This week our Clemson Tigers close out the regular season on Thanksgiving weekend against their in-state arch-nemesis, the South Carolina Gamecocks. This will mark the 112th all-time gridiron meeting between the two programs, good enough for seventh on the list of longest-tenured rivalries. It will also be the 106th consecutive meeting, which ranks third all-time and second only to Minnesota and Wisconsin's annual battle for "Paul Bunyan's Axe" in current unbroken streaks (2014 will mark the 108th consecutive meeting between the Golden Gophers and the Badgers).
We are in the midst of a historic era in the annals of college football, one that has seen Steve Spurrier take the South Carolina Gamecocks from laughing stock to legitimate threat on the field. The Ol' Ball Coach has beaten the odds yet again, repeating in Columbia what he also accomplished at previously dormant Duke (1987-1989) and Florida (1990-2001): winning at an unprecedented level of consistency. And the happy ending to this egomaniacal massage: five straight state championships (2009-2013) over "that team from the Upstate." If South Carolina is historically the France of college football (and they are: This is South Carolina Football!), then the Ol' Ball Coach is the game's Napoleon
Dynamite Bonaparte. He's taken a perennial loser, whose motto was "Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory since 1892" and rendered it relevant. It is indeed the golden age of South Carolina football, and those USC athletic supports sure do love their Cocks!
But even Darth Visor hasn't been able to completely diminish the force of the chicken curse (even Vanderbilt scoffs at USCjr and the curse). It remains strong to date, especially in the likes of Texas A&M, Kentucky, and Tennessee. And though it has not afflicted the Gamecocks in their annual in-state rivalry for some time, history shows it's only a matter of time before another outbreak of epidemic proportions sidelines the yard birds for decades to come. The Lamecocks have only once previously enjoyed anything remotely resembling their current success against the Tigers: an unbeaten streak between 1949 and 1954 when they went 5-0-1, the tie coming in 1950 (14-14).
Clemson meanwhile, has managed multiple three-peats (1909-1911; 1955-1957; 1976-1978) and four-peats (1897-1900; 1916-1919; 1927-1930; 1980-1983; 1988-1991; 1997-2000; 2002-2005). But most telling are the Tigers' longer unbeaten streaks: between 1913 and 1919, Clemson went 6-0-1, the tie coming in 1915 (0-0), and between 1934 and 1940, when Clemson won seven straight, still the longest winning streak in the series. Here's hoping Ben Tillman will rise from the dead on November 29, 2014, break out his pitchfork, and curse the Shamecocks with another age of abominations that will return them to their rightful place in the cellar of college football history.
Even with the unprecedented run of recent success for the coots, the overall record in the rivalry still exhibits Clemson's overall dominance at 65-42-4. That all-time mark is only more impressive given that every game between the first matchup in 1896 and 1959 was dubbed "Big Thursday" and kicked off the South Carolina State Fair in Columbia.
Despite this decided home-field advantage for the Gamecocks, the Tigers owned Columbia to the tune of a 33-21-3 won-loss advantage during the span. Clemson's first home game in the series didn't come until 1960 (a 12-2 Tiger victory), after legendary Tiger head coach Frank Howard had finally won his battle to transform the rivalry into an annual home-and-home series and kissed Big Thursday goodbye.
The Tigers are 32-21-1 since the advent of the home-and-home series: 16-10-1 in Death Valley, 16-11-0 in Billy Brice. Since this year we yet again welcome our feathered foes to Death Valley, here are five epic moments* (one to offset each setback in the recent streak) since that first Clemson home game in 1960 that epitomize the "rivalry" as it once was, and
should will be again:
In 1980 Danny Ford's second Tiger squad was coming off a respectable 8-4 (4-2 ACC) bowl season in 1979, but had struggled through a rebuilding campaign to a 5-5 (2-4 ACC) season record entering the annual season-ending rivalry. Jim Carlen's South Carolina Gamecocks came in riding high at 8-2 and #14 in the nation, largely on the strength of its running game, led by eventual 1980 Heisman Trophy winner RB George Rodgers. But on November 22, 1980, those records and accomplishments went out the window, as Danny Ford unleashed his Tigers down the Hill in all-orange for the first time ever, and they rode the magic orange pants to a rousing 27-6 romp.
Senior Clemson defensive back Willie Underwood stole the show in the last of his 47 career games as a Tiger, intercepting two passes from Gamecock QB Gary Harper-the only two interceptions of Underwood's career-returning the first 64yds down to the SC 24-yard line, and taking the second in from 37yds out for a touchdown. The interceptions and resulting two touchdowns broke a 6-6 tie game wide open in the Tigers favor, and they would later add a touchdown run from RB Jeff McCall to seal the victory.
South Carolina ended the year 8-4 and #18 in the final polls after a 37-9 Gator Bowl shellacking at the hands of Dan Marino and the Pittsburgh Panthers. Clemson ended the year at 6-5 (2-4 ACC), but rode the momentum of their season-ending triumph over the Gamecocks to an undefeated (12-0, 6-0 ACC champions) national championship season in 1981.
For video of the full 1980 Clemson-South Carolina game, click here.
In 1988 Danny Ford's Tigers came into the annual season-ending rivalry game at 8-2 and #15 in the nation, having clinched the ACC title the week before with a win over Maryland. Joe Morrison's Gamecocks also entered the contest at 8-2, good enough for a #25 national ranking. Morrison and South Carolina had embarrassed Clemson in Columbia the year before, as Gamecock QB Todd Ellis torched the Tiger secondary en route to a 20-7 win. Tiger QB Rodney Williams, from nearby Irmo, SC, was jeered by the Gamecock faithful after a dreadful performance in 1987, but Williams and his Tigers would get the last laugh in 1988, as they routed Ellis and the Gamecocks 29-10.
