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College football's great rivalries: Clemson vs. South Carolina

This profile of the Clemson and South Carolinia college football rivalry originally appeared in Athlon's 1989 college football annuals. With the rivalry set to be revisited this week, we thought it would be relevant to take a look at the history between these two Palmetto State institutions.

The Great Rivalries — South Carolina vs. Clemson

By Al Thomy

From his room high atop the Wade Hampton Hotel, Gene Moore could have sworn the whole city of Columbia was on fire.

It was the night of October 20, 1948, the eve of Big Thursday. That’s what they called the day of the annual game between Clemson and the University of South Carolina. The contest was the centerpiece of State Fair week.

Moore, starting center for Clemson, must have felt like one of those prisoners tied to a tree in a Tarzan movie. Each year the game was played on South Carolina’s campus in Columbia, and each year the emotions were the same.

Now a retired school administrator and coach in Lake City, S.C., Moore sat down to a breakfast of eggs and grits and Prosser’s Café one morning and relived those days four decades ago.

“Because there were no such things as surburban motels at the time, we always stayed at the Wade Hampton, across the street from the State capitol and the USC campus,”’ Moore said. “It was the only hote’ big enough to accommodate the team, the fans and all the South Carolina alumni who stayed there.”

“Already we’d been exposed to full-time hype: The drummer who beat a drum 24 hours a day for seven days at Clemson, all the newspaper stories, and now, at the Wade Hampton, we were a captive audience to South Carolina’s pregame rituals. They’d come by the thousands, carrying torches and effigies of our starting team and Coach (Frank) Howard, to gather at a bonfire. Then they’d toss the effigies into the fire.”

“With the noise and the strange glow over the skyline, there was no ay we could get any sleep. We were worn out before the game even started.”

With his farm background, Moore was the prototype of Clemson football, recruited on one of Howard’s swings through the low country. The passing of time and the NCAA statues of limitations allowed him to say he’d turned down a “fantastic offer” from South Carolina (“$50 a month dry-cleaning stipend, all the clothes I could wear and a full scholarship”) to accept a make-good bid from Clemson.

Howard said he’d give $150.

“Is that a month,” asked more. “Naw, a year,” replied Howard.

After thinking for a moment, Howard said, “Tell you what I’ll do, Moore. You make the traveling squad and you’ll get a full scholarship.”

When Moore had moved up to the fourth string in practice, Howard called him aside and said, “OK, Moore, I’ll take it from here.”

Moore’s decision brought about great change in his life.

As a farm boy, he’d never found time for much hatred, but now, unwittingly, he had become a baptized follower of “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman and the farmers’ revolt of 1885.

Moore was part of a rivalry started in 1889. That’s when Tillman, leader of the farmers’ revolt, successfully lobbied to move South Carolina’s agricultural college from the “aristocrat” University of South Carolina to a new school founded in Clemson.

Eight years later the farmers and the aristocrats began playing a new fangled game, football, during the State Fair week in Columbia. It wasn’t a blood match; it was a bad blood match.

The “culture vs. agriculture” rivalry is not unique; you find it with Alabama and Auburn, North Carolina and North Carolina State, Iowa and Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and Kansas, and Kansas State, among others.

But, according to longtime South Carolina radio voice Bob Fulton, nothing approaches the Gamecock-Tiger rivalry.

“Ive done Georgia tech football and covered the Georgia game, and it doesn’t compare with South Carolina and Clemson,” Fulton says. “This is the only rivalry I know of that endures for 12 months of the year, every day of the year.”

Fulton’s radio sidekick, Tommy Suggs, a former South Carolina quarterback hero and now executive vice president at South Carolina federal, agrees.

“It’s intense, no question about it,” says Suggs. “It’s more intense than Georgia-Florida, Notre Dame-Southern Cal, and any of them. The big reason is that we have only two universities in a very small state, and it’s a week when everyone has to choose sides.”

Moore knew that as he looked down from his Wade Hampton room. He also knew that he had changed in his two years at Clemson. He had emotions he didn’t like. He’d learned to hate.

As he sat in Prosser’s Café, he recalled those feelings and the significance of the 1948 game.

Clemson, under Howard in his eighth season, was 3-0, and South Carolina, under Rex Enright following his return from military service, was 2-1. Though their schools had made one postseason appearance each, neither had ever coached a bowl team. The Gamecocks had helped inaugurate the Mazda Gator Bowl under wartime coach Johnnie McMillan, and the Tigers had beaten Boston College in the Mobil Cotton Bowl in January 1940 with Jess Neely as coach. Howard succeeded Neely shortly thereafter.

