Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame football player Gary Barnes passed away at Clemson Downs in Clemson, S.C. on Tuesday afternoon, after a long battle against Parkinson’s disease. He was 83.
Born on September 13, 1939, in Fairfax, Alabama to Horace and Ruth Dixon Barnes, Gary is survived by his children Greg Barnes and Kelly Barnes (McDavid) Borick, their spouses Krista and Jim and Gary’s five grandchildren: Dixon, Ainsley and Dottie Barnes and Elizabeth and Katie McDavid.
Gary played high school football and basketball at Valley High School before attending Clemson where he was a starting receiver and running back for Frank Howard’s Tigers between 1959-61, as freshmen were not eligible during his era. In 1959, he started all 11 games and had nine receptions for 214 yards and three scores as a sophomore.
Clemson won the ACC Championship in 1959 and finished the season ranked 11th in the AP Poll. The Tigers finished the season with a 23-7 victory over seventh-ranked TCU in the Bluebonnet Bowl, the highest-ranked team Frank Howard defeated in his 30 years at Clemson. Gary had a key play in that victory, a 68-yard scoring pass from Harvey White, the longest touchdown reception by a Clemson player in a bowl game until 2018.
Gary finished his Clemson career with 39 receptions for 719 yards and six touchdowns. His 18.4 yards per reception ranks fourth best in Clemson history. He ranked in the top 10 in the ACC in total receiving yards all three years he played for the Tigers.
After his senior season, Gary was a third-round draft choice, the 41st pick of the 1962 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. He spent his rookie season with Vince Lombardi’s Packers when they beat the New York Giants in the NFL Championship Game.
Gary was traded to the Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys for the 1963 season, and he played in 12 games with three starts. He played 13 games of the 1964 campaign with the Chicago Bears and head coach George Halas, marking the third legendary NFL coach for whom he played in his first three years in the league.
Gary, known as “The Original Falcon,” was the first player signed by the expansion Atlanta Falcons in 1965, the year before the franchise began playing games. Gary then scored the first touchdown in Falcon’s history in their first game against the Los Angeles Rams. The score came on a 53-yard pass from Falcons quarterback Randy Johnson, the longest reception of his professional career.
Following his playing career, Barnes worked for Chevron then in the textile industry. In 1986, he became a municipal judge in Clemson, a position he held for 30 years.
Gary was inducted into the Clemson Hall of Fame in 2002, the state of South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005, selected as a member of the All Centennial Team and voted as one of the 50 Greatest Tigers by the Tiger Insider.
Gary is well loved by all that knew him—family, life-long friends, those he met along the way as well as brief acquaintances. He touched many lives in a positive way and will be greatly missed on this earth.
The family would like to thank Clemson Downs staff and Via Healthcare Partners for the excellent love and care given to Gary in the past months.
A memorial service will be held at First Baptist Church in Clemson at 11 a.m. on Saturday, August 26.
Duckett-Robinson Funeral Home is assisting the family.