Monday, November 28, 2011

It’s actually a rivalry again!

The Gamecocks, looking like the Clemson Tiger teams of the early 1990s, mauled the visitors from the Upstate 34-13 using tremendous defensive pressure and the coming out party of QB Conner Shaw, who grabbed his chance at the spotlight and marched his team to a very important win in the school’s football annals.  Shaw had been largely in the background before Saturday, happy to be a cog in the wheel that was cranking out close wins and quiet success.  He emerged from anonymity to lead the Gamecocks to most of their 10 wins this year.  Most importantly, Carolina finally has a win streak over Clemson. 

Sometime in the 1970s, the rivalry between Carolina and Clemson changed.  Carolina fans point to the Charley Pell era and the rule-breaking as what caused the separation.  Clemson fans naturally disagree.  Regardless of that argument, a significant shift happened.  Another shift has now occurred and you can mark Saturday night as the moment when everyone realized it. 

There are three clearly defined “eras” in the rivalry that got us to 2005 and Spurrier’s arrival in Columbia.  From 1896-1919, after Clemson was formed because farmers in the state didn’t like the way the University of South Carolina was being run, the Tigers zipped out to an early 13-3-1 edge head to head. In 1920, the Gamecocks started fighting back and for a half century things were basically even.  From 1920-1970, it was 25-24-2.  Then came the shift.  From 1971-2004, things became VERY lopsided in Clemson’s favor.  The upstate kittens reeled off a 25-9-1 mark, completely engulfing the Gamecocks and squashing any sense of competitiveness between the schools. 

That 40 years was sheer misery for Gamecock fans.  As someone who was born in 1971, I can personally testify about how long it felt.  Perhaps it is appropriate that the ugly fight scene in 2004 in Death Valley marks another change in the rivalry because it sure feels that way.  I have talked to several Carolina and Clemson friends about Saturday night’s game.  It has been enough of them that I know I am getting at least a decent sample of their varying opinions about what happened.  They all agree that this recent run by Carolina is more than just a blip on the rivarly’s radar. It feels bigger than that to both sides.  Now, what it means for the future is of course yet to be determined. 

Baseball had similar shifts in the rivalry too.  Clemson dominated early, Carolina got competitive in the 1970s and early 80s, and then the Tigers grabbed control during the last half of the Raines era.  Carolina stepped up, made it a rivalry again under Tanner.  Now the sport is booming in the Palmetto State with two great programs.

Hopefully that will be the case in football too.  Maybe we are headed for another era of competitive equality like from 1920-1950.  Time will tell, but one thing that is now clear….I have lived long enough to see a time where we actually have a rivalry again on the football field, and that is a good thing.  Go Gamecocks!  

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