The outlook wasn’t encouraging for Clemson and Howard midway in the fourth quarter of the ’48 game, with South Carolina leading 7-6. Legend has it that a tipsy Clemson backer bet a South Carolina man $100 the Tigers would score on the next play, a Gamecock punt.

“We weren’t moving the ball at all,” Moore said. “Then, out of the gloom, Phil Hagan’s punt, and Oscar Thompson, my runs 28 yards for a touchdown. We win Gator Bowl for an 11-0 season.”

Unfortunately for Moore, 1948 proved to be his only successful trip to Columbia in three varsity years. The Tigers lost 21-19 in ’47 and 27-13 in ’49, when Moore was captain.

All along, he was building up a real hatred. He had been completely conditioned.

“I wasn’t comfortable with Carolina people,” Moore said. “Even when I had to come from Clemson, I wasn’t comfortabl coming through Columbia. It was if I had to be on the lookout, as if I had some vague apprehension. The players were more uptight than the Enright and say, ‘Look here, Rex, good buddy, we need to get mad at each other, so we can sell more tickets. Let’s start a public feud.’”

“But I wasn’t trained in such things. It was years before I could talk to Carolina people. Not until I went to South Carolina for graduate work, as a coach, was I able to feel comfortable around them. Getting to know some Carolina players firsthand, I discovered they were pretty good fellows.”

“Looking back, the thing that really made an impression on me was a comment by my daughter. One night I was putting her to bed and kissing her good night when she said, ‘Daddy, I want to take political science and Clemson doesn’t offer it’ Her concern for my feelings really made me thinl.”

“Everything doesn’t have to be adversarial,” says former South Carolina halfback Heyward King. “Even Coach Enright’s daughter, Alice, married a guy who played for Clemson.”

Moore wasn’t surprised. “At the time, Clemson was a military college and the south Carolina girls loved the uniforms,” he said. “As I recall, that used to really irritate the men.”

Admittedly, the intensity of this rivalry has eased with the passing of the years. At its peak, however, no game could touch the unvarnished old-fashioned hatred engendered in Clemson and Columbia or equal the originality of the on-field and off-field pranks.
For devilment, 1949, Moore’s freshman year, had to be a watermark.

As a non-playing athlete that year, Moore was there to witness the Chicken Caper and Great Gate Crash, when 10,000 bogus ticket holders broke in and covered the playing field at Carolina Stadium

Atlanta Journal Sports Editor Furman Bisher recalled that incident in an article for the last Big Thursday program in 1959. He wrote:

“Some sharp cards in Pennsylvania had printed up some bogus Big Thursday tickets and put them on the market. One of them was an old baseball umpire, which means a feller’s got to be careful when he takes an umpire’s word for anything.”

“People began to show up at the gate with duplicate tickets, some bogus and some not, and the dangdest hurrah developed you ever saw. When the game started, there were more people outside than inside, hollering for their rights. Pretty soon after the kickoff, a big wooden gate at the fairground end of the stadium gave in under the surge, and people poured out on the inside of Carolina Stadium like a mob scene in a Cecil B. DeMille epic…”

“They played the game, though there were delays while officials shooed some of the more eager watchers out of the path of the next play. It was a tremendous scene.”

It was not a good day for Tigers. They lost 26-14, and Howard wasn’t sure who was coaching his team.

Says Howard: “The fans were right up on the field, next to the benches, and it didn’t help that they were selling beer on the in-bounds marker. This one drunk kept yelling at me, ‘Stop ‘em, stop ‘em, coach,’ and he got under my skin. I turned around and swung at him and said, ‘I can’t stop them but I can stop you.’ Fortunately, Walter Cox, our assistant at the time and later dean of men and school president, grabbed my arm, and I didn’t hit the guy.”

Says Cox: “In those days the game was a social spectacular, with the governor and politicians moving from one side to the other at halftime. When the crowd pressed to the sidelines, the dignitaries couldn’t get out of their seats. I remember James Byrnes, then Secretary of State, down on his hands and knees trying to see game through the legs of mob on the sidelines.”

The mob spectacle was only half the story of the ’46 game. The Chicken Caper was the other half.

Moore remembered that one.

“The game had gone along uneventfully when, in the second quarter, this guy begins running across the field,” Moore said. “He’s holding a rooster by the legs and its wings are flapping. All the while he’s plucking the feathers, but this didn’t register immediately on South Carolina fans.”

“Then, in front of the Gamecocks’ fans, he wrings the rooster’s neck. Students by the hundreds poured out of the stands and gave chase. That guy barely made it to safety across the field.”

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Its mascot choice certainly put South Carolina at a disadvantage. Who ever heard of wringing a Tiger’s neck. So chicken incidents were common. Howard recalled another.

