Gamecocks vs. Tigers: The best and worst of the USC-Clemson football rivalry
Not all of the 110 Clemson-South Carolina football games have been classics. We have suffered through a brawl, a riot, a forfeit and political intrusion among the worst five games in the series.
Braggin’ rights at a glance
No. 6 Clemson (10-1) at No. 10 South Carolina (9-2)
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Series: Clemson leads 65-41-4
Streak: 4 straight wins for South Carolina
Line: South Carolina by 5
5 best games
Year Winner, score Notable
1. 1977 Clemson, 31-27 Jerry Butler’s spectacular game-winning catch
2. 1984 South Carolina, 22-21 Last-minute TD lifts Gamecocks to 10-1 record
3. 1987 South Carolina, 20-7 The highest combined ranking – until this year
4. 1963 Clemson, 24-20 JFK postponement; near-upset for Dan Reeves
5. 1945 Tie, 0-0 Gator Bowl implications to Gamecocks’ “upset tie”
5 worst games
Year Winner, score Notable
1. 2004 Clemson, 29-7 Brawl kept both teams out of bowl games
2. 1965 South Carolina, 17-16 Gamecocks forfeited game, and ACC title share
3. 1902 South Carolina, 12-6 Armed Clemson cadets charge Columbia campus
4. 1986 Tie, 21-21 Ugly enough to get politicians involved
5. 1959 Clemson, 27-0 Dull game; farewell to Big Thursday
But Saturday night’s game at USC’s Williams-Brice Stadium pitting the No. 6 Tigers against the No. 10 Gamecocks is the first top 10 national-rankings matchup in rivalry history.
It projects as one of the best games.
“It’s fun to be part of a game like this,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
Even if it’s not quite the biggest game in America.
“All the national media boys, they’re talking about (No. 1) Alabama and (No. 4) Auburn,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “And what do we call our game with Clemson? They’ve got the Iron Bowl. What do we call our game? We don’t have a real name for it?”
But we do have best and worst lists.
The 5 best games
1. 1977. Hard to beat the 31-27 Clemson win in a Columbia emotion swirl decided on Jerry Butler’s leaping grab of a 20-yard Steve Fuller touchdown pass with 49 seconds remaining. Oh, the momentum swings. The Tigers took a 24-0 lead, only to give up 27 unanswered points in just 17:10.
2. 1984. Quarterback Mike Hold scored on a 1-yard run and Scott Hagler added the extra point with 54 seconds left as the Gamecocks escaped Death Valley with a 22-21 win. No. 9 South Carolina’s hopes for an undefeated season had been dashed one week earlier with the thud of a loss at Navy. A third-quarter safety was critical; Tigers quarterback Mike Eppley was sacked by Tony Guyton and Willie McIntee.
3. 1987. Until 2013, this was the highest combined ranking in the series. No. 12 South Carolina defeated No. 8 Clemson 20-7. It was only the second game in the series televised nationally. Gamecocks free safety Brad Edwards scored the final touchdown on a 40-yard interception return of a Rodney Williams pass.
4. 1963. This game deserves recognition in any year, but particularly on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The tragedy in Dallas forced postponement of the game from Nov. 23 to Nov. 28, and remains the only South Carolina-Clemson game played on Thanksgiving Day.
The Tigers won 24-20. Though the loss left the Gamecocks with a 1-8-1 record, they nearly pulled an upset. Quarterback Dan Reeves — later an NFL running back and head coach — threw three touchdown passes for South Carolina, but Clemson knocked down a 2-point conversion pass and recovered an onside kick.
5. 1945. A 0-0 tie counts as a thriller if one team (South Carolina) plays unexpectedly well and takes a Gator Bowl bid the other team wanted. Back then, the rivalry game was played mid-season; the Tigers entered 3-1, the Gamecocks were 2-2 with losses to Duke (60-0) and Alabama (55-0). Clemson moved up and down the field, but threw six interceptions and had 100 yards in penalties.
The 5 worst games
1. 2004. The Brawl. Clemson dominated, 29-7, winning for the seventh time in eight rivalry games. But this overcast afternoon at Death Valley is infamously remembered for widespread fighting over nearly half the field that required law enforcement intervention. It started when Gamecocks quarterback Syvelle Newton went down hard after an incomplete pass with 5:48 left. The game was delayed for more than 10 minutes. An SEC officiating crew lost control early, from the moment Newton and teammates rushed the Clemson end zone to taunt Tigers entering the stadium via The Hill.
Context: The NBA’s even more infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl spilled into the stands the night before and got widespread media attention.
“(The Clemson and South Carolina players) watched it and watched it,” Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. “You know they did.”
Officials at both schools opted to remove their teams from bowl consideration as punishment.
2. 1965. The Forfeit. Bob Gunnels slapped away a 2-point conversion pass attempt to preserve South Carolina’s 17-16 win in Columbia to give the Gamecocks a share of the ACC title with Duke. But South Carolina was found to have committed recruiting violations and had to forfeit its 1965 ACC victories. Clemson coach Frank Howard refused to accept the ruling, and both schools still credit the Gamecocks with the win.
3. 1902. The riot. It wasn’t the game so much, but the aftermath of South Carolina’s mundane 12-6 win in Columbia. A group of approximately 400 Clemson cadets were mocked during a military parade in Columbia that night. The cadets marched on the South Carolina campus with swords and fixed bayonets, only to be met at the Sumter Street entrance by South Carolina students with handguns and rifles. No one was seriously injured, but the football series was suspended until 1909.
4. 1986. A 21-21 tie offered its share of suspense and star power, but also sparked action by two members of the S.C. State Legislature who didn’t want future USC-Clemson games to end without a winner. Harvey Peeler (D-Cherokee) and Rick Lee (R-Spartanburg) authored a “Bragging Rights Bill.” Peeler explained: “The two teams would just have to tee it up and start playing until one of them beats the other.”
5. 1959. The last Big Thursday. A 64-year tradition of rivalry games held in Columbia on Thursdays ended with Clemson lobbying efforts for a home-and-home series. Fair is fair, but some series uniqueness was lost. Tigers coach Frank Howard, who later said “The only good thing to ever come out of Columbia was I-26,” enjoyed a boring 27-0 victory.
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