South Carolina-Clemson rivalry gets kinder

Published Nov. 25, 2010 6:27 p.m. ET

The Clemson-South Carolina rivalry has never been known for its civility.

It started just seven years after Clemson was formed from a faction who wanted their own agriculture school away from what they thought was the elite arrogance of the University of South Carolina. There have been bayonets drawn after a loss and an on-field brawl that required dozens of highway patrolmen and local police officers to break up.

But as No. 18 South Carolina gets ready to play Clemson for the 108th time Saturday, the tension of the rivalry - at least between the teams - has cooled in recent years. The opposing coaches have become friends and players don't forget friendships often formed on high school fields in their small home state.

The 2004 brawl may have marked the modern low point of a rivalry that's always been chippy. The ugly, minute-long fight featured helmets swinging and players being kicked as they were sprawled on the ground. Both teams agreed to skip bowl games that year.

''I think we have a good, healthy rivalry with Clemson now,'' said coach Steve Spurrier, who took over the Gamecocks a few days after the brawl.

''I don't sense in any way that could happen with the coaching staffs in place and the players that are in place now,'' Spurrier continued. ''I don't think there will be a lot of trash talk. I don't think there will be late hits. I think it will be a good, clean, hard-fought game and that's the way it should be.''

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said this week he's talked with Spurrier a couple of times on the phone this year, and the Tigers coach sent a congratulations text to Spurrier after the Gamecocks won their division in the Southeastern Conference.


The taunting between the teams, encouraged for years in the rivalry, has largely stooped.

Some Clemson players said the seeds of the 2004 brawl were sown when South Carolina players waited at the bottom of the hill to trash talk at the Tigers after they made their traditional entrance. And one of the best remembered moments of the rivalry for Gamecocks fans in the past 20 years was when then-freshman quarterback Steve Taneyhill pretended to sign his name on the Tiger paw at midfield at Death Valley after a 24-13 win in 1992.

''It's all about going out and playing football,'' said South Carolina receiver Tori Gurley, whose team is trying to win two in a row in the rivalry for the first time since 1970. ''We may exchange a few words now and then, but when it comes down to it, it's about winning.''

Gurley even wears an orange shirt occasionally.

''My girlfriend thinks it looks good on me, so I have to wear it,'' he said.

Gurley has friends at Clemson he met on high school fields a few years ago, like many of the players on both sides. Swinney said he encourages his players to understand their friends' decisions to play for their rivals and embrace the spirit of the game.

''These players really have a lot of respect for each other. They are competitors. They are going to line up and compete and when the game is over they're going shake each other's hands and that's the way you've got to do things,'' Swinney said. ''Things spill over outside the stadium but the players have a genuine respect for each other.''

The fans often take things worse than the players. James Quick is spending 18 years in prison after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter for shooting a friend over a $20 bet placed on the rivalry game. A 1949 Time magazine article about the rivalry has South Carolina fans throwing rotten tomatoes and grapefruit rinds at Clemson fans.

And then there is the 1902 incident that stopped the rivalry for six years. The Gamecocks won that game 12-6 after losing four in a row in the early days of the rivalry, including a 51-0 defeat the year before.

The exuberant celebrations by South Carolina fans included parading around Columbia with a picture of a Gamecock crowing over a Tiger. Clemson was a military school in those days, and some students got so angry they marched to the gates of the university with swords and bayonets drawn as South Carolina students with guns and clubs crouched behind a brick wall ready to defend their school. But cooler heads prevailed and the picture was burned.

The bitterness extends all the way back to Clemson's founding, led by Gov. ''Pitchfork'' Ben Tillman, who organized farmers angry that South Carolina admitted black students after the Civil War and never did much to fund agricultural programs.

Spurrier and Swinney acknowledge the game means a lot to fans. Clemson supporters have spent a year hearing their friends and co-workers who are South Carolina fans crow about last year's 34-17 win at work, church, the grocery store and family gatherings.

But the coaches say the level of hate the rivalry had risen to wasn't healthy for either school.

''I realize some fans don't want to hear that, but I believe that's the way it should be,'' Spurrier said. ''I think Dabo and his guys believe that's the way it should be, also.''


AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, S.C., contributed to this story.