Williams directed the Tiger offensive attack to near perfection, with help from RB Terry Allen, while the defense stifled Ellis and the Gamecocks aerial assault all afternoon.
South Carolina finished the season 8-4 and unranked after losing 34-10 to the Indiana Hoosiers in the Liberty Bowl. Clemson capped off a 10-2 (6-1 ACC) conference championship season with a thrilling 13-6 victory over Barry Switzer and his defending national champion Oklahoma Sooners in the Gator Bowl to end the year at #9 in the final polls.
For video of the full 1988 Clemson-South Carolina game, click here.
In 2000 Tommy Bowden's second Tigers squad entered the Palmetto Bowl at 8-2 and #16 in the land to take on Lou Holtz's South Carolina Gamecocks, whose record stood at 7-3, good for a #25 national ranking. In a defensive slugfest marred by offensive miscues, the Tigers and Gamecocks battled to a near-stalemate late into the fourth quarter, before an unlikely chain of events set up one of the most memorable moments in Tiger football lore. Gamecock RB Derek Watson (without the garnet-and-black shades) had fumbled the ball into the endzone, only to recover it himself for the go-ahead touchdown with under a minute to play in the fourth quarter. Then, it happened. Down 14-13 with just nineteen second remaining and facing a 3rd-and-12 from their own 42-yard line, Tiger QB Woody Dantzler dropped back, rolled left, looked right, and hurled a 50yd bomb to WR Rod Gardner, taking the Tigers down to the SC 8-yard line, setting up much-maligned freshman kicker Aaron Hunt for the game-winning field goal with just three seconds remaining to seal the unlikely 16-14 victory.
South Carolina ended the season with a 24-7 drubbing of the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Outback Bowl to finish #19 in the country at 8-4 (5-3 SEC). Clemson finished the season at #16 in the final polls after losing the Gator Bowl 42-20 to Michael Vick and the Virginia Tech Hokies to finish 9-3 (6-2 ACC).
For video of the full 2000 Clemson-South Carolina game, click here.
In 2004 Tommy Bowden's Tigers and Lou Holtz's Gamecocks squared off for the last time. Both entered unranked with paltry records, Clemson at 5-5, South Carolina at 6-4, but the Tigers outmanned the Gamecocks from the opening kick en route to a dominant 29-7 victory. The thrashing on the scoreboard, however, would be overshadowed by the brawl that broke out late in the fourth quarter, fisticuffs which ultimately prompted both schools to prohibit their teams from participating in postseason bowls as punishment. Thus ended the "illushtriush" coaching career of Lou Holtz, who lamented that he was "going to be remembered along with former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes for having a fight at the Clemson game."
South Carolina finished the year unranked at 6-5 (4-4 SEC), a futile ranking and record matched by Clemson's at 6-5 (4-4 ACC), and both stayed home for the holidays after agreeing to a postseason bowl ban.
For video of the full 2004 Clemson-South Carolina game, click here.
In 2008 Dabo Swinney's first Palmetto Bowl saw his unranked 6-5 Tigers do battle against Steven Spurrier's unranked 7-4 Gamecocks. Behind a balanced offense (383 total yards: 199 passing, 184 rushing) led by RBs James Davis (24car, 91yds, 3tds) and CJ Spiller (16car, 88yds; 3rec, 35yds), QB Cullen Harper (12/17, 199yds, 1td), and WRs Aaron Kelly (4rec, 76yds) and Jacoby Ford (1rec, 76yds, 1td), and a stout, opportunistic defense (304yds allowed, 4 turnovers forced), the Tigers routed the Gamecocks 31-14, ending a tumultuous regular season (former head coach Tommy Bowden resigned mid-season) on a high note under interim head man Dabo Swinney.
Swinney would parlay a 4-2 regular season finish that included the convincing win over South Carolina into a full-time hire. After two division championships (2009 & 2011, the program's first), one conference championship (2011, the program's first since 1991), three straight double-digit-win seasons (2011-2013) and on the verge of a fourth (first time since 1987-1990), two BCS bowl bids (2012 & 2014 Orange Bowls, the program's first), one BCS bowl win (2014 Orange Bowl, also the program's first), it's safe to say the program is in much better shape than he inherited it, and moving upward.
South Carolina lost 31-10 to Iowa in the Outback Bowl to end the season unranked at 7-6 (4-4 SEC). Clemson earned a Gator Bowl berth versus Nebraska, but would lose 26-21 to end the year unranked at 7-6 (4-4 ACC) as well. The win was the last for the Tigers in the rivalry, and has proven to be Swinney's only triumph over Spurrier in their six career meetings.
For video of the full 2008 Clemson-South Carolina game, click here.
Since we'll all be sick of turkey by Saturday night, let's turn the menu over and devour some chickens for the sixty-sixth time (most wins by Clemson versus anyone, ever). Let's get Coach Swinney his sixtieth victory (which would be the second-fastest in Clemson history, trailing only Danny Ford, who did so in 84 games, while Swinney is positioned to accomplish the feat in 86 games). And let's get the 2014 seniors to the top spot in wins over a four-year span (41 would best the current leaders, the 1990 senior class). Victory is sweetest when it tastes like chicken...so whether its baked, broiled, or fried, let's all give thanks and savor that flavor we know so well.
Happy Thanksgiving & GO TIGERS!
*Honoralbe Mention: 2002 Clemson-South Carolina-The Tigers' 60th victory (27-20) in the 100th game