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Clemson parents, fans visit empty Doak Campbell Stadium after postponement

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Doak Stadium in Tallahassee sits empty after the Clemson/Florida State game was canceled about three hours before kickoff Saturday. Joshua Needelman/Staff

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The towering brick stadium was still on Saturday.

If there are college football gods, they are no match for COVID-19. Outbreaks have prompted mass cancellations in recent weeks, and in the most jarring twist yet, the ACC announced just three hours before kickoff Saturday that No. 4 Clemson's contest at Florida State scheduled for noon was postponed. 

And so Doak Campbell Stadium, the 70-year-old neogothic football cathedral and home of the Seminoles, sat silent Saturday, aside from a low hum of white noise droning from the structure, maybe from the ventilation system.

Whatever the source, it was supposed to be background noise. The pandemic has limited attendance at college football games, but Florida State was ready to admit 16,000 fans into the stadium Saturday.

This was to be Clemson's comeback game. And Trevor Lawrence's return.

Two weeks ago the then-No. 1 Tigers fell to then-No. 4. Notre Dame, 47-40, in double overtime, their first regular season loss in 37 games dating back to 2017. Lawrence, the superstar quarterback, missed that game, as well as the previous week's win over Boston College, after testing positive for the virus. 

Lawrence and Clemson flew into Tallahassee on Friday and were ready to play Saturday. But after the Tigers reportedly learned a player who had traveled with the team had tested positive, Florida State declined to participate and the game was called off.

The decision prompted mass frustration. Among those affected was the father of Clemson freshman safety R.J. Mickens.

"They put in a lot of work," said Ray Mickens, a Texas A&M defensive back in the 1990s who played about a decade in the NFL. "A lot of work every week goes into film study and practices and preparation for just one game. And then the morning of, you got to throw all that work in a trash can."

Left with a free Saturday in Tallahassee, Mickens took a trip to the stadium after saying goodbye to his son. Dressed in a purple Clemson pullover and sipping from a water bottle, he lamented what could have been.

And he offered an alternative to what has been commonly proposed: The teams make up the game Dec. 12, one week before the ACC Championship. 

"I thought, personally, if Clemson met all the protocols, ACC approved all the protocols, and Florida State didn't want to play, then it should be ruled a forfeit," Mickens said. 

Kerry Walsh and Greg Castner, the parents of freshman place kicker Quinn Castner, grinded through the eight-hour drive from Fort Mill for the game. Their two young daughters in the backseat were unrelenting in their enthusiasm:

"Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"

Castner, one of junior kicker B.T. Potter's backups, didn't travel for the game, but his parents are both FSU alums and have family in the area.

The four woke up early Saturday and dressed in orange and purple from head to toe. The girls' aunt and grandma wore FSU garb. The girls hardly seemed bothered by the cancellation; they bounded onto benches and chased each other around palm trees, giggling as the adults struggled to keep up.

"I just feel sorry for the players," Walsh said. 

They congregated outside Gate C, where metal barriers led to a locked entry way. Behind the gate, hand sanitizer stations went unused. From the correct angle, an onlooker could steal a peak of the stadium past the gray beams and pipes. The field shone a healthy green. 

"FSU vs. Clemson POSTPONED," a digital sign outside read. 

As the sky turned from blue to gray, dog-walkers and fans without a destination walked laps around the stadium. 

In an empty walkway, dozens of painted garnet circles offered would-be patrons a message, along with renderings of pairs of feet. 

The irony was not lost on some passerby: "Thanks for practicing social distancing."

Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter @joshneedelman.

Joshua Needelman covers Clemson for The Post and Courier. He's a Long Island, N.Y., native and a University of Maryland alum. He's won national and state awards in sports and feature writing, and for reasons unclear he still roots for the New York Knicks.

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