CLEMSON -- Clemson president Robert Edwards met with student body presidents from Clemson and South Carolina in the fall of 1960, acting as a mediator to preempt any provocation surrounding the first Clemson-South Carolina football game to be played at Clemson.
Despite the meeting with Edwards, and Gamecocks assurances, Clemson students were sure their campus was to be raided by their rival. The Friday night before the game, a group of students prepared to defend their turf. They painted their faces and stood guard at various points on campus. Near the Thomas Green Clemson statue at Tillman Hall -- thought to be a main target -- Clemson students overturned an empty 55-gallon barrel which they beat as a drum in rhythm with tribal chanting.
The night went without incident and Clemson defeated South Carolina, 12-2, the next afternoon.
The pregame drum-beat has continued as a tradition with Saturday marking the 50th anniversary of the first time Clemson defended its home turf against the Gamecocks. The home-and-home arrangement also ended Big Thursday and ushered in the modern era of the rivalry that remains as heated and impassioned as ever.
Why the wait?
The first Clemson-South Carolina rivalry game was a major event on the Clemson campus.
Clemson's average home football attendance in 1960 was 24,000. The USC game drew more than 40,000, crowding the newly expanded stadium with fans spilling out onto the east hill. The spectacle drew 174 credentialed media members.
The rivalry game had been limited to Columbia for 64 years -- since 1896 -- for myriad reasons, including roads, stadium size and accommodations.
But in 1955, the Clemson Board of Trustees approved a measure advocating the creation of a home-and-home series with South Carolina.
The first obstacle was stadium capacity. Memorial Stadium's seating had not increased from its original capacity of 20,000 since the stadium opened in 1942. The program's lack of seating was sorely evident when reigning national champion Maryland visited Clemson in the early 1950s, said Clemson historian Jerry Reel.
"With Maryland carrying that overwhelming prestige with them coming to Clemson, it was obvious the stadium was too small," Reel said. "USC's stadium was also really too small, as football was growing in great popularity. So both schools turned to the state for relief."
One proposal called for building a large multi-purpose stadium in Columbia, but an agreement was reached that provided tax revenue to fund expansions at both Williams-Brice Stadium and Memorial Stadium. In 1958, 18,000 seats were added to Death Valley, and another 5,000 were added in 1960.
Another pressing issue was the lack of quality roads. In 1960, the bypass around Clemson had not been completed and the Hartwell Dam was still being constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
There was a pair of two-lane roads leading from Greenville to Clemson and from Clemson to Anderson. After the first game in Clemson, South Carolina Governor Fritz Hollings and his traveling party were caught in exiting traffic for 2 1/2 hours in the choked roadways of the small college town.
"Although no one has documented this, the result of that (traffic jam) was that it wasn't long until money began showing up to finish the highway system," Reel said. "Those got to be known as the highways (Clemson coach Frank) Howard built.
"Football can render some pressure."
Tommy Suggs played quarterback at South Carolina from 1968-70 and knows all about the rivalry, growing up a Clemson fan on a farm six miles outside of Lamar.
He was recruited by Howard but ended up a Gamecock and went 4-0 against Clemson.
Suggs supported moving the rivalry to a home-and-home series. "I'm glad we did it," he said. "It's a little different, but I'm sure there's some at Oklahoma-Texas and Florida-Georgia that wish they'd go to that now. It was a good decision someone made a long time ago. By the time we got there, everyone was used to it. So, it wasn't a big deal to us."
The end of Big Thursday
The first game at Clemson ended the traditional Big Thursday arrangement of the rivalry.
The rivalry began in 1896 when football was a curiosity, an undercard to horseracing later in the day at the state fair. The first games were played on the infield of the horse track.
The state fair was not merely a social event in the late 19th century and first part of the 20th century, it was also an important economic summit, according to Reel. "This was an agricultural state," Reel said. "People came in from everywhere (for the state fair) to see what are the new implements, the new seed products."
Former Clemson player Whitey Jordan, who was an assistant coach for the Tigers at the first rivalry game in Clemson, was raised in Florence and recalls attending the fair and football games as a youth.
"That was the thing to do," Jordan said. "You come in and go to the state fair on Wednesday night and walk over to the (freshman) ballgame. The Thursday game was played right across the street. You go early, find a parking spot and then come over to the football game. I guess there was some drinking going on, too."
But by the second half of the 20th century, the state fair was losing its economic relevance, and the rivalry game on Big Thursday became more important.
The games were heated on the field and in the stands at Municipal Stadium, which opened in 1934 (17,000 capacity) and was later renamed Carolina Stadium and then Williams-Brice Stadium.
"Lord, they would fight," Jordan said of the fans. "I remember our trainers were in there two hours after the game sewing up students from fighting."
As the game grew in importance, Clemson wanted to play the game on Saturdays so as not to interfere with its class schedule. School officials also wanted to host the game on a rotating basis. By moving the date and site, the rivalry lost a unique place in the schedule that gave the game a regional and national reach.
In the Big Thursday Era, the rivalry game was the only major college football game in the country that day and was broadcast throughout much of the country, according to Reel.
"What's lost is that it was a game broadcast -- broadcast by radio was all they were doing in those days -- throughout most of the United States," Reel said. "Remember this is before anyone paid much attention to pro football. Pro football is basically a child of television. (Carolina-Clemson) just happened to be the first big game of the year. Everyone listened to that the way everyone would listen on Thanksgiving in those days to the Army-Navy game, which was traditionally played in Philadelphia.
"That was centrally lost," Reel said "but nothing else was lost."
Andre Ellington's status for Saturday's game is still uncertain. The former Berkeley High star returned to practice in limited capacity this week, and told reporters following Wednesday's practice his foot is still sore but indicated he would like to try to play.
Surgery to repair his foot injury, which includes a ligament tear and broke bone, is tentatively set for Dec. 13. Coach Dabo Swinney said the surgery could be put on hold if Ellington performs well Saturday. But more likely, Ellington will miss the bowl game and begin a four-month rehab process.
Post and Courier's South Carolina writer Travis Haney contributed to this story.
Clemson-South Carolina sold out
Clemson announced Wednesday night it had officially sold out all 81,500 tickets for Saturday's game against South Carolina. The sellout will give Clemson a season attendance average of 75,700. It is the 12th straight year Clemson has averaged at least 75,000 fans per home date.
Check out the Clemson blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks and follow Travis Sawchik on Twitter (@travis_sawchik).
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