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Thankful For This Rivalry

By Scott Rhymer

This is the week. Saturday is the day. And for that, I am truly thankful during this Thanksgiving Weekend.

Let me start by saying that I don’t care about Ohio State/Michigan or Auburn/Alabama or any of the other rivalries around this country. You see, I live in South Carolina. I am a Clemson fan. Some of my family members are Clemson fans. And some of my family members are Gamecocks.

So the only game in the world that matters to me is the Tigers and the Gamecocks this Saturday. That’s not up for debate nor discussion.

This great (and yes, I do emphasize the word “great”) annual rivalry returns to Death Valley this Saturday in a game that means just about everything to both teams. Both teams are highly ranked in the BCS and both have a chance to play in a BCS Bowl game. Both teams are closing in on one of their top two seasons in program history.

If Clemson wins Saturday and then in a BCS Bowl, one could easily argue that this was the 2nd best season in Clemson football history (behind the National Championship season of 1981).

The Gamecocks, coming off arguably their best season ever in 2011, have a chance to equal or surpass last year’s success with a win in Clemson and a bowl win in January.

For both team’s seasons, I am thankful. A little more thankful for Clemson’s but thankful that a win over the Gamecocks this Saturday would be a significant win for Clemson considering the season South Carolina has had.

I’m also thankful that I have a new perspective on the rivalry. This is my 35th season of recollection of the rivalry. For most of those 35 years, the expectation was for Clemson to win; otherwise it would be considered a colossal upset. I, like many Clemson fans, hardly knew what it was like to lose to South Carolina.

I remember leaving Death Valley or Williams Brice after a Clemson win feeling more relief than joy. Relief that, as the hunted, we survived another year by outlasting the Gamecocks and not “sinking” to the depths of despair of losing to a below average football program.

And on the rare years that we did walk out of the stadium as the losers, I can vividly remember being embarrassed that our fine program could lose to a team in such dysfunction.

Three years, Steve Spurrier, and a trifecta of physical beatings at the hands of the Gamecocks have truly changed the dynamics and perspectives of this rivalry. Today, Gamecock fans strut with ultra-confidence. Clemson fans cling to the desperation life raft that three years of losing brought the Gamecocks many times over, but now sit on the shoulders of our own fan base.

While not thankful for the three years of beatings, I am thankful that I feel a newfound security that beating South Carolina Saturday will not bring the traditional “relief”, but more so a preferable feeling of “pride” in accomplishing a great feat on the football field. Winning Saturday will bring with it a strut, instead of a sheepish acceptance of both program’s roles in the grand world of college football.

I am also thankful that despite the national and local media seemingly sending confused messages about this great rivalry, we South Carolinians get it. ESPN, the Mother Ship of College Football, opted to take its vaunted Game Day juggernaut to cover Notre Dame and Southern California. Those names sound sexy. The quality of play on the field will have a hard time keeping up with the school names on the jerseys. Southern California is not ranked and without their top QB. Notre Dame, about to embark on a National Championship game if they can escape USC, is possibly the most unimpressive team that will play for a National Championship game in the history of the BCS.

In a way, I’m thankful ESPN chose to snub two teams that have proven on the field to be great football teams in 2012. I want ESPN to realize we don’t need Game Day to have a great rivalry game atmosphere. Game Day would have been a sideshow that obstructed the traditions, flavor, and appeal of Clemson on game day.

Southern California needs Game Day to legitimize their game day experience. We do not. And for that, I am thankful.

I am also thankful that I do not have to depend on my local television news media to put into perspective this game. I saw where our good friends at WYFF decided to assemble a lead up to the big game with a 30 minute special on the rivalry. Really? 30 whole minutes? WYFF spends more time talking to Sean Muserallo live covering a warehouse fire on the morning news than they will devote to the rivalry Friday night. Thanks guys, but that does not make for “must see tv”. I’d rather you just plug your Andy Griffith rerun on instead.

Which brings me back to why I am so thankful for this rivalry. This rivalry is the greatest in college football because it does not need anything but the rivalry itself to make it great.

We don’t need a fancy rivalry name. We don’t need a goofy trophy or jug that goes to the winner. We don’t need ESPN Game Day to legitimize the rivalry. We don’t need nonstop coverage and adulation from our local media in news print or television to sensationalize the game.

As players, coaches, and fans….we get the importance of this rivalry without the propaganda other rivalries have and need. All we need is orange and garnet on the field lined up across from each other. All we need is 80,000 fans bleeding orange or garnet screaming their lungs out inside of Death Valley. All we need is divided households and extended family members that realize their bragging rights hang in the balance of 18-22 year old kids throwing around a pigskin.

All we need is a rivalry between two great football programs. And that’s exactly what we have.

The rest is fluff for those programs that don’t have what we have right here in South Carolina. And for that, I am thankful. Even if I will be more thankful Saturday night if Clemson wins.

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