Rivalry Takes Back Seat to ACC/SEC

While it went unnoticed through most of the country for nearly three decades, the Clemson and South Carolina rivalry grew bigger and the hatred between the fans became stronger. But is the pendulum starting to swing the other way?

The rivalry has always been on par with other instate rivalries such as Oregon-Oregon State, Arizona-Arizona State, Kentucky-Louisville, but it progressively grew stronger in terms of intensity from when South Carolina left the ACC to when the ACC expanded to 12 teams.

During those 30-plus years, the rivalry got nastier and angrier. South Carolina leaving the ACC is what helped spark the initial growth in loathing between the two schools.

When the Gamecocks bolted the ACC and decided to become an independent, many Clemson fans felt South Carolina had all of a sudden become beneath them. No longer were the schools on equal footing. The Tigers were part of the prominent ACC and South Carolina was essentially the redheaded step child.

For its part, South Carolina felt it was treated unfairly by the ACC in terms of academic standards and for beating North Carolina in the conference's hoops tournament. Thus, Gamecock fans hated all things ACC, and that included Clemson.

Then the 1980s rolled around and the Gamecocks had a Heisman Trophy winner while Clemson won a national championship. Tigers coach Danny Ford had Clemson nationally ranked on a continuous basis and Joe Morrison was starting to do the same with South Carolina later in the decade.

But by still being an independent, it was still the one game Gamecocks fans looked to the most. Beating Wake Forest, Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State wasn't the same as beating the Tigers, which was always at the top of the ACC. By beating Clemson, the Gamecocks could basically claim a mythical ACC championship.

The Tigers were still trying to make sure South Carolina knew its place in football, and wanted to do so even more so because the Gamecocks had actually gotten pretty decent and were nationally ranked, too.

During the 1990s came, Clemson was in for a rude awakening when Florida State joined the ACC. The Tigers were no longer king of the hill. They had become no different than the other original eight schools as all were looking up at the Seminoles.

By not being in contention for ACC titles, Clemson fans turned their thoughts toward beating the Gamecocks. By God, if the Tigers weren't going to be able to compete for a league title, they sure as heck were going to take out their frustrations on South Carolina.

During this same stretch, the Gamecocks were getting poised to win its first-ever bowl game, and doing it while becoming a member of the Southeastern Conference.

The SEC gave South Carolina a sense of worth and being. The Gamecocks had become band geek hanging out with the cool kids and jocks, which made them think they were all of a sudden superior to everything ACC, and most of all Clemson.

Just by association with the likes of Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, LSU and Auburn, South Carolina fans thumped their chest and crowed louder than ever.

Then came the turn of the millennium and two new coaches with very famous last names. The hatred and intensity that had gotten deeper and stronger over the previous 30 years was about to reach an all-time high.

Tommy Bowden came with the pedigree, while Lou Holtz had a national championship to his credit with the most storied college football team in history. Both arrived on their respective campuses to save the programs.

Just two years into their new jobs, both coaches saw their teams in the top 25 and both fan bases felt theirs was the better team and coach. Clemson won on a controversial call in 2000 and South Carolina returned the favor in 2001.

The rivalry had all of a sudden reached national levels. Sure, the game had been on national television before, but this time people in Idaho and Rhode Island knew who the two coaches were. This was getting big. And the bigger it got, the uglier it got.

While nothing is as bad as it is in Alabama between Crimson Tide fans and Auburn fans, or between Michigan and Ohio State, Clemson and South Carolina was completely on the same level as Texas and Texas A&M.

The rivalry had reached an all-time high even though the Tigers continued their domination with Holtz running the show in Columbia.

In 2004, a disgusting brawl broke out between the two teams. And while both teams tried to act nice to each other in the following year, coincidently enough the attitude between the two schools was about to be less vicious.

Political correctness followed and South Carolina's mean-spirited athletic director, who truly despised Clemson, had retired/resigned, and the ACC had expanded to 12 teams, setting up a new frontier for the Tigers.

It took a year or two, but after back-to-back years of heartache, Clemson fans began to realize that winning the Atlantic Division and playing for an ACC crown is more important than beating South Carolina. A win against the Gamecocks doesn't get the Tigers to the Orange Bowl, beating the likes of Virginia Tech does.

And with that, the focus shifted from Clemson's end and South Carolina's new coach, Steve Spurrier, made his point of emphasis to no longer focus in on the Tigers. His most important goal was winning the SEC, not beating Clemson. In fact, he took down all the signs in the football offices making reference to winning the rivalry.

The angst among the fans is there and will always be, but not like it was before the arrival of Spurrier and the expansion of the ACC. Sure, the coaches want to win, but it's no longer the most important game.

The two sides now spread niceties toward each other, and it is, for the most part, genuine.

"Most people, if you're picking coaches, you pick him over me," Bowden said of Spurrier. "My wife would pick me. My daughter, I don't know about my son. …

"I've always had the respect (for him). The respect has been a long time coming; it's not sugarcoated or not made up."

Bowden, who is 6-2 against South Carolina entering Saturday's game, then later added that fans are starting to understand that the ACC is more important than South Carolina.

On that same day, Spurrier perfectly summed up the new way of thinking between the two schools.

"It's very similar to Florida-(Florida State) and Georgia-Georgia Tech - in-state schools going at it in different conferences," he said. "Clemson is a lot like us in the fact that they pretty much talk about trying to win their division and win their conference championship, and in the last week of the season we talk about beating each other."

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