Reaction Thursday to the news that Howard’s Rock has been vandalized ranged from disappointment to outright anger.
“It is very disappointing that someone would disrespect our unique tradition to this extent. It is one of the iconic images of the game,” said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. “I am sure Clemson police will investigate this thoroughly and hold the person accountable for this behavior. Thankfully, most of Howard’s Rock is still intact and we will do what is necessary to protect it going forward.”
The rock, a Death Valley fixture for nearly half a century, came from Death Valley, Calif. as gift from a friend for its namesake, longtime Clemson football coach Frank Howard. Howard apparently used it as a door stop in his office until 1966, when he had it moved to the stadium — his “Death Valley.” The Tigers staged an improbable fourth-quarter comeback the next week and an icon was born.
Fans visited the stadium Thursday in reaction to the news. Some looked through gates; others — students and participants in Swinney’s football camp — walked into the stadium to see the damage up close.
Lance Roberts, an employee at the football camp, took pictures with his mobile phone.
“It’s real disappointing. It’s reckless and disrespectful to an institution with such tradition,” said Roberts, who, as a student manager from 1985 to 1988, once got to run down the hill at Death Valley.
“I made sure I got to touch it,” Roberts said, describing his realization of the dream shared by thousands of Tiger fans.
Neek Emerson also took time away from his football camp duties to survey the damage. He thinks the vandalism to the rock will traumatize some of the alumni.
“I’m shocked it even happened,” said Emerson, a Tiger fan since age 5. “I hope they catch them.”
The fans who sounded off online about the crime weren’t nearly as restrained. Comment sections on the various websites that track Clemson athletics were packed with observations such as:
“Security cameras ... Should have been done the first time those dirt peckers chipped off a piece.”
“I was thinking motion-activated automatic weapons, but cameras are good, too.”
The Twitterverse was alive as well, with @oldHowardsRock packed with tweets from Tiger lovers and haters, including former Clemson and current Buffalo Bills tailback C.J. Spiller: “ that’s very childish 2 try ruin something that so historic to Clemson.”
The vandalism didn’t keep Swinney from maintaining another tradition, however. Boys in Swinney’s summer football camp posed for photos with the coach and the rock, both camper and coach with hands firmly placed on the chipped area, as they do every year.
The incident probably occurred sometime on June 2 or 3, according to police. Finger prints were lifted off the pedestal, but campus Police Chief Johnson Link downplayed the value of the evidence found at the stadium.
“Forensically, we have something that may pan out,” Link told TigerNet.com Thursday. “We don’t have video. If we did, that would obviously help out, but it just isn’t there. The review of our cameras didn’t give us any evidence or didn’t do anything to help us with the investigation. We know folks are concerned, and we hope that they help us.”
Anyone with information is encouraged to call the Clemson University Police Department at 864-656-2222.