“Somebody told me one of our students had a chicken in the stands, so I went up after it,” he said. “There in the stands holding this rooster was George Bennett, now the athletic director at Furman, and I said, ‘George, let me have that chicken.’ I took it and locked it up in the dressing room.”

“After the game, I put the chicken on the bus and took it home and fattened it up and had a big Thanksgiving Day dinner.”

It took South Carolina students 13 years to get even-well sort of-with their Clemson antagonists.

Don Barton, in his book, Big Thursdays and Super Saturdays, describes a slapstick scene in 1961. He wrote:

“As the early arrivals made their ways to their seats, chatted with friends and otherwise prepared for the battle to come, an orange-shirted squad trotted through the entrance at the south end of the field, the Clemson cannon boomed and the Tiger band broke into the strains of Hold That Tiger.

“The cheering subsided and the squad began calisthenics, which soon turned into a comedy of errors, players hopping when they should have been straddling and otherwise looking like anything but a well-disciplined football machine.”

“Breaking into groups, the players punted straight up, fell over backwards during line drills and made it obvious that they were not the real Tigers, but imposters.”

Only quick action by law enforcement officers prevented Clemson students from taking off after the imposters and causing a riot. It was later learned the scrawny students were members of a South Carolina fraternity, and the orange uniforms were borrowed from a local high school team.

No doubt South Carolina students resented the game being taken away from them in 1960 when, for the first time, it was played at Clemson at the beginning of a home-and-home arrangement. Howard, athletic director as well as coach, had ramrodded the change.

He felt it only fair.

After the final Big Thursday game in ’59, Howard explained his reasons.

“My own personal record against the Gamecocks is not too good-8-10-2-but I’m hoping it’ll improve,” he said. “My best memory of this game is that it’s coming to a close. We’ve been taking our team to Columbia since 1896, and I don’t care what people say, the home club definitely has an advantage, although we do lead in the series (33-21-3).

“Each year we get less than half the tickets, we have the sun field, we do not share in the program sales or the concession profits, besides not having that homefield advantage every other year. I frankly can’t see a thing fair about the game as far as Clemson is concerned.”

The timing for Howard’s move was right.

He and his Tigers had just come off a 7-0 loss to No. 1-ranked LSU in the Sugar Bowl, and he had the clout to demand a change. For the first time, Clemson had climbed as high as eighth in the Associated Press poll and was beginning to attract attention.

Then, too, the guard had changed at South Carolina. Old rival Enright had retired in 1955, and the new man on the other side of the field was crewcut Jim Tatum disciple named Warren Giese.

Quite frankly, Clemson followers were delighted to see Enright leave. Of all Gamecock coaches, from W.A. Whaley to Joe Morrison, who died of a heart attack last February, Enright had been the most successful Tiger-tamer. He was 8-6-1 and at his best on Big Thursday.

Overall, the 15-year record of this big, gentle man bordered on the .500 mark (64-69-7), and the talk was that on more than one occasion he saved his job by beating Clemson.

The trick was to please the Columbia aristocracy each year during State Fair week. For the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party, ladies wore their furs and jewelry, and the gentry boasted of privileged seats. Whatever happened the rest of the year, success on Big Thursday was enough to placate the heavy hitters.

The colorful Howard remains the resident legend in Clemson. Though retired, he reports to his desk every morning, accepts speaking engagements and generally holds court. He likes to reminisce about the South Carolina series.

“I guess Clemson lost more games than we were supposed to have won and won more games than we were supposed to have lost down there (in Columbia,” Howard says. “In 1941 we had won four straight and hadn’t lost a conference game in three years. Well, those Gamecocks, whoi were looking for a first win when we hit down, hot it from us 18-14.”

“They had an 18-0 lead on us at half-time. We came bck and nearly pulled it out but failed on their 18-yard line with about two minutes to play.”

Among his memories, Howard also lists the 14-1-4 tie in 1950, which, incidentally qualifies as a highlight for both sides.

That contest turned into a titanic struggle between South Carolina halfback Steve Wadiak and Clemson fullback Fred Cone. Wadiak’s 256 rushing yards more than doubled Cone’s 117, but the rugged fullback led a late drive that salvaged a tie for his heretofore undefeated, united and unscored-on team.

“That Wadiak ran by me so fast so often I thought I’d get pneumonia,” Howard says.

Moore said the real story of Clemson’s defeat in the 1949 game has never been told. So he told it. Howard made the pants too tight.

Actually, Howard didn’t make the pants himself.

