There never has been a time that Charlotte 49ers athletics director Mike Hill hasn’t pulled for Clemson’s football team.
That changes — if only briefly — Saturday, when the top-ranked Tigers face the 49ers at 7:30 p.m. in Death Valley.
It will be an odd state of affairs for Hill, who was raised in Clemson, South Carolina, the son of an English professor at the university. It’s where he first fell in love with college athletics.
“I’m going to have a ton of emotions Saturday,” Hill said this week. “There’s a lot of nostalgia for me.”
Hill said he grew up going to all kinds of Clemson athletic events. Football was his first love, however.
“I remember the first game I went to in 1976,” he said. “We beat The Citadel 10-7 in the opener. The newspaper headline said, ‘Clemson nips The Citadel,’ and I had to ask my dad what ‘nipped’ meant.’ ”
Clemson went 3-6-2 that season.
“Things have changed a bit,” Hill said.
As a kid, Hill earned spending money during football season by selling game programs outside Memorial Stadium. Then he’d go in and watch the game from the hill situated behind one end zone.
After a few years, Hill decided he needed to make more money. He went to the store and bought some orange paint and Q-tips. He would then head to the parking lots, where he painted Clemson’s orange tiger paw on fans’ faces.
“I’d make 75 to 100 bucks a game doing that,” he said. “That’s pretty good money for an elementary school or junior high kid.”
Hill said two Clemson games he went to still stand out for him. In 1977, Notre Dame and quarterback Joe Montana came to town and escaped with a 21-17 victory. Eleven years later, Hill was home from college at North Carolina and witnessed Florida State’s famous “puntrooskie” fake punt that helped the Seminoles win a matchup of top-10 programs.
.Hill, who came to Charlotte in 2018 after nearly 25 years working in Florida’s athletics department, said he traveled to watch Clemson beat Alabama in the 2016 and ‘18 season national championship games. But Saturday’s Tigers-49ers game will be the first he has attended at Clemson since 2002.
And, in actuality, he won’t be conflicted.
“For once I’ll be pulling against Clemson,” he said. “Just this one time.”