Sunday, January 24, 2010

Wipeout at Death Valley

In 1984 William "Refrigerator" Perry was the biggest thing on campus at Clemson University, and Ethan Horton was an all-Atlantic Coast Conference tailback at the University of North Carolina.

The Tigers and Tar Heels were doing battle, and I was taking pictures on the sidelines at Clemson's Death Valley.


Tar Heels quarterback Kevin Anthony pitched the ball to Horton, who raced around the right end, right at me. Perry hit Horton around the waist; 6-foot-7 defensive lineman James Robinson grabbed Horton around the legs, and defensive back Mike Isaacs went over the top.

I was in the corner of the photographers' box as the pile of humanity and pads slid toward me. I turned but had nowhere to go, and the pile thudded into the backs of my legs. I wasn't hurt, but my legs were pinned in the pile, and I tottered back and sat down on Perry's shoulder pads.

Robinson stood up, grabbed me under the arm pits and lifted me into the air. I hung there with my feet dangling as 80,000-plus fans roared in laughter. After a second that seemed like a half-century, Robinson put me down.

As soon as my feet touched the ground, I bowed to the crowd and waved. My improvisation drew a cheer from the big crowd, and Perry patted me on the shoulder.

For the day, I wound up with a nice shot of Perry catching Anthony's jersey with a couple of fingers and merry-go-rounding him for a sack, and I got a picture of Clemson quarterback Mike Eppley being surrounded by happy Tigers after throwing a 76-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Rouhlac. The editors at the Hendersonville (N.C.) Times-News had to be pleased.

I was pleased, too. I survived, thrived in a strange sort of way, and I wound up with a cherished memory.


Contact: I can be reached at tgilli52@gmail.com or nc3022@yahoo.com. Also, my Twitter handle is EDITORatWORK.

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