was to be my team, so I learned at an early age what it felt like to be on the outside looking in. (Pulling for the Red Sox and the Redskins didn’t help, either.) I learned ridicule and I learned hurt feelings. But I also learned loyalty and I learned how to take it and dish it out. I learned that allegiance has its price but also its rewards. And, finally, I learned that the sun does come up tomorrow after a heart-wrenching loss.
But, jeez, Clemson?
Ogi may be reached at email@example.com, heard Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. on “The Dusty Dunn Show” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen on “Triad Today” hosted by Jim Longworth on ABC 45 at 6:30 a.m. Fridays and on WMYV 48 at 10 p.m. Sundays.