Howard's Rock damaged by vandals

Howard's Rock, one of the iconic fixtures in college football, was vandalized on June 2 or 3, according to a police report obtained from the Clemson University Police Department.

According to the report, Lt. Gary Leslie arrived at Memorial Stadium at 2:30 p.m. on June 3 and found "a large piece of the rock was missing." Leslie reported that the plastic protective cover over the rock was sitting on the ground near the gate and that police were able to get a partial print off the pedestal. He estimated the damage to be $500, but the total damage is still pending, as is the investigation.

"It is very disappointing that someone would disrespect our unique tradition to this extent," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said in a statement. "It is one of the iconic images of the game. I am sure Clemson police will investigate this thoroughly and hold the person accountable for this behavior."

According to sports information director Tim Bourret, Clemson employees Jeffrey Kallin and William Lewis went to snap pictures of the rock for the marketing department. When they arrived, they noticed the case was off and there was damage to the rock. Bourret estimated only about 15 percent of the rock was removed.

"We will still have our tradition of rubbing the rock and running down the hill," Bourret said.

The Tigers began the tradition of running down the Hill, which sits above the east end zone, in 1942. The tradition began because of necessity more than anything else. The shortest walk from the team's dressing room in Fike Fieldhouse to the stadium was to walk down Williamson Road and enter a gate underneath, where the stadium's large scoreboard now stands.

Legend has it that in either 1964 or 1965, S.C. Jones, a Clemson alumnus, made a trip to California. While driving through Death Valley, he stopped and picked up a large, white flint rock. Earlier, Presbyterian College coach Lonnie McMillan had described Clemson's Memorial Stadium as "Death Valley," because that's where his teams annually went to die. Tigers coach Frank Howard began using the same moniker to describe his home field soon thereafter.

Jones brought the rock back to Clemson and presented it to Howard. The rock sat in Howard's office for a couple of years. While cleaning out his office before the 1966 season, Howard saw the rock and told Gene Willimon, executive secretary of the school's booster club, to "take this rock and throw it over the fence, or out in the ditch ... do something with it, but get it out of my office!"

Instead, Willimon arranged for the rock to be put on a pedestal at the top of the hill above the east end zone. It was unveiled on Sept. 24, 1966, when Clemson played Virginia. The Tigers were trailing by 18 points with 17 minutes left and came back to win 40-35. Rubbing the rock and running down the hill has become one of the most recognized pregame traditions in college football. It began on Sept. 23, 1967, when Clemson beat Wake Forest 23-6. Before running down the hill that day, Coach Howard told his players, "If you're going to give me 110 percent, you can rub that rock. If you're not, keep your filthy hands off of it."

It's only the second time the historic rock has been vandalized.

In 1992, during the week of the game against rival South Carolina, somebody successfully chiseled off a piece of the rock, but officials never found out who did it. That's when university officials put the cover on it. Bourret said the university will now try to further tighten the security around the rock.

"We are in the process of making some changes to make it more secure," Bourret said. "We're looking at installing some cameras and things of that nature, looking into an alarm system."

ESPN.com senior college football writer Mark Schlabach contributed to this story.