“They elected one man apiece, and them two men come out in the middle of that cow pasture and shook hands like they hadn’t seen one another in a long time. Then a convict came over to where they was a-standin’, and he took out a quarter and they commenced to oddman right there! After a while I seen what it was they was odd-manning for. It was that both bunches full of them wanted this funny lookin little pumpkin to play with. And I know, friends, that they couldn’t eat it because they kicked it the whole evenin’ and it never busted. Both bunchesful wanted that thing. One bunch got it and it made the other bunch just as madas they could be! Friends, I seen that evenin’ the awfulest fight that I ever have seen in all my life! They would run at one -another and kick one- another and throw one another down and stomp on one another and grind their feet in one another and I don’t know what-all and just as fast as one of ’em would get hurt, they’d take him off and run another one on!” – Andy Griffith “What It Was, Was Football”
This past weekend was rivalry week in college football, Michigan vs. Ohio State, Auburn vs. Alabama, Washington vs. Washington State, Wisconsin vs. Minnesota, and in my home state Clemson vs. South Carolina.
For many head coaches in college football a teams fan base can deal with most anything except losing a rivalry game and when that game is with an in-state opponent it makes the win that much more important. You see the college football season only last a couple of months, typically September through November, maybe through January if the team plays in a bowl game. But beating your rival is a 365 day victory, a year-long gloat or a year-long humiliation.
We are a Clemson house, all things Tigers, all things orange and we have had a pretty good run lately, National Champions, big bowl wins, and oh yea we have beat South Carolina four years in a row. But it wasn’t too many years ago that Clemson was having big successes with the exception of one game, the one that matters above all else, the last game of the regular season against South Carolina.
Several years ago Clemson, and the Clemson coaching staff got bested by coach Steve Spurrier and South Carolina five seasons in a row and the Clemson fan base was in a word pissed about it. It didn’t matter that Clemson had a winning season, or won the ACC Championship, or even went to bowl game in a fun, and warm part of the world in January, they got beat by South Carolina, not once, not twice, but five times and that was unacceptable.
When I moved to the state 30 years ago I was required, no forced, to pick a side Clemson or South Carolina. I was told there was no way I could survive in business straddling the line between the two, I had to choose and I should choose wisely. Clemson is just down the road from my home, everyone I worked with followed Clemson and I ultimately had a child graduate from the university so the natural choice was Clemson.
Many years ago I had an old Clemson die-hard fan tell me he could deal with a one win season if, and only if that one win was against South Carolina. Honestly I though he was joking but after 30 years of watching this rivalry unfold I realize now he wasn’t. During that five game losing streak the Clemson coach, the same one that just won a national championship was seriously on the hot seat. For each of those five years he had a winning season even went to a great bowl game but that one loss in that one game was enough for his supporters to turn on him and it was an ugly turn.
To the naked eye the average Joe wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two fan bases. But ask a Clemson or an Auburn fan if he or she could pick a South Carolina or Alabama fan out of a crowd of 100 people and the answer isn’t just yea, it’s oh hell yea. I am still not convinced they could but I have learned it just isn’t worth arguing about. A Clemson fan would say a South Carolina fan has a particular look, seedy, trashy, uncivilized, maybe even dare I say, unintelligent. What’s funny is those are the same adjectives a South Carolina supporter would use to describe a Clemson fan.
I am happy rivalry week is over, but the gloating and hurt feelings will last for 365 long days more. The message boards are already filled with dreams of next year. Arm chair quarterbacks are weighing in on the why’s, what’s and how’s. Me, I will just continue to fly our Clemson flag on the side of house, keep my head down, my mouth shut and hope for a repeat of last years results……Go Tigers!
“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.” – Bill Shankly