Said Moore: “Coach Howard bought new uniforms just for that game. They were those new, rubberized uniforms, and to move your legs you had to overcome resistance from the stretch pants. I’m not exaggerating when I say that after warming up for 30 minutes, we were completely worn out.

"After the game, when we got on the bus, Coach Howard asked, ‘Moore, what in the world happened?’ I said, ‘coach, those new pants just wore us out.’ I never did see those pants again”

After the nail-biting tie in 1950, the next four years belonged to the Gamecocks and such heroes as Johnny Gramling, Mackie Prickett, Gene Wilson, Carl Brazell, Mike Caskey, Frank Minevich, Leon Cunningham, and Clyde Bennett.

The 1952 game is especially vivid in Fulton’s mind. It ws his first year on the job, and there was plenty to talk about. Tne big story was Clemson ignoring a Southern conference owl ban and getting penalized for playing Miami in the Orange Bowl. The Tigers were prohibited from playing any other league opponent. But there was a loophole.

“They could play another conference team if the game was decreed by the state legislature,” Fulton says. “The south Carolina legislature promptly passed a law requiring the two schools to play. The game was on, and South Carolina won (6-0) on a 19-yard pass from Gramling to Wilson.”

Giese took over from Enright in 1956, and South Carolina began a scoreless Big Thursday streak, losing 7-0 in ’56 and 13-0 in ’57. The bucolic Howard had a lot of fun teasing the South Carolina coach, saying that if “Gee-zay” ever scored on him, he’d tip his hat.

In 1958 Howard had to live up to his word. Fulton recalls what happened.

“South Carolina won 26-6. True to his word, Howard bowed and tipped his hat when we scored the first time. Then, after every other score, he’d bow and tip his hat. He later complained that he did so much hat-tipping, his bald head had become sunburned.”

In 1959, as Howard had long advocated, the Big Thursday tradition came to an end in Columbia.

The Tigers won 27-0 as Harvey White passed to Gary Garnes for one touchdown, Bill Mathis scored twice and George Usry got the fourth and final TD. For trivia buffs, it should be mentioned that Barnes, who scored one of the last touchdowns on Big Thursday, later scored the first TD ever for the fledgling Atlanta Falcons of the NFL.

Besides the 1952 game, Fulton, who has watched the rivalry for almost 40 years, lists these as the most exciting:

• 1968 — Sophomore Tyler Hellams returned a punt 75 yards for a 7-3 South Carolina victory.

• 1975 — In the most dazzling offensive display ever, South Carolina quarterback Jeff Grantz was virtually flawless in leading a 56-20 blowout for coach Jim Carlen over Clemson Coach Red Parker. That Grantz was still throwing for touchdowns at the end of the game angered Clemson for the next three or for years

• 1977 — Charley Pell, in his first year as Clemson coach, watched quarterback Steve Fuller engineer a 31-27 win in the last minute and a half of the game. Trailing 27-24 with the clock winding down, Fuller lofted a pass from the Gamecock 20, and wide receiver Jerry Butler made an acrobatic catch for the clinching score.

• 1984 — It was the 1977 game in reverse, with South Carolina winning 22-21 on the heroics of quarterback Mike Hold, who led an 84-yard drive in eight plays with time running out. With 54 seconds left, Hold kept the ball and sneaked off right tackle for the winning TD.

Clemson, which leads the series 50-32-4, has dominated over the past two decades, having won 12 of the last 18 against the Gamecocks. The last time South Carolina put together any kind of streak was in 1968-1970, when Suggs was quarterback.

Suggs was one of the few Gamecocks who could say he’d never lost to the Tigers. Coming in with Coach Paul Dietzel’s first recruiting class, he led South Carolina’s freshman over Clemson’s and then posted a 3-0 record for the varsity. Suggs finished his college career with 4,916 yards on 355 competions but downplays his accomplishments.

“In the ’70 game, I was eight-for-eight in the first half,” Suggs says. “Five to us and thee to them. But I did come back and manage to throw three touchdowns in the second half.”

In 1979, with running back George Rogers, 1980 Heisman Trophy winner, and quarterback Garry Harper leading the way, South Carolina prevailed 13-9 for the school’s first eight-win season since 1903, plus a spot in the Hall of Fame Bowl against Missouri. Clemson went on to meet Baylor in the Peach Bowl.

The last three years have been dead even, 1-1-1-, between two of the most publicized quarterbacks ever to match up on Super Saturday, Rodney Williams of Clemson and Todd Ellis of South Carolina.

At no time since Pitchfork Ben’s revolt have both schools, together, been as nationally prominent as they are today.

If anything, that only intensifies Super Saturday week in the Palmetto State, when everyone must choose sides.