This isn’t your Alabama-Auburn, Ohio State-Michigan, or even Southern Cal-UCLA. It’s not a game that is going to decide who wins their respective conference, much less have any bearing on the National Championship picture.
But for fans of South Carolina and Clemson, all of that is irrelevant. It means everything.
At 7:00 on Saturday night, the 6th ranked Tigers will travel to Columbia to face the 10th ranked Gamecocks. South Carolina currently holds the longest home winning streak in the country, adding its 17th straight in last weekend’s lopsided victory against Coastal Carolina.
While the rivalry doesn’t have quite the same luster on a national scale as the Iron Bowl or some other high profile rivalry games, it means everything within the confines of the Palmetto State. Everything in the past means nothing come kickoff Saturday night.
Clemson will be trying to end a 4-game skid against the Gamecocks. The last time the Tigers beat South Carolina (31-14 in 2008) Barack Obama had just won his first election for President, Apple had just released the iPhone 3g, and Miley Cyrus was still Hannah Montana. Clemson will be trying to beat an SEC opponent for their third time in a row, continuing a streak that includes a bowl win last year against LSU and an opening day win this year against Georgia. Clemson became the first team outside of the SEC to win two consecutive games against SEC opponents with their win over Georgia, and they would love nothing more than to continue that streak against their rivals.
South Carolina will be trying to extend their win streak against Clemson to five, something they have never done since the rivalry began in 1896. And while all focus will be on the field for the players, fans will be glued to their phones throughout, keeping up with what is going on in the other Columbia. If Texas A&M were to beat Missouri, South Carolina will win the SEC East and head to Atlanta. Saturday night could line up as the perfect storm for the Gamecocks, or the perfect disaster.
This game has everything you would want in a rivalry. Both teams have record-setting quarterbacks, star defensive players, and top-ten rankings. It also pairs two coaches against each other that probably won’t be on each other’s Christmas card lists. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney shared his dislike for the Gamecocks in what has become an infamous rant, claiming that “the real USC is in California and the real Carolina is in Chapel Hill”. South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier has never been one to shy away from a quick jab, including referring to Swinney as that “coach of the team in the upstate that used to beat us a lot but doesn’t beat us much anymore”.
And for fans of both teams, this game is about much more than rankings and stats and the final score. It’s about being able to go to work everyday for a year without having to deal with listening to that other team gloat. It’s about not losing a bet and having to wear that horrible jersey of the other school. It’s about being able to tell all of your friends how much better your team is than theirs. It’s about bragging rights, loyalty, and pride.
The South Carolina-Clemson rivalry is more than just a game. It’s more than a mere 60 minutes of football played on a field once a year. It’s more than just simply one team winning and one team losing. It’s more than the coaches, the players, the fans.
It’s a way of life.