South Carolina Football: History of the Palmetto Bowl Rivalry With Clemson

It’s Palmetto Bowl week for South Carolina football fans, and this in-state rivalry with the Clemson Tigers has a storied history.

Block C and Tiger paw flags stream from car windows all across South Carolina. Will Muschamp and Dabo Swinney analyze footage from one another’s teams and prepare their game plans. Fans sling mud and talk trash at work, at school, in public, and on social media.

It’s that time of year again for South Carolinians. The annual battle of the Palmetto State – or Palmetto Bowl as it has been officially christened since 2014 – when the South Carolina Gamecocks and Clemson Tigers meet is a mere four days away.

The Georgia Bulldogs and Auburn Tigers’ rivalry holds the distinguished title of The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. However, the Palmetto Bowl is the oldest consecutively played matchup in the Southeast and second-oldest in upper-division college football. This Saturday marks the 114th matchup ever and the 107th uninterrupted contest.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for Clemson – who are fighting to remain in the playoff race – and the Gamecocks would like nothing more than to completely spoil the season for the orange mob by the lake.

Let’s take a moment to delve into the rich and colorful history of this Deep South classic.

Nov 28, 2015; Columbia, SC, USA; A South Carolina Gamecocks helmet on the field prior to the game against the Clemson Tigers at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

THE BIG THURSDAY YEARS

The Gamecock and Tiger faithful loathed one another with a fiery passion quite literally since Clemson first began playing football! In 1896, the inaugural season of Clemson’s gridiron squad, the two teams duked it out on a Thursday morning to coincide with the ongoing South Carolina state fair. For the next 64 years, the contests were always played in Columbia on a Thursday.

The Gamecocks took first blood in the series in a defensive slugfest, which turned out to be a 12-6 South Carolina victory. However, Clemson avenged the next four years and capped their streak with a 51-0 shutout in 1900. After a one-year intermission in 1901, the rivalry renewed with a vengeance.

1902 – The Banner

South Carolina’s mascot made its debut in 1902. There wasn’t a lot to be said about the Gamecocks 12-6 win which mirrored the ’96 contest. It wasn’t the game, but the trash talk that goes down in history. Gamecock students and fans erected a banner of a gamecock astride a tiger. It was depicted as steering the animal by its tail.

As could be predicted, Clemson fans didn’t take very kindly to the blatant disrespect. Brawls broke out throughout the week involving chairs, brass knuckles, and knives. Blood was almost shed the evening after the game when victorious South Carolina fans paraded their standard before the Clemson fans.

This was not very wise, especially since Clemson at the time was a military school. Fed up with their rival’s antics, Clemson cadets armed themselves with sabers and Springfield rifles fixed with bayonets. See, friends, football is serous business down south, none more so than in South Carolina.

With weapons in hand, the Clemson cadets advanced on the South Carolina campus to protect their honor. The Gamecock students and faculty, however, had other plans. They cobbled a barricade together out of tables and desks, armed themselves with baseball bats and six-shooters, and prepared to repulse the attackers.

Thankfully, hostilities were quelled before any  serious injuries occurred. The banner was burned, and the series cancelled for the next seven years.

Post WWII – The Tickets

The year after World War 2’s conclusion saw another bizarre incident. A pair of reputed mafiosos from New York City printed up counterfeit tickets to sell to would-be patrons of the Palmetto Bowl. Predictctably, hundreds of fans were barred from attending when the fakes were presented at the gates. The anger between disgruntled fans was like gasoline, and a Clemson fan lit the proverbial match by strangling a live rooster on the field at halftime.

Enraged fans stormed the stadium gates and flooded onto the field ready to brawl. Thankfully, two prominent figures, U.S. Secretary of State James Byrnes and future South Carolina governor Strom Thurmond, were in attendance. Afterward, when tensions were quelled, fans were permitted two stand on their respective teams’ sidelines for the second half. The Gamecocks were victorious, 26-14.

In 1959, the longstanding “Big Thursday” years came to conclusion. From then on, both schools would alternate the site of the game. The contests would also be played on Saturdays as is now customary. Clemson won the final Big Thursday game in a 27-0 shutout.

south carolina football

Nov 28, 2015; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks running back Shon Carson (7) takes the handoff from South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Lorenzo Nunez (19) during the first half at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

THE MODERN ERA

The modern era of the Palmetto bowl has had some memorable games, and here are a few that stand out for various reasons.

1961 – The Prank

Two years after the Big Thursday series came to an end, 1961 saw a historic prank. Just over halfway through the season, the lookout was very bleak for both squads. With the Gamecocks’ record a pitiful 2-5 and Clemson only a single win better, only bragging rights were on the table.

50 fraternity members from South Carolina devised a mad scheme to avenge a lackluster season. South Carolina coach Marvin Bass had been convinced that the fraternity brothers of Sigma Nu had “good, clean fun” planned, so he thought little of the matter.

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The frat boys acquired uniforms from nearby Orangeburg High School, which resembled those of Clemson. Meanwhile, they even acquired a sickly cow from a nearby farm which they planned to coronate as Clemson’s homecoming queen. However, the bovine passed away in the trailer on the way to Carolina Stadium (present-day Williams-Brice).

As the imposters took the field, the Clemson loyalists in the stands were oblivious. The Tiger band struck up the fight song. However, it was soon clear something was amiss. They began dropping passes, kicking the ball straight up in the air, and falling down as if impaired.

Several Tiger fans who recognized the stunt for what it was furiously made their way onto the field, and Gamecock fans flooded down to protect the fratboys. Security restored order as the fratboys retreated. Afterwards, the Gamecocks won 21-14.

1992 – Steve Tannyhill

In 1992, South Carolina’s inaugural season in  the SEC, the Gamecocks defeated their arch nemesis in a 24-13 road game. South Carolina’s signal caller that rainy, muddy day was a feisty, mullet-sporting freshman named Steve Taneyhill.

The cocky first-year quarterback mock signed Clemson’s paw at the fifty yard line after long passes and swung his arms like a batter. No doubt, South Carolina hopes to replicate 24 years later with yet another freshman quarterback.

2004 – Brawling Gamecocks

2004’s edition of the Palmetto Bowl saw the latest brawl on the field. South Carolina’s quarterback fell to the ground after going for it on fourth down and long. The tacklers pinned him to the ground. Both benches cleared, and players threw punches and kicks.

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No one was seriously injured, thankfully. However, Clemson’s Yussef Kelly kicked a helmetless Gamecock player in the head. That snapshot became the iconic image of the fight. The Tigers won that infamous game 24-7.

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