Peace in the Valley

It is fitting that the week South Carolina won its first men's national championship ends with the 4th of July. A historic week that started with a hard-fought victory has been filled with celebrations and parades for this rare achievement. It has also brought about something else rare in the Palmetto State: a temporary peace among many of the state's Carolina and Clemson rivals.

Ohio State and Michigan is a great football rivalry. Duke and North Carolina is a great basketball rivalry. Let the pundits argue elsewhere what is the greatest rivalry in college sports. Residents of the Palmetto State know that no matter what sport is being played, if South Carolina and Clemson are playing each other, the greatest rivalry in college sports has been renewed.

When Scott Wingo's foot touched home plate for the winning run in the deciding game of the College World Series, he gave the South Carolina baseball program its first national championship. The irony was not lost on many Clemson fans that this same player, who grew up a big Clemson fan and whose father played baseball for Clemson, had just given their bitter rival its greatest achievement.

Wingo talked after the championship celebration about his history growing up as a Tiger fan, the response his father received after he became a Gamecock, and his recruitment by both schools. "A reporter asked me after the final game, 'How does it feel to have been rejected by Clemson?' I felt like stopping him right there," Wingo relayed. "I wasn't rejected by them. I wanted to go here. (Coach) Tanner made me an offer, and (Coach) Leggett made me one about a week and a half later. I just felt more comfortable here."

When asked what made him more comfortable at South Carolina, Wingo responded, "The coaching staff. (Former USC assistant coach Jim) Toman was a big influence. When I came here, he did everything right. He knew everything about my Dad, he did it right. They made me feel wanted here."

Make no mistake about it – Wingo is all Gamecock now, and reveled in beating his team's arch-rivals on the biggest national stage, but he also showed them respect for their talent. "It felt good beating them," he said. "There's not anything sweeter than that, beating them to go to the championship. We knew we could beat them. Clemson – they were probably one of the best hitting teams out there (at The College World Series)."

Wingo acknowledged it wasn't easy for his father, a Clemson legend, when his son committed to the Gamecocks. "My Dad got a lot of junk for it - he still does."

Some Tiger fans naturally complained bitterly, especially considering that the only way the Gamecocks played for the national championship at all was by beating Clemson twice out in Omaha to advance to the championship. There are fans on both sides that would never, under any circumstances, pull for or say anything nice about their in-state rivals. As one diehard Tiger fan put it, "I didn't insult a single South Carolina fan that I know today. As a matter of fact, I offered them congratulations. They also knew I was pulling against them the whole time...and completely understood."

But obviously not all feel that way, because something remarkable in the history of this great rivalry happened – many Clemson fans began to compliment the Gamecocks on their championship. Robert Adams, the prominent GOP political consultant and a rabid Clemson fan, posted the night of the big game on his Facebook page: "From the bottom of my Tiger Paw-covered heart -- Go Gamecocks. Win it tonight."

There is no bigger Tiger fan than Kevin Selman of the Anderson Touchdown Club. He is known for his multiple posts a day on Facebook supporting his beloved Tigers, but his first post the morning after the game was, "Congrats to South Carolina Baseball and all my feathered friends!"

Gamecock radio hosts Jay Philips and Duce Staley on 107.5 The Game and Jimmy Dorsey on ESPN Columbia both expressed their great surprise that almost all of the Clemson fans calling in to their respective shows to discuss the Gamecocks winning the College World Series were positive.

Radio host Heath Cline of 107.5 The Game said, "The Tigers handled their exit from Omaha with class - the last thing Jack Leggett did as he left Rosenblatt Stadium for the final time was to point from the back of the press conference room to Ray Tanner on the podium, catch his eye and give him a thumbs up sign. The two teams clearly have respect for each other, and maybe that spirit carried over to the fans. The state's been through a lot of embarrassment nationally the past couple of years, and this is one thing that no one can mock or downgrade. Maybe a Clemson fan doesn't like hearing about the CWS title from the guy who lives next door or the Gamecock supporter at the office, but it's pretty hard to look at a group of quality kids led by a great guy like Ray Tanner and not feel good for them."

On CUTigers.com, one of the most popular Clemson news sites and message board communities on the internet, the expected responses bemoaning a championship by their hated rivals was also met with Tiger fans expressing their sentiments that what was good for the Gamecocks was also good for the entire state. One fan expressed it this way, "As a native I often find it hard to understand the harsh attitudes on both sides. (The state of) South Carolina needs all the positives we can acquire. I believe whatever achievements, especially academically, both institutions accomplish simply enhance the quality of life in South Carolina, and every one of us benefits accordingly. Go Tigers!"

Some Gamecock fans went out of their way to express good wishes to their Tiger fan friends after hearing that when Coach Holbrook's two boys were mistakenly thought to be missing, the Clemson players quickly exited their bus and joined the search for the two boys, who were safe with "Uncle Ray" (Tanner) at the post-game press conference. Jason Jaynes was one of those, who had a Carolina co-worker come up at work and express sincere thanks for how the Tiger players responded. Another Tiger fan responded to his story by saying, "Contrary to what some would have you believe, there are lots of Gamecock fans out there like the ones you encountered. Unfortunately, many people's exposure to them is on (message) boards like these, or some obnoxious drunk at a ballgame. Outside of that environment, they are your neighbors, friends, fellow church goers, girlfriends and wives. If one eliminates ALL Gamecocks from their list of potential friends, they miss about half of our state. Doesn't make any sense does it?"

Stephen Lyle, a Tiger fan currently from Columbia, also responded by saying, "You are exactly right, most aren't bad at all, and it's the internet crowd that really gets the worst out of everyone. My best friend is a South Carolina fan, and part of me was actually happy they won because I knew it made him happy. I still wanted them to lose, but part of me was happy for him because he takes it all with class, and neither of us really talk trash with each other about the games because we know that the loser on one end is already feeling bad enough already. Usually it's like this past year in football, he waited for me to call him and talk about the game and didn't mention it before, and I have always done him the same when we've won."

E. M. Forster, the English Novelist and Essayist, may have summed it up best, saying, "So, two cheers for democracy: one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism."

There is no question there is variety between the two fan bases, and they love to criticize each other. There also is no question those positive feelings that brought together both those who wear garnet and black and some who wear Clemson Orange will fade soon, and both sides will go back to the way they "love to hate" on each other.

But for today, the 4th of July, we are all South Carolinians, and today we are all Americans, wearing red, white, and blue, and proud of it.

To all Americans everywhere: Happy Independence Day.

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