CLEMSON — It doesn’t matter if the Clemson Tigers and South Carolina Gamecocks are playing basketball, baseball, UNO or checkers, this rivalry brings out the best - and the worst - in friends, co-workers, husbands and wives, young and old.
When Clemson and South Carolina face off, tensions are going to be high — especially when it comes to football.
The football rivalry is different from every other contest between the two schools. People have to live with the outcome of that rivalry for an entire year, and nobody understands that fact more than Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott.
"It's 365 days. It's divided families,” Elliott said. “Yesterday was my sister's birthday and I texted her and I didn't get a response because she's a South Carolina grad. We don't have a pro team in this state, so you grow up here and you're either or — Clemson or South Carolina.
“Families are divided and we've got passionate fan bases on both sides that take it personal. It's a personal game. A lot of players from the state are going to be playing against each other. They grew up playing against each other in high school, so they all understand that this is about our state."
For Elliott, who played wide receiver at Clemson in 2003 and caught a pass for 25 yards in the Tigers' 63-17 victory over the Gamecocks, it wasn’t until he had graduated that he fully understood what the rivalry really means to fans. He was working at the Michelin North America plant in Pendleton at the time.
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"I didn’t really know what it was about until I was talking to the folks working at Michelin that plan their whole year, plan their budget, plan weddings, plan everything that they do around football season and that's the one game that they circle,” Elliott said. “If they don't make it to anything, they're going to find a way to be a part of this game.
"That to me is when I learned how special this game is to the fan base and to the people of this state."
While it took Elliott getting out into the “real world” to learn the impact that the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry has on the people of the state, for other members of the Tiger team it is ingrained in them from an early age.
A total of 44 players on the Clemson roster this season grew up in the state and have lived in the midst of the heated rivalry for many years. That's why winning the state championship is important every season.
When the Tigers take the field at Williams-Brice Stadium Saturday (noon, ESPN) they will be looking to extend their winning streak in the series to six games.
But even with the Tigers’ recent success over the Gamecocks, there was a time not too long ago that Elliott and the rest of the Tigers were on the other side of the streak — a five-game losing streak to the Gamecocks to be exact.
And that memory will sit in the coaching staff’s collective mindset as they prepare to take on the Gamecocks this weekend.
"It wasn't fun — especially not in my family, where I'm the only Clemson grad and I got a couple Carolina grads, and they let me know every single day of the year that they had the upper hand,” Elliott said. “The biggest thing in those games is we didn't play well. We turned the ball over and they had some really good teams, some really good coaches and they were prepared. But we also didn't play our best in those games.
“You had to live with it for a year. So you were always chomping at the bit to get back up on the upper hand. Trust me, that sits in the back of my mind."