More player spite before the 1987 South Carolina vs. Clemson football game
College football coaches are full of clichés with players cast as multi-media showoffs.
Well, in other states.
Here, the head coaches inflate our Braggin’ Rights balloon. Player tweets are banned.
Steve Spurrier recently implied that Clemson isn’t the real Death Valley, Dabo Swinney insisted that USC is in L.A. and that Carolina means Chapel Hill. They backed off a bit this week going into (South) Carolina’s game at (Clemson’s) Death Valley on Saturday night, and told players to say nice things.
It was so different 25 years ago. Coaches were careful. Gamecock players yapped.
“Michael Dean (Perry) has been talking a lot of trash up there in Clemson,” center Woody Myers said of Clemson’s best defensive lineman. “I just hope he’s ready to back it up.”
South Carolina defensive lineman Kevin “The Chief” Hendrix offered thoughts on team colors.
“I hate orange,” he said. “Anything orange.”
The buildup is part of what makes 1987 one of the best in the 109-game series.
While this week’s clash of No. 12 Clemson vs. No. 13 South Carolina is close to a top 10 matchup, the 1987 game remains the highest combined ranking in the series: No. 8 Clemson, No. 12 South Carolina.
It was a terrific game with a signature play, free safety Brad Edwards’ interception of a Rodney Williams pass and touchdown return to seal South Carolina’s 20-7 victory at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Danny’s gag order
ESPN televised the night game nationally, same as this week.
It was a much bigger deal in 1987, just the second national telecast in the series (1982, USA Network).
Clemson head coach Danny Ford had a gag order on his assistant coaches and players.
Both coaches chose their pre-game words carefully.
Ford: “South Carolina is playing as well in all parts of their football team as any South Carolina team I’ve played or coached against.”
South Carolina’s Joe Morrison: “Clemson is the best overall team — defense, offense and special teams — that we’ve faced this season.”
Bowl trips were set before kickoff. Clemson, 9-1 and ACC champions, was headed to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando to face Penn State. South Carolina, 7-2, was booked to face LSU in the Gator Bowl after a regular season finale at Miami, the eventual national champion.
Both programs were humming.
Both schools had new coaches by the 1990 season.
Ford, saddled with NCAA investigation problems and bickering with Clemson administrators, was fired after Clemson won its fourth straight bowl game to end the 1989 season.
Morrison collapsed in a Williams-Brice Stadium shower and died on Feb. 5, 1989. He almost certainly would have been fired in the wake of a steroid scandal that rocked the Gamecocks during the 1988 season.
Spurrier pointed out this week that Clemson is one win away from the BCS championship game discussion; the 10-1 Tigers’ lone loss came at Florida State.
The 1987 Clemson team lost its national title shot with a 30-28 upset loss to unranked N.C. State in October. The Gamecocks thrashed the Wolfpack, 48-0, holding Dick Sheridan’s team to 36 total yards.
‘We’re not Maryland’
Morrison told the Gamecocks to “watch what you say” going into the Clemson game.
Myers and others didn’t listen.
“I know they’re riding pretty high after last Saturday,” he said, “but they better be a little more realistic. They played well against Maryland, but we’re not Maryland.”
Gamecocks fans hounded Williams with the sing-song chants of “Rod-ney! Rod-ney!” borrowed from Boston Red Sox fans and their verbal attack on the New York Mets’ Darryl Strawberry in the 1986 World Series.
When it was over, after South Carolina had outgained Clemson 302 yards to 166 and intercepted three Williams passes, Ford was classy in defeat.
“Thank goodness we have an opportunity to play another game in the Florida Citrus Bowl against Penn State,” he said. “Again, all the credit in the world goes to South Carolina.”
Clemson thumped the Nittany Lions, 35-10.
With Williams in a starring role, the Tigers downed South Carolina, 29-10, in 1988 to start a four-game series win streak.
But it’s taken a quarter-century to come close to the combined national rankings of 1987.
Maybe next year.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or Twitter @sapakoff