GameDay Greatness: Clemson's tailgate not same without Paw Bearer

The Paw Bearer had been at every Clemson home game since 1981 before this season. Courtesy of Herbert family

Photos of the most famous car in the Memorial Stadium parking lot were taped to the windows of a silver SUV at Jeff Herbert’s tailgate party before Clemson’s game with Georgia Tech last week. It was another Saturday of constant rain, which dampened the festivities, but Herbert has partied through plenty of bad weather.

The real disappointment is that his regular vehicle is sitting in a garage, awaiting a new engine after 34 years of trips back and forth between Herbert’s home in Anderson, South Carolina, and myriad destinations around the ACC. The Paw Bearer is a converted 1967 Cadillac hearse, and it’s been a fixture of the Herbert tailgate for as long as most Clemson fans can remember.

The hearse is painted white with a resemblance to the car used in the movie “Ghostbusters.” Herbert’s father was in the cemetery business, and when a funeral home in Kinston, North Carolina, was closed down, the family found itself with a spare hearse. This was in 1980, and customized vans were all the rage, so Herbert decided he’d tweak his new ride to celebrate his favorite team.

The roof is painted orange, and tiger paw logos decorate the sides and rear. The car was decorated before the logo was trademarked, and Herbert’s use has been grandfathered in. In the rear, a compartment that had been used to transport flowers was reconfigured, and a table and chairs now reside in the back. And since the Georgia game in 1981, the Paw Bearer, as it was dubbed, has been to every Clemson home football game until this season.

“Everybody’s been looking for it,” Herbert said.

Now Herbert is hoping to bring the Paw Bearer back to life. He’s started a Go Fund Me page to raise funds to get repairs made and restore the car to its past glory. But the important thing for now is simply getting it back to the parking lot at the west end of Memorial Stadium, back where it belongs.

Herbert recently acquired a 1967 Cadillac with a 472 cubic inch engine -- a touch bigger than the 420 that came with the Paw Bearer, and he’s working on getting it installed. The tailgate just isn’t the same without it.

When Herbert first started taking the old hearse to games, his parking spot was on the north side of the stadium -- a less-than-convenient trip from Anderson. During the Clemson-Georgia game in 1983, Herbert drove the car through the middle of the UGA band to get to his spot, laying on his horn, which plays “Tiger Rag,” for fun. After that incident, Clemson accommodated Herbert with a more convenient parking spot.

The Paw Bearer escorted Herbert’s son and daughter-in-law from their wedding, and it was part of the funeral procession for one of his good friends.

“When he died, he said he wanted all the pall bearers to go in the Paw Bearer to the funeral,” Herbert said, “so that’s what we did.”

Herbert has had his share of run-ins with the opposition over the years. Stuck in traffic on the way to a game once, a Georgia fan tossed a smoke bomb into the Paw Bearer, which had its windows rolled down due to a lack of air conditioning.

“I guess they figured nobody in the back needed to be comfortable anymore,” Herbert said of the hearse’s design.

During a bowl game against Minnesota in 1985, Herbert had the Paw Bearer parked in the hotel parking lot. When he came out from his room in the morning, it was covered with Golden Gophers stickers.

He’s had thousands of fans take pictures with the car, including some South Carolina fans that said they planned to use it as their Christmas card. He’s made friends with a group from Boston College that makes it a point to visit any time the Eagles play in Death Valley. And the Paw Bearer has made its share of bowl games, too, including the 1982 Orange Bowl -- its first extended road trip. The gas gauge didn’t work, and the car got just 9 mpg, so Herbert had to stop every 100 miles for a fill-up between Anderson and Miami.

The Paw Bearer is a parade regular too. Clemson’s mascot would occasionally jump on the hood and ride along for a bit, and Herbert remembers one occasion when the mascot’s tail got caught under the car’s wheel.

“He jumped on the car, and just like that, he disappeared,” Herbert said. “Then the door slings open, and here’s the tiger with his tail in one hand and a roll of tape in the other hand.”

Herbert’s wife, Debra, taped the tail back on, and the tiger finished the parade, just another in the long string of stories Herbert tells about the adventures of the Paw Bearer.

“It’s always stuff like that,” He said.