Photo courtesy of Clemson athletics
Dear Clemson family,
Growing up in a northern Atlanta suburb, I was surrounded by football. Unfortunately, there was one hiccup — I was in Dawg and Yellow Jacket country. For any normal NCAA fan, that may be a paradise — being in the smack-dab middle of college football heaven. For me however, it was my own personal hell.
My father instilled several values in me from when I was young that I will never forget: Treat others the way you wish to be treated.
Work hard and you will reap the rewards of that work.
Clemson football is king in the Bass household.
I can remember it like it was yesterday: my first Clemson game.
Clemson played host to Central Michigan. My dad and I scalped tickets and he used my childhood gaze as a bargaining chip to lower the cost of the tickets to face value. We walked into “Death Valley” and I stood in awe: 80,000 people packed into a cathedral of sport, a stadium like no other.
Every seat, filled. Everyone in solid orange. It was a marvel, to say the least.
At halftime, I begged my dad to buy me a jersey from the store of the concourse because I wanted to be like the players. He caved in and I became James Davis for the rest of the day. After the 70-14 throttling, I dashed through the concourse.
I was putting the other fans on skates with my juke moves and agility; I was gliding through the air. When we got back to the car, I asked my dad a simple question, “when are we coming back?”. He could not give me a honest answer, so he simply smiled and said “soon”.
Unfortunately, it would not be until the next season when we would make our return to Death Valley. But by then it was too late, I was a fanatic. By my long-awaited return, I had surpassed the legendary Tim Bourret in Clemson knowledge.
Over the next few years, my father and I would attend one or two games a year until we took the next step. In the winter of 2012, my father called me into his office and negotiated a contract. If I could maintain straight A’s in the spring, we would get Clemson season-tickets.
So that is what I did. I worked hard and I reaped the reward. My family became Clemson season-ticket holders, and what happened next was no coincidence.
In my first game as a season-ticket holder, Clemson beat national championship hopeful Georgia 38-35 and had one of the best seasons in school history. Since that season-opening win, my father and I attended 55 straight home games — not missing a single game at Death Valley until the unthinkable.
The earth stood still; society came to a pause; lives were forever changed. In the stroke of a pen, my father and I lost what we held most dear. At the time, it was just a pair of paper tickets, but it soon became a relationship.
My father and I have never been good with words but we knew the best form of communication. That high five after a touchdown, that look of anger after a turnover, and that jerking moment when we climbed to the top of the mountain.
Because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the state of South Carolina and Clemson University made the decision to limit fan attendance from 82,000 to just under 20,000. In that decision, my father and I were unable to have season tickets for the 2020 season. Thankfully, members of our family were able to maintain their tickets so they let us use a pair for Clemson’s contest with Virginia, but that is when it hit me.
I never lost a relationship with my father. I lost the relationship with my other family — my Clemson Family.
A new branch to my family tree was created In years of being a season-ticket holder: A branch with no names, only memories and familiar faces. I have seen children grow into adults, adults grow into parents. I have seen soulmates turn into an empty seat. However, the bonds never changed.
Seven annual opportunities to be with our closest friends and family. And in the blink of an eye, it was all gone.
The fog has began to settle, and I see a new dawn coming over the Blue Ridge. On March 4, Clemson University president Jim Clements announced in an email the university’s intentions to create a plan of action to have Memorial Stadium at full capacity for the 2021 season.
It is a blessing to see that we may soon return to what we consider to be the norm. Nevertheless, the faces will not be the same. Families have seen turmoil and heartache. Lives forever changed and priorities forever altered.
The Clemson family has lost many members over past year and even though I do not know your names, I know your faces. You will be missed and you will forever be loved.
I will see you soon, Tiger Fans.
Aaron J. Bass (FQ Clemson)