Clemson Fans Hold Fast to a Tradition Worth More Than the Paper It’s Printed On
Posted on 1/24/2012
[ATLANTA] As far as ridiculous college football traditions go, stamping a $2 bill with an orange Clemson tiger paw is pretty benign.
University of Colorado fans chase a live buffalo around the field during home games. Arkansas fans wear plastic pigs on their heads to show their support for the Razorbacks.
But in South Carolina, students and alumni settle for buying up most of the $2 bills in town and stamping them with tiger paws.
The ritual is especially important when there is a big away game, like the Orange Bowl against the West Virginia Mountaineers on Wednesday in Miami. By spending stamped $2 bills with abandon, many of the 10,000 or so Clemson fans headed to Florida believe they will make a statement about Tiger pride.
What that statement might be is unclear to cabdrivers and clerks who have to contend with a denomination that makes up less than 1 percent of the bills in circulation, but it means something back in a state that loves tradition.
“It’s a Clemson calling card,” said Wil Brasington, 33, senior director of alumni relations and member of the class of 2000. “The idea is, we’re bringing an economic boost to any community the Clemson Tigers are playing in.”
The tradition began in 1977 when Georgia Tech wanted to change the schedule of its annual game against Clemson. The leader of the Clemson booster club figured stamping $2 bills and then spending them in Atlanta would prove the economic importance of the game.
A tradition was born. Now, collecting stamped $2 bills to take on the road is a ritualized part of preparing for important away games. “It’s just our way of leaving Clemson paw prints all around whatever bowl city we’re visiting,” said Kirby Player, 50, a Clemson doctoral student who works in the college of agriculture, forestry and life sciences.
This year, he cannot be at the game, so he gave some stamped bills to his niece, who is heading to Florida. He also gave some as Christmas gifts, a tradition among many serious Clemson fans. He figures he spent $100.
In the state where the Civil War began, traditions both large and small matter. South Carolina recently had to sacrifice delegates to the Republican National Convention to hold on to its place as the site of the first Republican primary in the South. Under party rules, states are stripped of half their delegates to the nominating convention if they jump ahead of the proposed guidelines, as South Carolina did in moving its primary up to Jan. 21 to block Florida (which moved its primary to Jan. 31). The tiger stamps might not have as much political significance as a presidential primary, but it all comes from a certain kind of pride.
Bank tellers prepare for the annual end-of-the-year rush, ordering extra $2 bills and sometimes providing the stamps and ink pads for customers. Tellers at the First Citizens Bank and Trust on Tiger Avenue in Clemson have given out close to $600 in $2 bills in the past two weeks, said Carlene Woodring, the lead teller. At First Citizens, they stamp all of the receipts with a tiger paw.
Defacing money is technically illegal, but when it comes to punishing football fans, the Secret Service, which has jurisdiction over that crime, referred the matter to the Department of Justice for comment. A spokesman for the Justice Department said it could not discuss the case unless someone brought charges.
Of course, convenience has a way of eroding even the most enduring tradition. In a nation that runs on plastic, walking around town with a pocketful of cash just isn’t as appealing. Especially among younger alumni.
“You have to go to the bank. You have to get the stamp and the ink,” said Kyle Player, 26, a Clemson graduate who is Mr. Player’s niece. And then there is the risk of insult. “If your parents or grandparents haven’t told you about the tradition,” she said, “younger fans might not even know about the $2 bills.”
A version of this article appeared in print on January 4, 2012, on page A11 of the New York edition with the headline: Clemson Fans Hold Fast to a Tradition Worth More Than the Paper It’s Printed On.
The thoughts and opinions in this piece are those of their author and are not necessarily the thoughts of the Certified Collectibles Group.