‘The game’ doesn’t start until 7 tonight, so you’ve got all day to prep and a few more hours to tweet your “friends.”
Some may text or place a phone call just to say how ugly the outcome will be, thinking that’s a perfect way to spend the time between now and kickoff.
I wasn’t “born” into this rivalry. I never really knew much about it until I started covering the game. I reported on the game and its hoopla every year from 1977-2008. It didn’t take long to understand it, though. The passion and intensity were very real on both sides.
There was one fundamental problem. My not caring which side won really irritated people on both sides. I rooted for a good game that offered intriguing sidebar stories, but beyond that, it was a game and a week to look forward to, but not much more. Just sharing those particulars only further infuriates those who so passionately wear their loyalties on their sleeves and their bumpers.
Can you stay neutral in this Carolina-Clemson world and keep your street cred? Some people would respect you more if you’d just pick one or the other. Still others are convinced you secretly pull for one or the other because there’s just no in-between.
The schools are separated by a mere 132 miles. The distance between their fans is as different as say orange and purple is from garnet and black. The two schools have played every year since 1909, which represents the longest uninterrupted series in the South.
The game must be important. The state Legislature mandated they play each other every year in 1952.
There are other dates that every true fan knows. Such as: 1980, the first year a Clemson team wore orange pants. Or 1984, the Black Magic year when Carolina won 22-21 in Death Valley.
The year 1946 was another to remember for altogether different reasons. That year, two New York mobsters printed counterfeit tickets that resulted in a large number of fans being denied entrance. Unhappy ticketholders almost rioted, and to add just a little extra fuel, at halftime, a Clemson fan strangled a live chicken at midfield. Wow ... now that’s a weird way to keep people from going to the bathroom.
Some fans seem to have a healthy enough attitude about this rivalry. Others, though, have their entire sense of self-worth tied up in what will happen during those three hours of football tonight.
I’ve tried to explain the hostilities and histrionics of this rivalry to people from other places, but even as you’re trying to help them understand, you can immediately sense they’re not gonna get it. The best explanation is that the state is so small, and everybody is so connected by either blood or emotion. Except, maybe, me.
I will say that much of my tuition money through the years has been funneled to Columbia. But that hardly means I pick the team wearing garnet every time they play the team in orange.
I guess that’s what makes it fun, if you can keep it all in context. We’ll all moan and groan with every play tonight. It’ll be discussed tomorrow morning from virtually every pulpit in the state to each gas pump along Interstate 26 where cars pull-up flapping their school colors.
The rest of the country will watch the game tonight, but only those of us who live here will understand how important it is. Then again, if it’s all that life-altering … aren’t they gonna play again next year? My pick is on the sports page.
Reach Warren Peper at firstname.lastname@example.org.