The coastal charm of colonial Charleston. A sun soaked beach paradise in Myrtle Beach. The elegance of Hilton Head and the low country. Greenville and the Upstate tucked under the arm of the Appalachian mountains. Famously hot but a pleasant place to live and retire, Columbia is the historic capital. Yet the small towns, cities, and the people make this an unforgettable destination and a wonderful place to live.
History. One of of the original thirteen colonies with a proud southern heritage. Controversial for its Confederate roots and flag. Place where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Home to many Revolutionary and Civil War battles.
Despite the hospitable people, beautiful towns, and rich history, a civil war still continues in the state of South Carolina as it has for the last 116 years.
A State of Disunion
Regardless of what you know or think you know about the state of South Carolina, there are things about the people and culture here that you may not understand. College sports, especially college football, are a huge part of the every day lives of many people that live here.
I was born and raised in South Carolina so I understand it. Growing up, every person in the state has a choice to make – “do I root for South Carolina or Clemson?”
The choice has nothing to do with where you live, go to school, or even your college choice. While the choice that you make defines people, families, and friendships, these allegiances come to a frenetic climax the last week of November on a football field.
Growing up, I made my choice – South Carolina. My dad graduated from the University of South Carolina when I was a little boy. Those football games at Williams-Brice stadium inspired me to travel. At an early age, I learned to hate Clemson.
I have an uncle who is a huge Clemson fan and every year, we were poised for bragging rights and phone calls at the conclusion of the game. Families, friends, and even husbands and wives are divided by their allegiances. Like many others familiar with this rivalry, I have a passionate dislike for the other school but it’s never anything personal against my friends or family that cheer for them.
While many people are respectful towards their opposing fans, this rivalry can run white hot and become very passionate. In 1902, Clemson cadets stormed the USC campus armed with bayonets. Only a peacemaker prevented certain death and bloodshed.
In 2004, a Gamecock football team that was falling apart at the seams put this game on edge from the start. A massive brawl ensued which led to both teams throwing punches and helmets while kicking one another. Players from both teams got ejected, were kicked off the team, and some were even arrested.
In 2006, a South Carolina fan shot and killed a Clemson fan over a bet on the game.
This year, I had the chance to attend the South Carolina – Clemson game as part of my College Football Travel Tour. Coming into this game, both teams were nationally ranked and had the best combined record of any South Carolina – Clemson game in history at 18-4. Tension was high for this one and the stadium was as loud as I’ve heard it in many years. That night, there were a few fights in the stands and arrests as fans once again let their passion run too hot.
This may be a side of South Carolina people don’t see. It’s not always ugly as the rivalry is fun and light-hearted for many. However, this is a part of the culture here. This rivalry is a part of South Carolina history. And as much as people love to talk about the Xs and Os, football scores, and games, there is so much more to this rivalry game than that.
Welcome to a state of disunion.
Book review: Classic Clashes of the Carolina – Clemson Football Rivalry
As a Gamecock fan, I still follow the team and don’t miss a game. I’ve been in California 10 years and I still dislike Clemson as much as I did years ago. However, the stories of these football clashes are historical and a number of people have written books and articles on this rivalry.
Two sports writers, Travis Haney and Larry Williams, came up with the idea of writing another book on this rivalry. Travis spent a number of years covering the Gamecocks and shares his memories and experiences covering the Gamecocks and his opinion on the rivalry in this interview. Larry has spent a number of years covering the rivalry from the Clemson Tigers perspective but has also experienced the other side as a Gamecock graduate. He allowed me to take a look at the rivalry from the other side.
After spending some time with both of them I was eager to check out Classic Clashes of the Carolina-Clemson Football Rivalry: A State of Disunion to see how this book was different than the other books and articles that had been written.
After reading some excerpts from the book and flipping through the pages, I sat down on Christmas Eve and read the book from cover to cover. Unlike other things written about the rivalry, this book isn’t full of stats, scores, and a play by play of the games. This book focuses on the history, the personalities, the eras, and the moments that have defined and shaped this rivalry.
