South Carolina vs. Clemson: It’s a Palmetto State Thing

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If you're a visitor and not a resident of the Palmetto State, you might not think much about the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry. After all, the state's two major universities may seem just like any other intra-state football feud, like Georgia-Georgia Tech, or North Carolina-North Carolina State.

But there's more to this than just the annual gridiron rivalry, although tensions do seem to get higher in the fall as the Nov. 29 showdown approaches. The truth is these two schools have been at odds way before there was college sports, and that theme is still the underlying issue between fans and alumni of both colleges.

The animosity dates back to the Reconstruction Era when S.C. Gov. Ben Tillman called for the establishment of a new agricultural college separate from what was then called South Carolina College. He referred to the Columbia-based school as a place for “the sons of lawyers and the well-to-do” and Clemson Agricultural College opened in 1889.

The storied football series began in 1896 but the disdain between the student bodies was already palpable. The Palmetto Bowl, as it is commonly called, was first known as “Big Thursday” throughout the state and was played at the old state fairgrounds in Columbia. Many of the games were held during the S.C. State Fair, when the farmers from the Upstate area partial Clemson were in the state capital among South Carolina fans.

The bitter rivalry has had some light-hearted moments, including a stunt in the 1950s when a group of South Carolina students donned Clemson football gear and sneaked onto the field during pre-game warmups. The college kids performed silly stunts and tricked the crowd into thinking they were the actual team before the real Tigers arrived.

In 1960 the two schools agreed to rotate the series between their home stadiums and move the date to a Saturday in late November. With both schools boasting stadiums that seat more than 80,000 fans, the Palmetto Bowl is the toughest ticket in either town. The modern rivalry is now more good-natured than bitter, with married couples, families and friends having split allegiances but still tailgating alongside one another.

Over the years, Clemson has dominated the series with 65 wins, 42 losses and four ties. But the Gamecocks have won the past five games in a row, their longest winning streak of the rivalry. The Clemson-South Carolina football series is the second-longest uninterrupted rivalry in the country and the longest in the South, more than Alabama vs. Auburn, Ohio State vs. Michigan, and UCLA vs. “the other USC,” as South Carolina fans call Southern California.

The fans are the life blood of the rivalry in the Palmetto State. South Carolina fans hold what is known as a Tiger Burn the week before the big game, burning a tiger in effigy. Clemson fans hold a mock funeral for Cocky, South Carolina's rooster mascot. With bragging rights for a full year on the line, virtually everyone in the state is donning either garnet or orange to show their true colors.

Recent years have proven to have a bigger impact on the college football world beyond the state borders. With both programs experiencing success in the 2000s, Clemson and South Carolina have been players in the national championship picture, but that factor has only enhanced the hatred between the two schools. This season, however, both teams are already out of the new national playoff championship contention, but that won’t stop fans of the Gamecocks and Tigers from picking sides and rooting for their respective teams. So which side will you choose?


(Posted: 10/21/14)

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