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A beautiful state of disunion: South Carolina Clemson football rivalry

A clash of cultures a beautiful state of disunion South Carolina ClemsonSouth Carolina.  Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places.  Southern hospitality at its best.

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

South Carolina State House Columbia SC

Columbia, South Carolina – the State Capitol

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

State of Disunion book Carolina Clemson Football RivalryAs 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 Travis and his work covering football for ESPN and on Twitter.  Check out his two books on the 2010 and 2011 South Carolina national championships – Gamecock Glory and Gamecock Encore.

Follow Larry and his work with Tiger Illustrated as he covers the Clemson Tigers.



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Filed Under: College Football Travel TourDestinationsSports and travelUniversity of South CarolinaUSA


RSSComments (17)

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  1. I worked for three months in Greenville, South Carolina during college football season, so it was interesting to see the rivalry from a perspective of living there.

  2. Great title. Enjoyed your story.

  3. Amanda says:

    Very nice writing, Jeremy. And I agree with the comment above – I am in love with this title!

  4. rob says:

    Fascinating. It’s like you’re talking about another planet, to me. I’ve never had any interest, myself, in watching team sports so already the idea of being a “fan” is a little odd. But randomly identifying yourself with one or another school/team and then participating in a rivalry bordering on violence?


    • There are times it borders on violence but being a fan of the team is much more than just one game a year. It’s a part of the culture and an experience to be a fan and attend these games. There are many people who don’t care that much about the games but don’t miss the tailgating and the experience. It’s so much more than football and that’s what I really want to share with people on my College Football Travel Tour.

      • rob says:

        I get that people like it – I live in Boulder, CO and see the CU fans in the fall – but I don’t understand it. There are SO MANY things to do on a Saturday that I can’t imagine “hanging out”, drinking and watching other people exercise. The team rivalries just add another layer of incomprehensible to it.

        • I almost went to Boulder to see a game this year. See my post about when travel doesn’t go as planned. I understand your point about things to do on a Saturday. But remember, there are only 6 or 7 home games a year for people. As for Boulder, I love that area and want to explore some hiking and the outdoors there. These football games are so much more than just eating and drinking. I don’t do either but enjoy the atmosphere.

          There’s just something about football and the culture that is hard to explain. However, I can assure you that when I go to Boulder, I won’t just be watching other people exercise! :)

          • rob says:

            I’ll stop arguing then :)

            There are lots of things in this world I don’t understand or want to participate in, so I’ll let this one go :)

            If you come to Boulder in non-winter weather feel free to drop a line and see if I’m around. I have a busy schedule this coming year but can usually steal an afternoon for a hike if I have warning…

            Rob.Philip@gmail.com in case you don’t get that from the blog…

          • Yes, I know some people don’t understand it and that’s fine. These are the people I want to connect with on my College Football Travel Tour. I don’t want just people who care about football but those who love to travel as well. I spend about 75% of my time on stuff non football with things to do, places to eat, where to stay, and features on the town and school (see my recent posts for the College Football Travel Tour – it may surprise you).

            Boulder is the type of place I would love to visit in the Spring. Not sure if I make it there but if I do go in the Fall, I will make sure I bring my hiking boots and let you know! :)

          • rob says:

            Boulder is pretty awesome most of the time, but spectacularly so in the spring and fall. Summers can get a little hot, but the air is thin and dry so it’s bearable. Winter can be … wintry. But it’s variable. So far in December we’ve had a bunch of days with highs well below freezing and we had a foot of snow, and the last week it’s been in the 50s. Sunshine and 50-60 degree weather forecast for the next week. The snow, even the piles left from shoveling, should be gone in a day or two.

  5. jade says:

    I agree that violence is taking the sport and fanfare a little far, (there are fanatical types in any group or sport) but I think being a fan and feeling like you are part of a team and supporting a team are all pretty healthy and fun activities to do. You don’t have to like it, but it isn’t wrong just because it isn’t something that you like.

    I would also say that being in the South is just different- football is something you are born into. Every Saturday morning we would get up, discuss the games we were going to watch, who was going to play and gather a huge group of friends and family together to cheer on our team. (Which was Florida, so now watching Steve at S.C. is really fun). It really was and still is a cultural way of connecting with a large group.

    I love football- I love the rivalries and bowl games and the weeks leading up to Football season where I’m just so exciting that it is starting again. I actually get pretty depressed in Feb. when there is no football to watch on Saturdays and Sundays!!

    • rob says:

      I understand that it’s part of what a million years of evolution has done to humans – we crave belonging to a group and naturally love our group and despise the other groups. Sports, wars, all the same. It’s a species survival instinct.

      I can appreciate that other people like watching these sports and even talking about them. I just can’t for the life of me find any part of it interesting, though. Give me an afternoon curled up with a book any day.

      Perhaps the real “clash of cultures” is between people who are sports fans and people who are not!

      • Rob, see my response to Jade. This isn’t just a game. It’s how they grew up. It’s where they went to school. It’s much bigger than that. It really is a cultural thing.

        And whether people like sports or not, many people who live in a place where college football is popular at least understand it. There really is very little hostility or clash of cultures between sports fans and non sports fans. Even non sports fans still pick one school or another and often for reasons that have nothing to do with sports.

    • I definitely agree with you. And it’s hard to explain college football to someone who hasn’t had much experience with it. I know Rob isn’t a fan of team sports but there is a camaraderie you find that goes beyond the game itself.

      This isn’t just about cheering on a team or watching a game. For many people, this is where they spent their formative years and the bonds they develop with these schools goes well beyond a sporting event. Unlike professional teams, people are invested in these places – their time, money, and 4 years of their lives.

      Being here in California, I know many people don’t get it out here. It’s different. It’s not the same. However, I hope people can appreciate these experiences and these places for what they are – beyond a college football game on a Saturday afternoon. There is always an ugly side to sports at times but the positive side far outweighs the negative (same could be said of traveling).

  6. Johnnie Ann Shirle! says:

    Go Tigers! Lol

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