And Words of Wisdom from an Unexpected Source
BY RON AIKEN
If the two major universities in South Carolina can be considered a metaphorical family when it comes to athletics, then not only is Clemson the University of South Carolina's daddy, the Tigers also are the Gamecocks' mommy, abusive older brother and molesting uncle combined.
To say that USC is under Clemson's thumb in every major sport doesn't even begin to describe how humiliatingly brutal the Tigers' domination of the Gamecocks truly has been in nearly every sport since 1980. It's an embarrassment of psychosis-inducing proportions, and for USC fans again hitting the antidepressants after yet another crushing loss in football followed by yet another spanking in basketball this past weekend, it's time for answers as to why the Gamecocks suck — no other word works here — against the Tigers and have for the past quarter-century plus.
But before I attempt to correct what has become a yearly death march of certain disgrace, some ugly facts must be faced. Going sport by sport, the following is USC's record against Clemson from 1980 to the present, with the Gamecocks' winning percentage and current coach's record in parentheses: baseball: 48-63 (.432, Ray Tanner 19-20); men's basketball: 12-27 (.307, Dave Odom 3-4); women's basketball: 18-24 (.428, Susan Walvius 3-7), football: 7-20 (.259, Steve Spurrier 1-2); men's soccer: 12-19 (.387, Mark Berson 12-21). For those scoring at home, that's an overall tally of Clemson 153, USC 97, which means regardless of the sport, USC beats Clemson a paltry 38 percent of the time.
Something is very, very wrong with these numbers, and it's long past time that each and every coach, player and administrator takes accountability to the fans for what can only be considered a pathetic record against one's archenemy. It's not a rivalry anymore, it's abuse, and the offender must be brought to justice.
First, I don't want to hear about a so-called "chicken curse." If you believe in a chicken curse, you're either (a) a moron; (b) a Clemson fan; or (c) both. The phrase "chicken curse" was invented by The State newspaper's television writer, Doug Nye (a Yankees fan, which should tell you something). The original term came from a sports department that as a whole — and I can say this from having worked there — doesn't refer to USC as the Gamecocks but rather, "the chickens." It's a cynical, derisive term concocted by jaded journalists, and the ridiculous phrase, popularized by Clemson fans, came out of that mean-spirited mindset.
It means nothing — for a curse to be a curse, there has to be someone doing the cursing, some goat who has been wronged or some yesteryear trade of monumental stupidity echoing through the decades. I think so many USC fans blame a non-existent curse because the reality is far scarier: USC has defined mediocrity in collegiate athletics, especially in the highest-profile sports, and loses year in and year out because the talent and coaching has been sorely lacking. That's the main reason for the hundreds of losses: Clemson cares more about athletics than USC, and puts the rivalry at the top of its to-do list every year.
When USC was an independent and then, later, in the Southeastern Conference, each year in each sport coaches spoke about how the conference comes first, the Clemson game second.
That's a mistake.
To change the soul-crucifying trend, USC must begin emphasizing beating Clemson far more than it has in the past, and it must do so in every sport. The athletics department needs to establish big incentives for coaches who beat Clemson, and go out of its way to honor teams that do.
It would be one thing if USC was hauling in SEC trophies right and left, but since joining the SEC, USC has earned just three titles in the major sports in 15 years: basketball in 1997 (a team that lost to Clemson 39-58) and baseball in 2000 and 2002.
So you'll forgive me if I'm a little sick of hearing coaches talk about being the best team in the entire Southeastern United States when year after year they can't be the best team in a 140-mile radius. When Sheridan — a USC graduate — was hired as football coach at N.C. State, he specifically said his No. 1 mission every year was to beat Clemson. And guess what? That focus, that explicit message to the players and fans, worked, and the Wolfpack beat the Tigers in Sheridan's first three years, years in which Clemson won the ACC each time. So don't tell me it's all about talent, because it's not. It's about pride and will, two things the Gamecocks have sorely lacked against Clemson in football and basketball, especially.
It's time Spurrier realized that losing to Clemson is not acceptable in any way. His predecessor's legacy of two Outback Bowl trips is remembered far less than his 1-5 record against Clemson, one Spurrier is on pace to match.
While spending hours scouring multiple record books, however, I did find one coach since 1980 whose record against the Tigers was impeccable: former women's volleyball coach Bonnie Kenny. She won her first 11 matches against Clemson and was part of a school-record 14 straight wins against Clemson, the longest of USC against the Tigers in any sport in the modern era, from 1983 to 1990. Her career 14-3 record against Clemson was just good enough to get her fired by Mike McGee, who was the sixth athletics director of her tenure. Now the head volleyball coach at the University of Delaware, Kenny gives credit to a coaching staff and players that throughout her tenure made beating the Tigers a priority.
"When you play Clemson, it's different; you put an emphasis on that game because of how much it means to people," Kenny says. "You have to make it part of your overall culture, that winning the Clemson game isn't a goal, it's mandatory. You just knew that. I don't understand why so many other sports have struggled so badly for so long."
While she declined to offer any specific advice for USC coaches, when asked if she'd take the football job if it came open, she had to laugh.
"I'd love the football job," Kenny says. "I'd finally make some money in coaching."