Thursday, November 27, 2008

Clemson-South Carolina Rivalry Has Deep Roots

One of the featured rivalries this weekend is the Clemson-South Carolina game on Saturday. These two teams are not only in state rivals, but also from rival conferences, the ACC and SEC. The Tigers have gotten the best of this series as of late, but the Gamecocks have the better record thus far in 2008. I asked a Clemson fan and South Carolina fan from ACCvsSEC Forums to give me a perspectives on this rivalry from those who live with it everyday. And the loser of this game will live with it for 365 days in the state of South Carolina.

The rivalry between Clemson and South Carolina has its roots steeped in hatred. The University of South Carolina was originally known as the South Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. It was renamed to South Carolina College in 1882 to the dislike of the farmers in the community. They felt that agricultural education was important and should be emphasized. Benjamin Tillman, a Democrat from South Carolina, became the leader of this movement. Taking a cue from what would become Mississippi State University, he became convinced that it would be a better idea to start a separate agricultural college altogether. Tillman attempted to obtain the funds to start the college but the funds were instead given to the University of South Carolina.

When Thomas Green Clemson died in 1888, he willed Tillman his Fort Hill estate for the establishment of the college. Tillman used his pull to have a bill passed accepting the bequest of Clemson. The state had become divided in their support for the two colleges. Tillman attempted to close the University of South Carolina but only succeeded in reorganizing it into a liberal arts college. The bitterness between the two schools and its supporters have continued throughout the year and while it's origins are in political and social issues it has extended into the field of sports. Many people don't know the behind the scenes reasons for the rivalry beginning but many people just know that they're supposed to hate the other team.

Having been born in another state, I realized upon moving to South Carolina that you basically have to pick a side to root for. The rivalry has become one of the most underrated rivalries in college sports, having been dubbed so by Ivan Maisel of ESPN. The Rivalry has also been dubbed, "The Battle of the Palmetto State". It is the longest and uninterrupted football rivalry in the South and third longest in the country. The rivalry has seen many memorable moments in its history. The first game was held in 1896, a game that Carolina won 12-6. In 1902, a full scale riot broke out after a Carolina victory over an insulting poster made by Carolina fans. The rivalry was suspended until 1909 as a result. In 1946 another riot broke out after a Clemson fan strangled a live chicken at midfield after halftime. In 1961 the South Carolina fraternity members wore fake Clemson uniforms and ran on the field and mocked the football team which prompted Clemson fans to angrily storm the field. The most recent brawl took place in 2004 between the football team. Both schools voluntarily banned themselves from a bowl game. Clemson leads the football series 64-37-4.

While obviously important to the players, the rivalry has become very important to the fans as well. The winner of the game each year has year long bragging rights. Because of Clemson's domination of South Carolina in recent years in football, many Carolina fans look to the game as sort of a validation for accomplishment in the sport. This is not to say Clemson fans don't hate losing to South Carolina equally as bad. The fact that both teams now play in two competing conferences in the South only adds to the competitiveness of the rivalry, with South Carolina fans frequently mentioning the fact that they play in a superior conference to Clemson. It seems that both team’s fans and players agree on one thing though. Each would like to meet one year with something more on the line than just bragging rights. The highest ranked matchup between the two teams took place in 1987, when the #12 Gamecocks defeated the #8 Tigers by a score of 20-7.
And here is the South Carolina perspective...

The reason that USC and Clemson are rivals dates back all the way to the
formation of Clemson. Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina was founded
in 1889 on a piece of land left by Thomas Green Clemson in his will. The
governor of South Carolina at the time was “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, and he was
one of the main figures that lobbied for the creation of the College. Clemson
and Tillman both being Populists and wealthy planters wanted a college in South
Carolina dedicated to agriculture and they designed the college to be similar to
Mississippi A&M (Mississippi State).

From the beginning the two school’s social, political, and academic beliefs
and objectives have been different thus creating a discourse between the two
schools outside of athletics.Saying that South Carolinians like football is like
saying fish like water. South Carolina is only the 24th biggest state in the US
with only 4.4 million residents however; on any given Saturday in the fall
160,000 people can be found inside the football stadiums of our two biggest
schools. This rivalry is also intensified by the fact there are no professional
teams in the state and South Carolina and Clemson athletics provide the highest
level of athletics for the residents of the state, which make’s the annual
football game between the two schools the biggest sporting event in the state.

Winning the game Saturday for USC would be a very big deal. Firstly beating
Clemson in football at any time is always a source of pride for all Carolina
fans. Winning this game would also propel USC to a New Year’s Day bowl for the
first time since the 2001 season, and at the same time making Clemson ineligible
for a bowl game for the first time since 1998.

I agree with Ivan Maisel in regards to the underrating of this rivalry. It is similar to Auburn-Alabama in that there are not pro sports in South Carolina, but hasn't gotten the notoriety of the Iron Bowl because Clemson and South Carolina don't have the long standing traditions of Auburn and Alabama. I remember reading a few years back in the AJC regarding this rivalry - "there are going to be some people rolling around the dirt before this one is over".

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