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National Champions

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

66 Or 6, I Am Thankful For This Rivalry

By Scott Rhymer
The Tiger Pregame Show
6:00-9:00 am Saturday
WCCP 105.5 FM and

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, and to many of you that now read this blog, is the Tigers and the Gamecocks this Saturday. It is what we live for 365 days a year.  Hardly a day can go by without seeing a Tiger Paw or Gamecock flag and a reminder of the November game of last year and years gone by.

This great (and yes, I do emphasize the word “great”) annual rivalry returns to Death Valley this Saturday in a game that means everything to both of these teams without meaning anything to the outside world.

If Clemson wins Saturday a large monkey with 5 years of frustration will be lifted off the shoulders of this program.

The Gamecocks, suffering from an up and down year after three of the greatest years in the program's history, try to salvage an otherwise unremarkable season by driving a 6th dagger into Clemson's heart.

For both of these teams and this rivalry, I am thankful.  And I believe that this is the greatest rivalry in college football (which I will explain below).

Continuing on the theme of thankfulness, I am also thankful that I have a new perspective on this great rivalry. 

This is my 42nd season of the rivalry. For most of those 42 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.

Even though the Gamecocks have won the last 5 games, the series record in my lifetime has Clemson dominating 26-15-1.  That winning percentage in those 42 years (.619) almost exactly mirrors the all time series percentage of .604.

To give perspective on how fortunate I am to be a Clemson fan in this series, there is only a very slim chance that I will go to the grave with a losing record in my lifetime vs. South Carolina.

From this point forward, if the Gamecocks win 2 out of the next 3 games in the series I would be 75 years old before Clemson would fall behind in the series that took place during my lifetime.

If the Gamecocks were to win 4 of the next 5 games in the series I would be 62 years old before the Gamecocks would lead the series that took place in my lifetime.

In other words, I will die with a winning record in my lifetime vs. South Carolina unless something remarkable happens in this series.  And that same lifetime winning record will also apply to most of you that are old enough to read this.

Granted, this series has certainly taken a strange turn for the worse from a Clemson perspective since 2008.  For that, I am certainly not thankful.

But I can remember a time in this series when leaving Death Valley or Williams Brice after a Clemson win was more a feeling of relief than it was 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 and mediocrity.

Five years, Steve Spurrier, and a handful 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 that once was the reality of Clemson fans.

Tiger fans cling to the desperation life raft that five years of losing brings to us now...which has been brought to the Gamecocks many times over in this series.  

South Carolina is working through the best time of their program's history, and Clemson has felt that pinch in the results of the most recent November games.

While not thankful for the five years of beatings, I am thankful that I feel a new found 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.

Beating South Carolina is now a point of pride.  Beating South Carolina now offers no guilt of picking on the red-headed stepchild of college football.

I am also thankful that this is the greatest rivalry in college football.  I believe it with all of my heart and mind, and you will hear that tagline as we go to break each segment this Saturday on The Tiger Pregame Show.

Despite the fact that this rivalry has rarely produced two top ranked teams, it is easy to see how important this game means to our state and to the fans of both Clemson and South Carolina.

Auburn/Alabama, Notre Dame/Southern Cal, Michgan/Ohio State, Florida/Florida State have a wonderful history of top ranked teams that have helped fuel their rivalry.  The product on the field help build the passion for those rivalries, both within those fan bases and nationally.

By contrast, only 6 times in these two program's history have both teams been ranked coming into this game.  3 of those 6 games have been the last three years.  

Only one time in this rivalry's history has one team played in the game with national championship implications on the line (1981 in Williams Brice is the single exception).  

Yet, this rivalry has risen above lack of national rankings from the two teams together to create passion, tension, and emotion that equal or exceed the above rivalries that have the history of national implications to fuel their rivalry and perspective.

This rivalry means as much to this state as FSU/Florida State does to the state of  Florida.  It means as much to this state as Auburn/Alabama to the state of Alabama.  And it means that much without the awesome implications both of those rivalries have registered over the years with those elite programs.

For that reason, I believe this is the greatest  rivalry in college football.  Rankings, while important, don't define this rivalry.  The passion defines it alone.

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, although I hear this is now called The Palmetto Bowl. 

We don’t need a goofy trophy or jug that goes to the winner. I believe somebody has given the Hardees Trophy to Goodwill.

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.

Saturday, Clemson will win our 66th game in this series.  Or, South Carolina will win its 6th game in a row.

66 or 6?  Saturday afternoon we will find out.  But 6 or 66, I am thankful for this rivalry.

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