Clemson University

Clemson-USC rivalry celebrates 100 straight years

The Clemson-South Carolina rivalry isn't as well-known as some others, but fans across the state will have plenty to cheer about today when the teams square off at Memorial Stadium.
The Clemson-South Carolina rivalry isn't as well-known as some others, but fans across the state will have plenty to cheer about today when the teams square off at Memorial Stadium.

CLEMSON -- There's no catchy nickname or cherished prize. There's rarely a championship angle when Clemson plays South Carolina, and it generally takes something extraordinary like a fan-fueled riot or an onfield brawl to get anyone outside the Palmetto State to notice.

But the teams' century-old rivalry makes the annual matchup a heated in-state event.

"It's the biggest game of the year for us, yeah. I always said your in-state rival game is your biggest game of the year unless you're playing for the conference championship," USC coach Steve Spurrier said. "We're not doing that, so hey, it's the biggest game of the year."

The teams will face each other again today with more than 82,000 fans trekking to Clemson's Death Valley for what is expected to be a rainy revival of a matchup that began in 1896. It will be the teams' 100th straight game -- the third-longest continuing streak in college football.

There's so much passion that author and ESPN reporter Ivan Maisel called the game college football's most underrated rivalry.

The atmosphere should be just as intense this weekend: The Tigers (6-5) could qualify for a bowl game and boost the chances of interim coach Dabo Swinney keep the job full time, and the Gamecocks (7-4) hope shake off memories of its last outing, a 56-6 loss at Florida, and boost its credentials for its first New Year's Day game since after the 2001 season.

But for all its history inside the state, the game almost never draws the national attention of other in-state rivalry games such as the "Iron Bowl" between Auburn and Alabama. There also isn't a sacred oddity to win, such as the "Old Oaken Bucket" between Indiana and Purdue.

At stake today? Yearlong bragging rights and The Hardee's Trophy, a prize sponsored by the fast-foot restaurant.

"Well, it's unique because it's been going on so long, over 100 years," Spurrier said. "I think it's the third-longest-running rivalry in the country. I learned that this week."

It's not easy for those unfamiliar with the game to plug into it.

Gamecocks linebacker Jasper Brinkley didn't know much about the rivalry or its intensity before he arrived. He knew it mostly from watching one of the game's low points -- the onfield brawl in 2004.

It was late in the fourth quarter of Clemson's 29-7 victory when the Gamecocks were stopped on fourth-down. The tense game erupted as players rushed in from the sidelines as coaches Lou Holtz of USC and Tommy Bowden of Clemson could do little to control it as fans at Death Valley either stood in shock or cheered the action.

Postgame antics have been relatively peaceful since then.

In fact, Swinney said there's a great respect between Clemson and USC players and coaches.

"They got some good folks down there," he said. "I wish them well in every game except this one."

• Who: South Carolina (7-4) at Clemson (6-5), Memorial Stadium, noon

• TV: ESPN2 (Cable channel 26 in Rock Hill)

• Radio: WRHI-AM (1340), WRHM-FM (107.1)

• Tickets: Sold out

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