Sunday, January 1, 2017

the Clemson I love

Seventy-six years ago today Clemson competed in their very first bowl game.  Some would call it a cornerstone season for Tiger football.  My grandaddy was on that historic team along with many other talented young men.  They won that 1940 Cotton Bowl over Boston College 6-3.  
As we find ourselves sitting in between two very important bowl games again this year I remembered these words I wrote a year ago.

They called him 'Great'. 
He grew up in a little South Carolina town called Great Falls.
If he were alive today my children would know him as Great Grandaddy.
{me and Grandaddy}
I called him Grandaddy.
He called me Lissie.
Before I ever reached double-digits he taught me how to dance and throw a football and drive a car {shhh...don't tell my mom}.


He towered over six feet above me, but I never felt small in his presence.
As a child I grew up minutes away from my grandparents, so I spent much of my childhood holding his hand walking
in and out of football games,
in and out of church,
in and out of the grocery store.

From an early age I loved being around people, so it delighted me when everyone seemed to know us.  Little did I know my grandaddy had never before met many of the people who stopped him along stadium steps and grocery store aisles.  He treated everyone like a friend.   I did too.  It is still one of the greatest lessons he ever taught me.
In the late 1930's  my grandaddy achieved national acclaim as an athlete and become a local hero.  To this day he is still regarded by many as Clemson's greatest all-around athlete.  Some would even say he was the best in the entire state.  When he was alive,  everywhere we went people spoke to him and he willingly stopped and smiled and took time to see them.

His fame shined bright, but it didn't blind him.

On the contrary, it helped him see others better.

When speeches were made
and articles were written
and television shows were produced
all touting my grandaddy's greatness,
he always did the same thing.
He gave it back - to God and his teammates.

My grandaddy's half-brother, Tom, was also his high school football coach.  He told me how Tom was tough on him and always pushed him to get better.  Tom saw something special in my grandaddy, but he knew to get down to it he would have to dig deep and work hard.  My grandaddy met that challenge.  His goal was always excellence.  He took every bit of talent and opportunity given, no matter how small, and used it up.  Nothing was wasted.  I think he believed anything was possible not because he was so amazing but because he knew the amazing things God could do through him.

When you realize that excellence is birthed from somewhere, from Someone, bigger than yourself you learn to tap into that.  And then - the magic happens.  For my grandaddy it was always about being faithful with what he had been given and leaving the rest to God.

When I think of my grandaddy I think of a man who turned his face toward God, gratefully acknowledging the source of his talents.  Then, when necessary, he lowered his head and got to work.  When the work was done,
the games won,
the records broken,
the awards given,
he always set his eyes back on God.  He never let the glory grow toxic inside of him, it was released like a flood of light back to it's source and then reflected onto all those who had the pleasure of knowing him.  It's another lesson I learned early - when you leave the results to God you can leave the glory to Him too.

When I think of Clemson, I think of my granddaddy - Banks McFadden.
Anyone who knew Banks McFadden would tell you he loved Clemson.  After only one record-breaking year of professional football played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and serving in WWII, he returned to his alma mater to settle down as a coach and husband.

That's when Clemson became our home.

He and my gran raised my mama and all her sisters in a little brick house on Riggs Drive.  My brother and I would be raised there too.
For my grandparents and the other players and coaches of their generation Clemson was never just a football team.  It was never just a school.  It was never just a town.  It was a people.  It was a family of people rooted deep and strong in that dense upstate earth just like those giant oak trees lining the campus.  Their roots are twisted and tangled up with one another forever.  To this day we have friends who coached and played alongside my grandaddy who are as close as family to us.

That is the Clemson I was introduced to as a child.  That is the Clemson I continued to love as a college student and now as an adult, raising my own children where the Blue Ridge yawns it's greatness.

Greatness.

Yes, my grandaddy was great - a great athlete and a great man.
Yes, Clemson is a great place
to grow up in
to attend school
to raise children.

But what I hope the world will see when our football team takes the national stage next week is that Clemson is great because Clemson is a family.  It may be the biggest reason I am proud of the coaches and players who will represent us at the National Championship game.

In their faces I see so much more than a football team.
In their faces I see my grandaddy.
I see family.
I see a group of people who know the source of their talent and fame.  I see them believing the impossible not because they, as individuals, are something special, but because they each have a part in something bigger.  Something magical is happening as they gratefully accept their gifts, put them to work, generously offer the best of themselves and then believe in the Gift-giver to produce the result.

All my life I have stood in support of Clemson.  And all season long I have stood behind our football team.  I've come clad in orange and purple, cheering my lungs out from the same seats I occupied as a little girl.  It's hard for me to wrap words around what I have seen, so I will simply say this -
I have witnessed greatness - Clemson greatness.

And it feels like family.

{McFadden Family at my wedding}
To contact Elizabeth click HERE.
To visit her website click HERE.
{my daughter, Lucy, at her great grandparents gravesite in Woodland Cemetery}