Originally created 08/31/02

A once heated rivalry returns

Georgia cornerback Tim Jennings grew up a Georgia fan, but he didn't know until recently that the Bulldogs ever had a rivalry with Clemson.

Clemson guard Cedric Johnson also pulled for the Bulldogs as a child in the south Georgia hamlet of Barwick, but he can't remember one big game between the two teams.

The players' indifference highlights the most interesting aspect of tonight's renewal of the Clemson-Georgia series: Coaches and fans make a big deal of the two teams meeting for the first time since 1995, but the players don't revel in the rivalry nearly as much - if at all.

"This is a big game; it's one of the biggest of the season for us," said Clemson tailback Bernard Rambert, whose team faces Georgia at Sanford Stadium (7:45, ESPN). "But I think the fans get into it more than the players do."

That's blasphemy if you grew up watching the epic Tigers-Bulldogs clashes of the 1970s and '80s. From 1977-87, the two teams played to a 5-5-1 record in games that were decided by an average of 4.7 points.

There was usually plenty at stake in those days, when both teams consistently finished among the national elite. Georgia won the national title in 1980, Clemson did it in 1981.

How could current players be so ignorant of something that's so important to so many people? They're just not old enough.

Johnson was a year from being born when Scott Woerner returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown and returned an interception 98 yards in Georgia's 1980 win. Rambert turned six four days after David Treadwell drilled a 46-yard field goal to beat the Bulldogs in 1986.

And when Clemson won 21-20 in 1987 to cap perhaps the most exciting 11 games in the history of any rivalry, Jennings had better things to do - like attend pre-school.

"I don't think they have the appreciation because they haven't played in the game, and a lot of them probably don't have any memories at all of watching one of those games," Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

The rivalry absorbed a blow when the Southeastern Conference expanded to 12 teams in 1992 and the number of conference games per team increased to eight.

Georgia won at Clemson in 1995, and that was supposed to be the end of it. When the NCAA allowed 12 regular-season games in 2002 and '03, renewing the rivalry made sense.

"If any of our players had played in a game against them, it might have significance," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said.

Georgia will visit Clemson next year on Aug. 30 to complete the home-and-home series. By then, Richt said, maybe his players will have some stories of their own to tell.

"Until they play the game or at least walk out there and see all that orange out there, I don't know if it's really going to hit them until that time," he said.


Here are the results of The Augusta Chronicle telephone poll that asked: Which Clemson-Georgia game of the 1980s was the best?






Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.


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