THE ISSUE: Spurrier and Swinney zingers
OUR OPINION: Football success could make Nov. 24 a momentous match-up
Todd Ellis, the former University of South Carolina quarterback who today serves as the radio “Voice of the Gamecocks,” says this past Saturday brought the university and the state exposure beyond anyone’s expectations.
The day promised to be big. Georgia, ranked fifth nationally, was in Columbia to play South Carolina, ranked sixth. ESPN’s celebrated “GameDay” football preview program was based at the Horseshoe for its programming. A record crowd came to Williams-Brice Stadium for a nationally televised game in prime time.
South Carolina’s convincing victory over rival Georgia concluded what Ellis called eight hours of public relations that have put the university and its football program on a national stage in unprecedented fashion.
No one is dismissing the significance of South Carolina’s back-to-back national championships in baseball and its third trip to the College World Series finals in three years. But nothing compares in national exposure to college football and the bid to win the title in the most popular sport.
And what South Carolina did a week ago is live up to expectations that have been increasingly touted by national writers and broadcasters who say the Gamecocks are legitimate contenders for the Southeastern Conference championship, a title that would all but assure the team plays in a game for the national title in early 2014.
But all that is getting ahead of things. There are many miles to go, literally, before any talk of titles is more than talk.
The latest test comes in what has been called the toughest place in college football for a visiting team: Death Valley. It’s Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La., that ninth-ranked LSU calls home and where the third-ranked Gamecocks must play at 8 o’clock on a Bayou Saturday night.
Of course, no one in the Palmetto State could let pass an opportunity to call attention to the fierce rivalry between South Carolina and Clemson, which also is nicknamed Tigers and plays in a place also known as Death Valley. Leave it to South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier to do so in sharp-witted fashion.
According to reporting by The Post and Courier of Charleston and The Greenville News, here are the details:
On Tuesday, Spurrier said, “Most of our guys have never been to Death Valley,” then wondered aloud, “That is the Death Valley, isn’t it? Or is there another one? There’s two of them. That’s right. There’s two Death Valleys.”
The comment was sure to bring a retort, and it came from Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney, who last year went on a rant against South Carolina following a dig at Clemson by Ellis, whose comment was incorrectly attributed to Spurrier.
“For the record, the original Death Valley is right here,” Swinney said, gesturing behind him to Clemson Memorial Stadium.
According to Tim Bourret, Clemson sports information director, the Tigers’ home field has been nicknamed “Death Valley” since 1948.
Swinney acknowledged that he had heard Spurrier’s inquiries. He grinned as he expressed empathy for the mix-up.
“I can see where he might have a little confusion. Our guys have never been to USC. California is a long way from here,” Swinney said, alluding to the University of Southern California and the reference he made a year ago to the “real USC” being in California and the “real University of South Carolina” being at Clemson.
“We’ve got two Death Valleys and two USCs,” Swinney added, “but there’s one real one.”
OK, so the rivalry goes on no matter what. So many fans cannot bring themselves to wish the other team well even when nationally recognized success actually boosts the other school and the state as a whole. It’s just the way it is.
That’s why Swinney’s additional comments will ultimately get more genuine focus when it comes to football.
According to a report by Mandrallius Robinson of The Greenville News, Swinney said Spurrier fires quips at a more rapid rate when he has a team that can back them up. He said Carolina has such a team this season.
Swinney said he could not recall exactly but that he voted Carolina No. 3 or No. 4 in the latest USA Today coaches poll.
“That’s classic Spurrier,” Swinney said. “When he’s winning, you can say whatever you want, huh? He’s one of the best. He’s had more lines than anybody probably ever will. They’ve got a heck of a football team, I can tell you that.”
Carolina (6-0) will visit the original Death Valley on Nov. 24, to face No. 13 Clemson (5-1).
Swinney began setting the stage in diplomatic fashion: “I’m one of those who kind of hopes they can continue on and we can, because I think that’s special for this state. They’ve got a good football team. I think we have a chance to be. We’re not quite there yet, but we’ve got a little ways to go before we’ve got to worry about that one.”
That said, one can only imagine what Swinney is really thinking about how sweet it would be to defeat an unbeaten South Carolina team ranked near the top nationally.
But that’s getting ahead of things. For Carolina, it’s one Death Valley at a time.