Homer Jordan's moment has arrived. Bear Bryant has his record; Marcus Allen has his Heisman; Herschel Walker has his future. Now it's time for Homer Jordan to discover if his star can light up the entire nation on New Year's night, or if he and his Clemson teammates were a supernova that could exist only in the firmament of the ACC.
As the quarterback for the No. 1 team in college football, Jordan will be exposed for all the world to study. Is Clemson's meteoric rise to prominence a fluke in a fickle football season? Or is it a destiny made manifest by a nearly silent, polite-beyond-belief but fiercely determined soul from, of all places, Athens, Ga., home of the Georgia Bulldogs? These questions will be decided in the Orange Bowl when Clemson meets Nebraska with the opportunity of achieving a 12-0 season and locking up the Tigers' first national championship.
If Jordan, a junior, should emerge as the hero of the game, as was regularly the case this season, it probably won't even faze him, at least not outwardly. Homer's mother says that when he was the star quarterback for 11-1 Cedar Shoals High School in Athens three years ago, he would come straight home Friday nights after games, and kids from school would be lined up along the street in front of the house to greet him. "I don't know how he makes so many friends," says Alice Jordan, "because Little Homer doesn't say anything—even around home."
Little Homer hardly resembles a quarterback, at least in the way the image of a quarterback is fixed in the public mind. Think about it. Is there any position in any team sport that has a more firmly fixed stereotype than quarterback? First of all, if the quarterback is black, he's usually not really what we think of as a quarterback at all, but one of those wishbone-option juke artists such as Thomas Lott or J.C. Watts. We think of a college quarterback and we think of Jim McMahon or Art Schlichter or John Elway or Dan Marino. Not only are they white, but they're also big and strong.
Homer Jordan—a skinny 6-footer, listed at 180 pounds by the grace of the Clemson sports information department—just doesn't fit this prototype. Nor does he fit any other one. He simply gets the job done in whatever way is necessary. Jordan is willing to fit the game, and doesn't waste time trying to make the game fit him. He thinks, he sees, he moves—about as unobtrusively as a stalking cat, or, in this instance, Tiger—until the moment comes to pounce. Then he zips the ball like a bullet, or shakes his hips this way and that, and Clemson's on the move.
"Homer controls what we're going to do," says Clemson Coach Danny Ford. "How he plays is how we play. The games that he's had a little trouble in are the ones we had a hard time winning. But when your quarterback can play bad and you still win, then he's got to be pretty good. And we think Homer is pretty good."
For the record, Jordan has played quarterback regularly only since his senior year in high school. This season he was selected first-team All-ACC at the position. Either sprinting out or dropping back, whatever the occasion demanded, he threw for 1,496 yards and eight touchdowns, completed 96 of 174 passes (55%) and suffered only eight interceptions. He was also Clemson's third-leading rusher with 440 yards on 152 carries, and ran for six more touchdowns. Against Georgia, he completed 11 of 18 passes for 135 yards and ran for 59 more in a 13-3 win that was the Bulldogs' only loss of the season. He was 20 for 29 and threw for three TDs in a 21-7 win over Maryland that clinched the ACC crown. Against North Carolina State, though, Jordan passed poorly (completing only four of 13 throws with three interceptions) but ran for 104 yards.
"I have quick feet and can throw when I have to" is about all Jordan will say when asked to describe his own game.
But others are quick to supply the words for him, most notably senior Wide Receiver Perry Tuttle, who is as garrulous as Jordan is taciturn. A projected first-round NFL draft pick—"Thanks to Homer," he says—Tuttle caught 47 passes for 827 yards and seven TDs this season to break nearly all of the Clemson receiving records held by Jerry Butler, now with the Buffalo Bills. "I love the way Homer throws," says Tuttle. "You go across the middle, he threads it. He has the touch. You go long, he never overthrows. And sometimes you can slow down a step and let the defender get a little past you, because you know Homer'll get it to you."
"Seems like I came along at the right time for everything. That's the way I figure it," says Jordan, in what for him amounts to an oration.