SAPAKOFF COLUMN: Clemson, USC arranging for a more civil bitter rivalry
CLEMSON — South Carolinians are famously polite. Awards keep rolling in.
In the annual Braggin' Rights football game, our most recent unpleasantness happened on the field — The Brawl Game of 2004 — not in the stands.
But an intense rivalry has bonus sizzle this year.
“We can't pretend it's just any other game,” Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips said. “It's not.”
Clemson officials have planned for extra security Saturday night when No. 13 South Carolina visits Death Valley to face No. 12 Clemson.
“You always have extra precautions and extra security for a rivalry game, and it's that way for rivalry games involving other teams, too,” Phillips said.
More security than usual for a South Carolina game?
“We will make the proper arrangements,” Phillips said.
Clemson should take one extra “extra security” step: keep fans off the field for five minutes to allow for South Carolina players, win or lose, to leave without potential provocation.
It's a Death Valley tradition, the waves of orange surrounding Tigers players. Fun for the whole family.
But there is unique potential for added emotion during and after this 110th meeting:
• South Carolina's rare three-game win streak in a series Clemson leads, 65-40-4, has people on edge on both sides.
• A BCS bowl bid might be on the line for the Tigers.
• Steve Spurrier with his next victory becomes South Carolina's winningest head coach.
• Night game. More time to enjoy adult beverages.
The Southeastern Conference doesn't allow fans on the field after games. Not even in Baton Rouge.
“Yeah, the SEC prohibits that,” Spurrier said. “Other conferences allow it, I guess. I don't know if they (prohibit it) for player safety, coach safety, or whatever. I guess it's a pretty good rule. But occasionally I certainly can understand the fans, the students, wanting to run out on the field to celebrate a big win.”
It only takes one nut to instigate.
Or one ill-tempered player to overreact.
There was beefed up security at Saturday's Southern Cal-UCLA game, a reaction to the 40-plus arrests and two stabbing incidents at the game two years ago. There were no major incidents during or after UCLA's 38-28 victory at the Rose Bowl on Saturday but Pasadena police arrested four Bruin fans for trying to rush the field after the game.
Administrators at all schools with major athletic departments go into rivalry games with hope and fear.
“You're always going to get that fringe,” Phillips said, “no matter how a rivalry series is going.”
HBC and Dabo, pals
It helps that Spurrier and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney are making nice going into this game after trading jabs for a year.
Swinney went off before the 2011 ACC Championship Game about comments misattributed to Spurrier. Before South Carolina's game at LSU's Death Valley in October, Spurrier said “most of our guys have never been to Death Valley” and poked fun at the Clemson version.
Swinney responded, “Our guys have never been to USC. California's a long way from here.”
Spurrier somehow found a way at a birthday ceremony wishing Marcus Lattimore a quick recovery from knee surgery to take a dig at Swinney for “garbage” talk — after announcing Swinney's get-well wishes.
It was all buddy talk Sunday.
Spurrier said, “I like Dabo” and “he's a wonderful guy.” He referenced the Gamecocks' loss at “the other Death Valley.”
Swinney said his encounters with the Head Ball Coach are “very cordial.”
We have come a long way since the riot of 1902. Yes, approximately 400 Clemson cadets were quite ticked off about the Tigers' 12-6 loss in Columbia and lost control when Clemson was mocked during a parade that night.
They marched on the South Carolina campus with bayonets and swords, only to be met at the Sumter Street entrance by South Carolina students packing handguns and rifles.
No injuries. But the series was discontinued until 1909.
At least we know the Gamecocks and Tigers will play Saturday night, and shake hands after the game. Here's hoping the visitors get a head start toward the locker room.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff