“The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”

— from the introduction of ABC’s “Wide World of Sports”

Many South Carolinians will intensely feel that thrill or that agony tonight.

Heck, some folks beyond our state’s borders also will experience all-or-nothing mood swings based on the outcome of the Clemson-South Carolina football game.

Why?

Because, with apologies to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, in this Palmetto State rivalry, as in war, there can be no substitute for victory.

Non-sports fans are perpetually puzzled — and often annoyed — by the unseemly spectacle of otherwise rational people experiencing euphoria or despair over a game’s result.

They also wonder how society’s priorities ever got so skewed that South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier is making $3.3 million, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney $2.5 million and Clemson assistant coach Chad Morris $1.3 million a year.

But don’t be too envious of Swinney’s salary.

Though it will be cold tonight at Williams-Brice Stadium, he is feeling painful heat from his four-game losing streak to Spurrier.

That’s an especially revolting development for us Clemson fans after the previous four decades of Gamecock failure to win even two straight over our Tigers.

Also aggravating: Those “SEC, SEC” chants from USC zealots when their team beats Clemson. It’s a not-so-friendly reminder that the Southeastern Conference is much stronger in football than the Atlantic Coast Conference, where Duke (seriously) is now the only ranked team other than Florida State and Clemson.

OK, so Swinney, 1-4 against USC, is a dandy 49-18 against other teams — including 5-1 against non-USC teams from the SEC.

So what? Tonight’s game isn’t about overall records or conference pride. It’s about the state championship and a year’s worth of bragging — and rubbing-it-in — rights.

Wrong time and place

Yes, far too many fans of both teams lose their senses of perspective while celebrating — or lamenting — what they see on the field, the TV screen, and ultimately, the scoreboard.

For instance:

This Clemson grad attended last year’s Gamecocks 27, Tigers 17 downer.

Forgetting that we get what we pay for, I bought a seemingly bargain-priced ticket (at least on that night’s costly scale) from a scalper.

As my Tigers’ fortunes fell in that grim Death Valley fourth quarter, my realization that I had grown much too old to sit (or stand) on “The Hill” rose.

An obnoxiously inebriated young lady in Gamecock garb displayed rising second-half glee as USC took control of the contest by repeatedly vaulting backward into a group of Clemson backers — including me. She rejected initially polite, then increasingly stern, requests that she cease her reckless antics, which threatened a domino effect of tumbling bodies in the tightly packed, standing-room-only throng a mere 10 yards or so below the fabled “Howard’s Rock.”

Eventually, obscene threats were exchanged — though not by this mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper.

Fortunately, perhaps due in part to my elder-statesman appeals that both sides in the dispute leave the hitting to the players, cooler heads prevailed.

So if you’re going to the big game at Williams-Brice Stadium tonight, channel your mob-mentality zeal in a positive direction.

Sure, the stakes are remarkably high: This is the first time both Clemson and USC have entered this game ranked in the top 10.

It’s also the first time this day of the state-title showdown has dawned with both schools retaining shots, albeit long ones, at a national championship.

We’re No. 2?

What if Texas A&M beats Missouri, Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State, South Carolina beats Alabama or Auburn for the SEC title and Michigan or Michigan State beats Ohio State?

But forget the Hail Mary pass of FSU losing to hapless Florida or to Duke or any other team in the ACC title game.

Just don’t forget to mind your manners tonight, regardless of allegiance and location.

After all, while our state’s status as the home of two college football powerhouses is relatively new, we have a much older tradition of Southern gentility to maintain.

As for the risk of Clemson losing five straight football games to USC for the first time, with no substitute for victory available, this column now delivers this breaking news:

The Chicken Curse is hereby reinstated.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.