This book does a great job of telling the stories and is a compilation of beautiful pictures which capture players, personalities, and moments. While the rivalry games themselves may be the masterpiece that gets all the attention, this book is the underrated collection of great art that leaves you inspired and gives you a greater appreciation for the masterpiece.
The book begins with the perspectives of two heroes in the South Carolina – Clemson rivalry – one a Gamecock quarterback, the other a Tigers QB. From there, Haney and Williams tell an entertaining story going back to where it all started.
The lines were drawn between these two rivals before Clemson became a school. South Carolina was considered an elitist school for the upper class and politicians and many felt that the farmers and laborers couldn’t get a quality education in agriculture as there was a bias against the lower class. Plans were made to start a school and once the land grant was received, Clemson was founded.
Before they ever stepped foot on the football field, the schools were at odds with one another – the city school in the state capital against the agriculture school in the rural upstate.
From there, the book chronicles the stories, eras, players, and moments throughout the decades. From the first game in 1896 to the blood that was almost spilled in 1902 which caused the cancellation of this series until 1909. Learn about legendary coaches like Frank Howard and Paul Dietzel. Read the stories that led up to the key moments in the series where momentum changed as a result of a play, a win, or a player.
You can read about the Sigma Nu students at USC who carried out one of the greatest college pranks of all time – wearing football uniforms on the field before the 1961 game and pretending to be the Clemson football team as they used hilarious antics to simulate the Tigers warming up before the game. The Clemson fans didn’t find the prank too amusing and a near riot ensued on the field.
Big Thursday was legendary in the 40s and 50s making the headlines in college football as South Carolina and Clemson played their annual game every Thursday during the State Fair in October. For those who remember, there may not have been a more passionate rivalry in the country in those days. When it ended in 1959, many believe some of the passion died that day.
Since those days, heroes have stepped up to the plate to lead their teams. Names like Jerry Butler, Mike Hold, Todd Ellis, William “The Refrigerator” Perry, Steve Taneyhill, and Charlie Whitehurst have left their marks on this game. From controversial calls to all out brawls, this rivalry is as passionate as it ever was.
In my conversation with Travis, he called this rivalry the most passionate, intense in-state rivalry outside of Alabama-Auburn. The success of these two teams is not as storied or rich in tradition as other rivalries and therefore doesn’t get the attention it probably deserves. Clemson has won a national title and Carolina has a Heisman Trophy winner in George Rogers but it’s not often that the two teams are at the top of college football rankings when they play.
However, the passion of the fans goes beyond the football field and extends into homes, neighborhoods, work places, and churches. It affects families, friendships, and relationships.
While this book can’t go into the homes of the fans and share the stories and the passion from their perspective, it does the next best thing. Many look at this rivalry between these two teams and assess where it fits on the grand stage of football. Yet this book sits down with the characters in the play to tell you why being a on this stage means so much to them.
South Carolina vs Clemson – part of the culture
The book tells a story. It’s not just the football rivalry and the outcomes of the games between South Carolina and Clemson. It’s the story of people from all walks of life who have come here from places all over the country.
They put on the pads and played the game but more importantly, they understand what it means to work, breathe, and live every day in the state of South Carolina as a fan of the Gamecocks or Tigers.
Ironically, many of these football rivals have become friends off the field after fighting so hard to beat one another. There is something about this rivalry that brings out the passion yet connects people as well.
Like, love, or hate, South Carolina and Clemson fans are bonded by their passion. Sometimes it’s ugly, sometimes it’s beautiful but it’s a part of the culture here in the state. Fans of both schools may never see eye-to-eye but they wouldn’t want this rivalry to be any other way.
It’s a beautiful state of disunion.
A special thanks to Travis Haney and Larry Williams for their encouragement, dedication, time, and friendship as they talked to me about the book and went above and beyond what was required to help me.
Follow Larry and his work with Tiger Illustrated as he covers the Clemson Tigers.