From Fighting Tiger to a Tiger's Foot

Before the tiger paw became the logo of Clemson University, there was never a consistent logo. Although the bengal tiger was often used, it varied in style and character. This led to an identity crisis within Clemson as it never had a standardized way of representing itself to the public. It was this identity issue along with the retirement of long-time head football coach Frank Howard that prompted the search for a new, official logo. Over his years of coaching, Howard and the Tiger became symbolic of each other, and Hootie Ingram became the first new football coach in 30 years. It was this transition from Howard to Ingram which catalyzed the change from the Tiger to the Paw. 

In 1969, University President R.C. Edwards decided it was necessary to change the outward “image of Clemson” (The Tiger Paw of Clemson University: Its Birth and Adoption). Meanwhile, the athletic department at Clemson had been airing their worries that a Tiger was not distinctive enough to represent a school of Clemson’s caliber. This fear was further exaggerated by the fact that many other nationally known universities (i.e., Princeton University and Louisiana State University) had the tiger as their formal university logo. Soon after, advertisements were placed in multiple South Carolina newspapers seeking interested firms. The winning contract was the Henderson Advertising Agency of Greenville. 

After the Henderson Advertising Agency was selected to create two new potential logos, their job really began. They originally spoke to the branding divisions of other universities only to receive the general response that, “a tiger is just a tiger.” (Huber). The Clemson project was eventually handed to John Antonio of the Henderson Agency, and the job was much more challenging than expected. Feeling at the end of his rope, Antonio had the pinnacle of all shower thoughts early one morning and realized that the only part of the tiger they had yet to look at were its feet. That morning, upon returning to work, the agency sent out requests to zoos across the country for creating a new logo that was based on a tiger but not a tiger itself. They received two responses: one being a detailed photo of a tiger and the other being a plaster of a tiger’s paw from the National Art History Museum in Chicago. Once the plaster was delivered to Antonio in June of 1970, he created the primordial version of the famous tiger paw associated with Clemson today.

In July of 1970, a committee, of which both Frank Howard and Hootie Ingram were members, met for Antonio’s grand reveal. After walking into the room and presenting the paw by simply posting an image of it on the wall across the room, Howard was less than impressed; his first response was asking to see what the second option was. Only to find out that it was the paw or nothing, Howard’s mind was quickly changed when Antonio pulled out a helmet with a white paw on either side. He was specifically convinced by the idea that a fan from anywhere in Death Valley would be able to easily recognize the paw from any seat in the stadium.

John Antonio’s now iconic paw was justified to the committee by a series of four points. The first was that tigers are ferocious, and a paw was a tiger that you don’t see but always know is lurking nearby. The second point was that the paw can be recognized when big enough for a billboard but also when small enough for a ring. The third point was that the paw was angled at thirty degrees because it looked better that way and football games traditionally started at one o’clock in the afternoon. Antonio’s fourth point was that the indentation on the bottom of the tiger paw was due to a prior fight the tiger was in, and thereby reflected on the resilience and strength of Clemson.

On July 21st 1970, the tiger paw was officially introduced as the new logo of Clemson University. A press team traveled across the state to announce the new logo to media sources. This was the beginning of the Clemson tiger paw becoming one of the most recognizable symbols in national collegiate athletics. John Antonio, to whom Clemson owes for its now famous paw, died in Greenville, South Carolina at the age of 83 after a battle with cancer (Robinson).

From Fighting Tiger to a Tiger's Foot