By Jim Weber
When millions of college football fans tune in to the titanic matchup between No. 5 Georgia and No. 8 Clemson on Saturday night and hear the latter’s Memorial Stadium referred to as “Death Valley,” plenty of people will think to themselves, “What a rip-off of LSU.”
That’s a damn shame because despite LSU’s version (left) being much more famous, the one true “Death Valley” is in Clemson, SC (right).
(For those ready to call me a Clemson homer or LSU hater, I’m an Ohioan who has no reason to like or dislike either program).
If this were a court case, LSU would have to plead “no contest” to stealing the name from its counterparts at Clemson, as the story of how each became known as “Death Valley” has been documented multiple times:
Clemson: In 1945, Presbyterian’s football coach bestowed the nickname ”Death Valley” on Clemson’s Memorial Stadium because of the unyielding heat that reminded him of the real Death Valley desert in California. Former Clemson head coach Frank Howard further cemented the nickname in 1966 by putting a rock from the actual Death Valley on a pedestal atop the hill above the east end zone – which players rub before each game to this day.
LSU: Tiger Stadium was allegedly called “Deaf Valley” because of the stadium’s deafening noise but, as former LSU sports information director Bud Johnson told The Advocate, morphed into “Death Valley” after LSU and Clemson played each other in the 1959 Sugar Bowl.
“No one called it Death Valley here until after we played in the Sugar Bowl,” Johnson told The Advocate.
In other words: LSU apparently first tried imitating Clemson’s stadium nickname, then flat-out stole it.
Can you imagine the outrage today if Boston College created their own “Touchdown Jesus,” Ohio University started doing “Script Ohio” or Texas started calling its student section “The 12th Man”? College football fans would be apoplectic. And yet few people realize that Clemson’s “Death Valley” came first, much less voice outrage over LSU’s thievery.
It’s especially unfair considering that “Death Valley” is the coolest stadium nickname in sports. LSU’s version is now better known than the original and the Bayou Bengals already have so much more history and tradition than the orange-clad Tigers.
LSU has three national titles, 1959 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon, the Chinese Bandits, iconic uniforms, the rowdiest college football fans in America and are part of the most powerful conference in the country.
Clemson has one national title, zero Heisman winners, a lucky rock and a whole bunch of heartbreak in its history. Heck, there’s even an Urban Dictionary entry for “pulling a Clemson” that defines it as: “The act whereby an overrated football team builds up a big winning streak and artificially high national ranking by beating up on inferior competition, only to lose a bunch of games and get killed by truly good teams at the end of the season, thus exposing them for what they truly are.”
This GIF pretty much sums up the existence of Clemson fans.
If Clemson had the only stadium known as “Death Valley,” it would immediately help its national branding by giving college football fans another iconic part of the sport to associate with the program and add more intimidation and lore to playing at Memorial Stadium.
Yes, “Death Valley” might be more fitting for Tiger Stadium because of the insane heat there even at night. But Memorial Stadium was nicknamed it first and had the moniker bestowed upon them, instead of just stealing it. It’s time that Tiger Stadium goes back to being known as “Deaf Valley” because it’s the right thing to do.
Plus, it’s still a fitting nickname for a stadium widely known as the loudest college football venue in America. One needs no further proof than the “1988 Earthquake Game” in which the cheering from a winning LSU touchdown pass allegedly registered as an earthquake on a seismograph.
I personally think LSU should go out to Tiger Stadium today and redo its sign to read, “Welcome to Deaf Valley” and issue a press release issuing the change. But I realize that’s not going to happen. For all college football fans that horrified at the thought of having a beloved moniker stolen from them, I’m calling on you to put yourselves in the shoes of Clemson fans to start a movement of calling LSU’s stadium “Deaf Valley” to right this injustice that’s lasted over 50 years.
Because while we all root for different college football teams, when it comes to giving credit where credit is due and honoring each program’s rightful traditions, that’s something we should all be fans of.