Dougherty: Clemson football culture shows why Syracuse will stay behind

first_img Published on October 27, 2014 at 12:20 am Facebook Twitter Google+ CLEMSON, S.C. — Half a dozen fields are filled with tailgaters seven hours before kickoff, sweet tea is the same price as water and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. There are as many Clemson-themed tents as there are cars and RVs and a cutout of Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney is holding a cake and wishing a 4-year-old fan named Bobby “A Happy Clemson Birthday” in a speech bubble.Syracuse and No. 21 Clemson are set to kick off at 7 p.m. And just past noon on homecoming Saturday there is more than enough orange paraphernalia to fill 10 Carrier Domes and enough purple to satisfy years of Mardi Gras parades.There’s no game to watch, not yet, but it’s already the consummate Atlantic Coast Conference football environment. Welcome to Tiger town. Clemson country. Death Valley.“They just love football,” SU offensive coordinator Tim Lester said of the atmosphere at Clemson. “The environment was electric and we were excited to be a part of it.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSyracuse (3-5, 1-3 ACC) head coach Scott Shafer was recently asked how his Orange can start bridging the gap between ACC powers like Clemson (6-2, 5-1) and Florida State and he aptly pointed to the recruiting trails.But gameday in Clemson, which with kids sliding down hills on flattened cardboard while their parents drank beers ended with a 16-6 Syracuse loss, detailed SU’s disadvantages that transcend records and coaching staffs.Shafer referenced a disparity in talent with the Tigers after the Orange’s loss and while he didn’t connect it to the Clemson atmosphere, it is a feasible factor.The difference between the football cultures in Clemson and Syracuse showed that recruiting one or two four-star recruits and piecing together above-average classes isn’t the antidote to SU football’s mediocrity.It’s more of a meek starting point.“That environment,” Shafer said after the game, “I’ll tell you, that’s a special place and they do a hell of a job there.”Try and pretend you’re a few inches taller, a few seconds faster and looking for a place to live and play college football for three or four years.Put aside the pedigrees of each program, Clemson as a perennial contender and Syracuse as a consistently inconsistent middle-of-the-pack program. Forget all that and think about the environment you’d want to play in if you were visiting these campuses, or ones like them, and had a choice between the two.You could walk to the stadium in late October and see a gathering here and there, some blow-ups on the school quad and have to zip up your warmup to the top of your neck and maybe even don a team beanie. Or you could fight your way through a sea of tailgates, smell a mix of southern barbecue and eventually take a bus to the top of Memorial Stadium and run down a hill with your teammates to a chorus of 80,031 raucous cheers.It’s not that Syracuse doesn’t have things to offer. It does. It has a solid track record in the NFL and has more to offer to student-athletes than a lot of schools. But if the goal is to eventually contend with schools like Clemson and Florida State for top talent, there’s the undeniable fact that high school players like shiny things, die-hard student bodies and alumni, and full, loud stadiums in nice weather.In that department, Syracuse can’t contend until it clears out lots for pregame partying, recruits tens of thousands of fans to create a tailgating metropolis and in that atmosphere makes fans stay until the ends of games. Those aren’t the kinds of changes you can make over night. Or even over a year. They are cultural changes that build on family tradition, championship banners and, unluckily for the Orange, the right climate. “I just want to keep fighting so when we get them back in the Dome, I want their coach to walk away and say, ‘That Dome was crazy, that was hard,’” Shafer said. “That’s my goal. And the only way we do that is to keep getting our team better. Keep our folks back home believing in us in tough times. “We just have to keep finding ways.”And to that, I say good luck. Commentslast_img

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