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Clemson Football and the Horror of Sanford Stadium

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Some losses you just can't get away from, no matter how many years worth of distance lie between you and it.

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

There are, in my experience, three kinds of outcomes in college football. No, no, I don't mean wins, losses, and ties. You can't tie anymore anyway, thank goodness, because ties are stupid. This isn't the NFL. I am referring to the three types of wins and losses - and yes, they fall into the same categories despite being opposite things. Give me a second.

The first type is the 'I understood this' win/loss. Playing Furman and winning falls into this category. Getting whomped by Alabama in the Georgia Dome in 2008, who wouldn't lose until facing #2 Florida, falls into it as well--at least, in hindsight.

The second type is the 'what' win/loss. Beating #3 Florida State in 2003 is an example, as is nearly any loss against Georgia Tech since Paul Johnson arrived because triple option. It's like watching science... out of control science... with bees that have lasers attached to their eyes.

Finally, we have the 'it will never be purged from your brain' division. 63-17 is an instance of this and, oh, wouldn't you know it, another game from that season is the unhappy example. I'm being polite with that word--unhappy. I really mean a feeling akin to drinking motor oil from the posterior of a rhinoceros.

I was jumpier than usual for last year's opener and many around me didn't quite seem to know why. Yes, we all hate Georgia, to be sure, but it was something else--something that permanently occupies a few of my neurons, even now. Another opening game a decade past; the most dreadful 60 minutes of football I believe I've ever seen (and yes, I say this despite the Orange Bowl). The memory exists as a shadow, a shapeless blob of ebony dread that floats around and sometimes emits a 'boo' at random. It'll keep doing it until after the first Saturday of this season ends in victory. God help me if it doesn't.

I can't really tell you what people expected of Georgia in 2003, but they were #11 despite injuries, suspensions, and a virtually brand new offensive line. It was a strange time; a time in which Mark Richt had some control of the temperature of his seat, thanks to the 2002 SEC Championship. It might have been a rare instance of Georgia's fanbase possibly understanding why the team wasn't doing so great if things had turned out differently.

Who am I kidding? They'd have shot him at dawn. Fired UGA out of a cannon at him, I bet.

Meanwhile, Clemson was coming off a 7-6 year and a mind-numbing loss in the... what is this? Tangerine Bowl? We've got too many games named for fruit. Hell, it doesn't even exist as that any longer. Try to guess which bowl it is now - no Google. I'll give you a cookie!

Yeah, I know what you're thinking, "SEC Champion versus hurr durr what is Charlie Whitehurst doing now oh my just stop." What happened should have been expected, even if half of Athens sold some rings and made people mad. I grant you that, with the crystal clarity of hindsight. But at the time? It was like watching someone get strangled. I often wonder where the phrase SEC DefenseTM came from originally and if it found life here, I wouldn't be surprised. Seven rushing yards in the first half for Clemson. My eyes were being treated to capital murder.

Oho, but these were the Bowden days and, my friends, Bowden Bowden'd. Hey, what if I tell Whitehurst to pitch to Coleman, then have Coleman pass it! Brilliant! What? Oh no! It's a dying gooseball? Oh no! Oh no! And of course, interceptions. Never have I felt so hopeless watching something I ostensibly liked.

Somehow, though, for both teams it was up from there. Let us ignore Maryland, NC State, and Wake Forest because they are truly the worst, but Clemson did okay for itself. Especially in Columbia.

(pause for riotous laughter)

Georgia did even better; though they lost to an insane LSU team twice, they beat Purdue (I'm sorry, Purdue made a bowl game?) in the postseason.

But 30-0 was a stain on my soul. Perhaps I viewed it as the athletic manifestation of one of the worst years of my life. I can't really say. Ten years on, though, it still haunted me. 2013 was the best sort of vengeance, a win both because and in spite of Clemson's ability to be itself. The demon had been vanquished. The tide had been turned. Georgia still dominates the series? No, you shut up. This night belonged to me, damn it. And yet... the next day it was back again. That stain.

Why? 2014 marks the back end of the home and home, and after that it may be eons before Clemson and Georgia meet in the regular season again. With it being at Sanford Stadium, and between two teams who just lost incredible quarterbacks, there is an uncertainty last year lacked. There's such a thing every year, I suppose, but this time it seems so much worse. I don't even know why I'm nervous. And so, as kickoff slinks nearer through these long summer days, I imagine I'll get asked again why I'm so edgy. Beside the obvious reasons. So many familiar faces gone. Who is Clemson? Who is Georgia? It feels a lot like 2003. No, I suppose it doesn't make sense to be so anxious - but I'm not here to make sense. If I wanted sense, I'd cheer for Alabama's Grinding Death Machine or Ohio State's ridiculous The. Perhaps this time around I'll find the bravery to explain myself, how a little part of me will live or die in the shadow of Sanford Stadium and I have no idea when relief will come if it's the latter.