COLUMBIA — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier truly likes Clemson’s Dabo Swinney. The Tigers coach has the ultimate respect for the Gamecocks’ head ball coach.
Both coaches say the other’s wife is among the most wonderful people they’ve ever met.
Not much fodder to fuel the Palmetto State’s biggest rivalry.
No, there’s not much off-the-field spice in the 111th meeting between No. 6 Clemson (10-1) and No. 10 South Carolina (9-2) at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday night. It’s more of a mutual admiration society headed up by the head coaches.
“I do like Dabo,” said Spurrier, who’s built a reputation for his broadside barbs at rivals through the years, including Georgia’s Mark Richt, Bobby Bowden at Florida State and Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer.
“Coach Spurrier’s only mean to me when he ain’t around me,” Swinney joked this week. “He’s always really nice, he really is.”
It wasn’t that way a season ago when both coaches got their dander up at the other.
Swinney started things off a few days after the Gamecocks’ third consecutive series win in 2011 with a rant for the ages that rivalry fans won’t forget. It was triggered by a Twitter comment wrongly attributed to Spurrier, but made by Gamecocks radio broadcaster Todd Ellis who wrote that while South Carolina wasn’t Alabama or Louisiana State, “we ain’t Clemson either.”
Swinney called the comment childish and without merit. He pointed out the Tigers’ superior record overall and in the series (Clemson leads 65-41-4). And Swinney kept on ranting.
Spurrier spent the next year hitting back, most memorably at a South Carolina rally for tailback Marcus Lattimore on Oct. 29, the player’s birthday and two days after his second season-ending injury. Spurrier was extolling all the respectful comments he’d gotten about Lattimore and set up Swinney’s praise for the young man by saying that generally what comes out of his mouth is a “bunch of garbage.”
The tension has mellowed since both teams have kept winning.
Clemson has won 10 or more games for a third consecutive season, and South Carolina has won its past 17 home games.
The jabs haven’t cost Spurrier, who’s led the Gamecocks to four straight wins in the rivalry for the first time since 1951-54. They’ll try for five in a row — something that hasn’t been done before — this weekend.
The barbs also haven’t bothered Swinney, who understands that talking comes with winning.
“He’s got bragging rights. They’ve kicked our tail the last several years, and that’s just the way it is,” Swinney said. “I don’t take it personal.”
It’s a little dull for those fans on both sides who yearn to gobble up each nugget of disrespect. About the spiciest thing said came in July from Gamecocks star defender Jadeveon Clowney, who told a packed room of Southeastern Conference media that Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was scared of him.
Boyd’s been sacked 14 times in three South Carolina games. A year ago, Clowney got him 4 Â½ times in South Carolina’s 27-17 victory.
The two, despite their similarities as face-of-the-program, Heisman Trophy contenders entering the season, don’t communicate much. Clowney slept on the couch at Boyd’s place during his recruiting trip a few years back.
Boyd’s not frightened, only eager for his final contest with South Carolina.
“This is the one we’ve been waiting for and we’re excited about it,” Boyd said.
Clemson and South Carolina have had their share of bad blood, perhaps few times worse than in 2004 when the sidelines emptied in a helmet-swinging, players’ kicking brawl that cost both teams a bowl game that season as punishment. Spurrier came in as Gamecocks coach the next year and has made sure his players focus on the game and keep their cools about everything else.
Spurrier received a call from the SEC before the Gamecocks’ 19-14 win over Florida two weeks ago to tell him officials didn’t want any chippy play or potshots from either team.
“I said, ‘That’s not our style of play,’” Spurrier said “We’ve had good clean games with Clemson every year I’ve been here and I certainly expect it to be another one.”