My earliest memory of the South Carolina-Clemson football game dates back to 1975. (Full disclosure: I was born into a family of Gamecocks, and I attended the University of South Carolina.)
I remember my father being pretty excited as he heard Bob Fulton, the “Voice of the Gamecocks,” call the action that day in Columbia.
The Gamecocks never had to punt, and they whipped Clemson 56-20.
Three decades later, South Carolina is still paying for that lopsided win. The Gamecocks haven’t won consecutive games against the Tigers since 1968-70, while Clemson rose to national prominence and won a national championship in 1981.
Although some folks will downplay the importance of this game, it’s always been the one that’s most important to me.
Here are some of my recollections of the game:
1977: First time the game was on TV (ABC regional), and it was a barn-burner. The Gamecocks roared back from a 24-0 deficit to take the lead, but Clemson drove down the field late in the game and Steve Fuller found Jerry Butler in the end zone for the winning touchdown.
1979: Defense ruled the day in this one. South Carolina wins 13-9, but has to survive a drive by the Tigers and Billy Lott in the final seconds.
1980-82: Ugh. Nothing good for garnet and black fans. In Clemson’s 1981 win to cap its perfect season, Tiger fans pelt the end zone with oranges after a touchdown. It signifies Clemson’s upcoming trip to Miami and the Orange Bowl.
1983: My first trip to see the game in person, and it’s memorable for several reasons. Joe Morrison’s team wears all black uniforms, but it’s not enough to keep the Tigers from winning 22-13. A melee at the end of the game shows just how high emotions run between the two schools.
1984: My first trip to Clemson’s Death Valley, and it’s a doozy. Everywhere people are playing Anchors Aweigh to mock the Gamecocks’ loss to Navy the week before, and the all-orange Tigers come out strong in rolling up a 21-10 halftime lead. But the Gamecocks, befitting their “Black Magic” season, rally in the second half and tie it late on a Mike Hold touchdown run. But the PAT by Scott Hagler is missed. No, wait! Clemson had too many men on the field. Hagler’s second kick is good, and the Gamecocks win a 22-21 classic.
1986: My last game as a student, and the Gamecocks somehow escape Death Valley with a 21-21 tie. My favorite memory is Sterling Sharpe stretching out to catch a Todd Ellis pass.
1987: Probably the best teams, talent-wise, to take the field in the history of the rivalry. It’s a cold night in Columbia, but the Gamecocks pull out all the stops in a 20-7 win. I remember the South Carolina players coming into the locker room chanting “ACC champs” to signify their perfect record against their former league.
1989: I call this one the Dickie DeMasi game. With Todd Ellis out for the season due to injury, DeMasi was called upon to lead the Gamecocks in the final few weeks of the season. The former Irmo standout with family ties to Aiken had no chance that night against a Clemson defense that was among the best in the nation. It was bitterly cold that night, too. It’s a wonder that my date wound up marrying me after suffering through that 45-0 game (and me) that night.
1992: Sparky Woods had somehow survived a South Carolina player revolt that season, and his brash quarterback Steve Taneyhill led the Gamecocks to a 24-13 win.
1994: I missed the first part of this game because of traffic issues, but the real action didn’t start until after halftime. The Gamecocks took the second half kickoff, and threw a lateral across the field. The South Carolina player took it inside the Clemson 10, and a rare rout was on as the Gamecocks prevailed, 33-7.
2003: A big ugh. My buddy makes me go to a downtown Aiken establishment to watch the game, then he claims that I tried to leave at halftime. Nope, I suffered through the whole 63-17 Clemson win.
2004: Fight time. Lou Holtz’s last game (yea!) with the Gamecocks is embarrassing for both sides. The fight mars the game, and the Tigers get a 29-7 win. The aftermath is worse.
2005: Hello, Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks give up a third-and-long late, and Clemson drives for the winning score in a 13-9 win.
2006: Spurrier and the Gamecocks rally in the second half for a 31-28 victory. The Tigers, led by former North Augusta star Reggie Merriweather, drive deep into South Carolina territory late in the game, but miss a field goal at the end.
2007: Pretty much a repeat of the 2005 game. South Carolina gives up a third-and-long late in the game, and Clemson kicker Mark Buchholz (a former Augusta FireBall soccer player) kicks the field goal as time expires for a 23-21 win.