Ted Gardner remembers the very first Carolina-Clemson game he attended as a baby-faced 17-year-old Clemson freshman.
“It was 1945, and that was a really dull game,” he said, chuckling. “It was only the second of four ties that the teams would have.”
It was the traditional rivalry game’s first matchup since the end of World War II that spring.
“A lot of recruits had gone off to fight in the war, and only a few had come back,” Gardner said. “They’d get the ball and run it down the field, but couldn’t score, and then Carolina would get the ball and run it down the field and not score. It was just really boring.”
That was the first of 71 consecutive Carolina-Clemson games for Gardner, who plans to attend his 72nd Saturday in Death Valley. In seven decades, Gardner has seen his Tigers triumph 40 times versus 29 losses to Carolina, five of them in a row from 2009-13. He was pleased when the streak ended in 2014.
“They’d beaten us five years in a row, and it’s like we never heard the end of it,” he said. “I always told Carolina fans, ‘When you get to seven years in a row, let me know.’ We’ve had seven wins in a row twice.”
One of his favorite games included a blowout against Carolina.
“One of my favorites was the year (2003), when (Lou) Holtz coached and we won 63-17,” Gardner. “We pretty much emptied the stadium of Carolina fans. I was in the upper deck on the visitors’ side – my tickets (at Williams-Brice) are always up near the top of the flagpole – but we’d moved down to the 50-yard line by the end of the third quarter.”
He believes the team’s current No. 4 ranking and 10-1 record means another win in 2016.
“I think we will come out with the win again this year,” he said. “We’ve built up a great momentum going into the game.”
Wife Peggy Gardner said her husband usually leaves with their children and grandchildren at midday Friday before the game.
“He’s always waiting to go by daybreak,” she said. “I’ve always thought it’s a special thing, going year after year like that and never breaking the streak.”
Gardner said he never planned to attend every Clemson-Carolina game initially.
“It wasn’t something I set out to do,” he said. “I just really loved Clemson and wanted to support them. There was a point, I don’t remember exactly when, where I realized I’d gone to a lot of games in a row, maybe 10 or 20. That’s when I had a desire to continue going every year.”
And before he first stepped foot on campus, Gardner said he had no real affinity for the school that he has so proudly supported for more than seven decades.
“I had no desire to go to Clemson, but my mother wanted me to go there. I wanted to go to the Citadel,” he said. “We visited the Citadel, and they locked the gates at night. I said, ‘I don’t think I want to go somewhere and be locked in all the time.’”
Garnder had four friends from his high school graduating class attending Clemson and decided to give it a go.
“The first time I even saw the school was the day I stepped on campus for my freshman year,” he said. “I fell right in love with the school and became a rabid Clemson fan from that day.”
Gardner ultimately earned a degree in agricultural economics from the school.
“Again, that was something my mother wanted me to do to start with, and she was right,” Gardner said. “I tried civil engineering, but the physics and engineering math were too much for me.”
Gardner had also become a member of IPTAY (I Pay Ten a Year) school booster club in 1952, and became a Clarendon County IPTAY representative for about 40 years.
He even proposed to his wife, Peggy, on Big Thursday before the 1955 game.
And though he says he’s toned it down as he’s gotten older – Gardner is now 88 – he notes he got into some steep trash talking in his younger days.
“When I was younger, I really got into that,” he said. “But I’ve calmed it down. I always let them know we won, though.”
Gardner said one memorable game included heckling from Carolina fans. Unable to get tickets on his own that year, Gardner acquired them from a soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Cathy King, who married the couple’s oldest son, Mitchell.
The seats were in the Carolina fraternity section.
“I went with my full orange on and I wore it proudly,” Gardner said. “There was one fan that kept running his mouth, saying all sorts of stuff. At the half, I turned around and told him I wanted to introduce myself because he’d called me more names than I could remember. I told him who I was, and after that confrontation he didn’t say anything the entire second half.”
Gardner said he tries to go to about two other home games each year, though he once went to all of them.
“I went to all the home games until the last four years,” he said. “And we go to one away game once each year.”
He said as long as he is able, he will keep attending the rivalry games.
“As long as I’m physically able, I’m there,” he said.