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April 7, 2015

What The Hail?!?

The rare colored photo is a peek inside Memorial 
Stadium just as the '63 Georgia-Clemson game is 
being interrupted by a massive hailstorm.
With the up-and-down temperatures seemingly starting to finally subside, while keeping with the theme of the turbulent Georgia football program of the early 1960s, I wanted to pass along a story I heard a few weeks back concerning the Bulldogs in what has to be the most unusual moment in their history from a weather standpointa turbulent account I had never heard before.

I arrived at Clemson University to meet with the school's most prominent historian, interviewing him for a magazine article I'm writing involving an incident in Tiger football from 1963. However, before we discussed the subject matter at hand, knowing my association with Georgia football, he wanted to tell a story from that same season involving his Tigers and my Bulldogs that seemed much more interesting.

As he walked with his wife to Memorial Stadium for the Georgia-Clemson game in mid-October of 1963, the weather was sunny with temperatures in the mid-80s. However, "I remember saying, 'that cloud over Seneca looks threatening,'" recalled the historian regarding a pitch-black sky over the nearby town less than 10 miles away.

On the game's opening drive, Clemson fumbled inside its own territory, and Georgia recovered. Nothing seemed too unusual concerning the rivalry from back then as the Bulldogs soon scored on a run by quarterback Larry Rakestraw, and Georgia held an early 7-0 lead.

With the score remaining the same and the first half drawing to a close, the temperature suddenly dropped to the high 50s, or nearly 30 degrees lower than what it had been only 45 minutes before. And then, the heavens opened up.

"First, there was sleet for about 10 minutes, and then it poured hailthe size of golf ballsfor another 10 minutes," said the historian. "The hail was like I had never seen before, or since." 

During the hailstorm, as the story goes, everybody ran for cover under the stands, including Clemson Head Coach Frank Howard and Georgia Head Coach Johnny Griffith, who met underneath the seats, decided there would be no halftime show, and to delay the start of the second half for 30 minutes.

"That's truefor some," the historian said of those seeking shelter. "That was before Memorial Stadium had an upper deck, so only a portion of the crowd [of 24,000-26,000] could squeeze under the lower level stands. Everyone else headed for shelter in bathrooms, concession stands, and literally inside ice chests."

So, where did the historian and his wife find shelter?

"Nowhere!" he exclaimed. "Every place was filled. However, fortunately for us, the hail stopped after about 10 minutes, and then it "just" rainedhard!"

Also, as the story goes, the grounds crew promptly worked through the rain, picking up all the hail off the field. "Grounds crew?" the historian inquired. "We didn't have a grounds crew back then. We had to send the freshman team out onto the field with push laundry carts to scrape up all the ice."

Before the heavens above Clemson would  
open up, Georgia's Rakestraw (R) runs for 
a touchdown against the Tigers. 
The historian adds it is the only Clemson game he has ever attended, and he still goes to them today more than 50 years later, where he left early. "I was always taught that you never leave early from church, you never early from the opera, and you never leave early from a football game. But, I had to make this one exception. We were soaked, and battered and bruised from hail."

On the walk back to the car, the historian and his wife finally had a stroke of good luck when they heard their names being shouted. "It just so happened to be a couple of friends of ours, calling from their apartment for us to come inside," he said. "One friend said, 'you look like drowned ducks.' I answered, 'we feel like it.'"

Back at Memorial Stadium, playing on a drenched, icy field for the entire second half, the Tigers scored a game-tying touchdown in the third quarter, and the score remained deadlocked to the end, 7-7. And, although Georgia missed three field goals, including two that were blocked, the Tigers should have been the victors, having twice as many first downs (20-10) and total yards (291-146) than the Bulldogs.

So, as they say, "Hail to the Victors" because, in a way, both teams came out victorious on the gorgeous-turned-turbulent afternoon: Because he didn't lose to Georgia, Frank Howard said he was "happy with a tie," whereas the Bulldogs won against the odds, which were set at Clemson as a two-point favorite.

As for the historian and his wife, in a way, the pair came out victorious, as well. Once inside their friends' apartment, they were treated to a cozy fire and "hot buttered rum drinksafter a few of those, we didn't care much that we had been soaked and beaten up by hail," he said, "or, for that matter, really care much for the football game either."