Success in the Clemson-South Carolina football rivalry is all about precise timing. Famous examples are Clemson wide receiver Jerry Butler's leaping end zone catch in 1977 and South Carolina safety Brad Edwards' jolting interception and touchdown return in 1987.
Now, "A State of Disunion: Classic Clashes of the Carolina-Clemson Football Rivalry" threads the needle, with the splendid book by former Post and Courier reporters Travis Haney and Larry Williams arriving just as the Gamecocks and Tigers are barreling toward one of the most anticipated showdowns in Braggin' Rights history.
No. 14 South Carolina and No. 18 Clemson are both 9-2 going into Saturday night's rare clash of ranked Palmetto State teams.
Which means the first printing of "A State of Disunion" (The History Press, stateofdisunionbook.com) might sell out before kickoff.
A book is great when it's full of interesting new stories about a subject you thought you knew well. This is as essential to rivalry buffs as John Chandler Griffin's more encyclopedic "Carolina vs. Clemson, Clemson vs. Carolina" (Summerhouse Press), though a much different approach. Haney and Williams do not attempt to address every single game in a series Clemson leads, 65-39-4. Instead, the authors take apart 20 games or themes with captivating narrative reporting.
Better yet, "A State of Disunion" offers terrific color and black and white photos, a list of colorful anecdotes, a records index and dual (or duel) forwards by former Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst
and former South Carolina quarterback Tommy Suggs.
Suggs and Whitehurst
Suggs, South Carolina's excellent radio analyst, tells about the Gamecocks' 7-3 victory when he was a sophomore in 1968 and how it served as a going away present to his brother.
"We came back to Columbia after the game, and on a rainy, cold Sunday afternoon, the family went to the airport to see him off to Vietnam," Suggs writes. "It was gut wrenching, but he had a Carolina victory to take with him - the best present I could give him."
The only flaw is the genre, which requires equal treatment. The notion that both teams share a "lack of sustained achievement proportional to the extraordinary (fan) passion" is a broad brush. Clemson has been way better in the series, bowls, production of star players and almost everything else football. While South Carolina fans probably lead the nation in attendance per victory, Clemson's uniqueness lies in a mammoth stadium rising out of a tiny population base within a relatively small state.
But South Carolina is primed to extend its win streak to three, and one of the great things about this Haney/Williams project is their willingness to take on the rivalry, warts and all.
The final chapter is "A Black Eye: 2003-04" and the tale of The Brawl Game at Death Valley.
True separation from the norm is in the storytelling. Edwards and Clemson quarterback Rodney Williams going out together in Five Points after the 1987 game, and Whitehurst stopping by a Waffle House after Clemson's 63-17 win in 2003 are priceless scenes.
What timing. ESPN is having fun with its "Roll Tide/War Eagle" documentary and Haney and Williams have "Brother" Bill Oliver weighing in. The former Clemson defensive coordinator worked at Alabama and Auburn and lives in Alexander City, Ala.
"… as far as just pure rivalry, there ain't nothing greater than Alabama and Auburn," Oliver said. "… Clemson and South Carolina, they're not far from it. And that's a compliment."