One Woody Dantzler was serene, the other frenzied. With Clemson
on its own 32-yard line and trailing archrival South Carolina
14-13 with 59 seconds to go last Saturday in Death Valley, Woody
Dantzler III, the Tigers' junior quarterback, looked over at
section C, where his father, Woody Jr., was cheering wildly. His
dad's presence has always brought Woody III a sense of peace, so
when he stepped into the huddle, he told his teammates, "Losing
this game is not about to happen."
Clemson began to drive. On third-and-12 at the Tigers' 42,
Dantzler called a play named Go Look X. He rolled left on a sore
left ankle that had hampered him for four weeks and threw a
strike across the field to senior receiver Rod Gardner, who made
the catch at the Gamecocks' eight-yard line with 10 seconds
remaining. Two plays later freshman Aaron Hunt clinched a 16-14
victory with a 25-yard field goal. "For a guy playing on a bad
leg, Woody showed a ton of courage," said Gardner, who ranks
second on Clemson's alltime receptions list, with 159. "He just
knows how to be a hero."
After the game Dantzler was asked if he had been scared of
losing. He laughed incredulously. While growing up in Orangeburg,
S.C., Woody III learned to deal with his father's frightening
illness. In 1985 Woody Jr. began enduring debilitating headaches
and fatigue. His condition was diagnosed as thrombotic
thrombocytopenic purpura, a rare and deadly blood disorder.
After being hospitalized a number of times since the diagnosis,
including earlier this year, to undergo a treatment called
plasmapheresis, which involves removing and replacing plasma with
fresh-frozen plasma, Woody Jr. now has weekly plasma infusions
that help keep his condition reasonably stable. He isn't working
because he is disabled and the condition is currently affecting
his speech. "I know my father is a fighter," Woody III says.
"I've always felt that he can beat whatever adversity comes
along, and I've gathered strength from watching him."
While guiding Clemson to a 7-0 start this season, Woody III was
on pace to become the first collegian to pass for 2,000 yards and
rush for 1,000 in the same season. After throwing for 1,271 yards
and rushing for 819 in those first seven games, he was being
touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Then, in the second quarter
of a 38-24 win over North Carolina on Oct. 21, Dantzler severely
bruised his left ankle. He was so hobbled that he ran for only 26
yards and threw for just 167 in the next two games, against
Georgia Tech and Florida State, as the Tigers suffered their only
two defeats. "I got frustrated, and I must have asked myself a
hundred times, Why me?" Dantzler says. "Then I called my dad, and
he told me to be patient because the season wasn't over yet."
With 185 yards passing and 81 yards rushing against the
Gamecocks, Dantzler broke Clemson's single-season total-offense
record of 2,557 yards set by Nealon Greene in 1997. He says he
has stopped torturing himself with questions about how the
15th-ranked Tigers might have fared if he'd remained healthy. As
Woody III limped out of the Clemson locker room on an ankle that
will require surgery as soon as the season is over, he spotted
Woody Jr., who celebrated his 51st birthday on Friday. The father
thanked the son for a memorable birthday gift. "With everything
I've been through, I feel blessed just to be around here to watch
my boy play," Woody Jr. said. "My heart must be strong to survive
this kind of win."
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER PouncingDantzler kept his cool and led the Tigers 60 yards to set up the winning field goal.