THE ISSUE: Clemson-Carolina; OUR OPINION: History, local connections, loyalty to teams make for great rivalry
Tonight's South Carolina-Clemson football game will afford the rivalry between the universities a national stage. ESPN has the game spotlighted with a 7:45 start.
The rivalry does not as yet have the national stature of games such as the Iron Bowl, the Alabama-Auburn rivalry that is presently the subject of an ESPN special documentary, "Roll Tide/War Eagle." This year's game has as much significance as any between the S.C. rivals, as both are ranked in the top 20 in national polls.
In the three-county area of Orangeburg, Calhoun and Bamberg, people are serious about their sports. The Carolina-Clemson rivalry is as intense here as anywhere in the state. Over the years, locals have played significant roles in the football programs at both schools. The stories are many, all interesting to fans of both schools.
One such local connection dates to 1952. Writing this week for The (Columbia) State, Don Barton pointed out that the game that year was played only because it was mandated by the law. That's right, the S.C. General Assembly was asked by the presidents of the two schools to order the game played during Fair Week after Clemson was mandated by the Southern Conference, of which both the Tigers and Gamecocks were members, not to play any league team other than Maryland. The entire matter originated from Clemson playing in a bowl game without conference approval.
At the meeting in which the conference issued its order, Carolina coach Rex Enright pointed out that South Carolina may have a law requiring that the teams play. That prompted conference officials to add to the ruling, "except for games required by state law."
On Feb. 27, 1952, the General Assembly took care of the matter with a resolution ordering that the game be played.
That's where Orangeburg football legend Johnny Gramling entered the picture. After high-profile high school years, Gramling went to Columbia to play quarterback for the Gamecocks. He was the outstanding senior player on the team in 1954, but it was on that Thursday in 1952 that Gramling carved out a piece of Carolina-Clemson history by throwing a 22-yard touchdown pass to halfback Gene Wilson to give the Gamecocks a 6-0 win - in the game mandated by state law.
Lawmakers won't need to get involved to keep Saturday night's contest on track. The two teams and their fans will have trouble waiting out the day until the late start in Columbia. The place will be rocking with fans from both schools. And don't tell them there is any rivalry better.
And in fact there is agreement that the "South Carolina family feud" is indeed one worthy of special note beyond our borders.
In the new book, "A State of Disunion: Classic Clashes of the Carolina-Clemson Football Rivlary" by former (Charleston) Post and Courier sports reporters Travis Haney and Larry Williams, former Clemson defensive coordinator "Brother" Bill Oliver, who worked at Alabama and Auburn and lives in Alabama, sums it up this way: "... as far as just pure rivalry, there ain't nothing greater than Alabama and Auburn. Clemson and South Carolina, they're not far from it. And that's a compliment."