I did not experience a college football rivalry until I moved to South Carolina fifteen years ago. On my first day at the College of Charleston I was confused by all the people talking about “Carolina” football. I knew these people couldn’t be Carolina Tar Heel fans because we never mention football. I learned quickly that some words mean different things in this state than they do everywhere else in the world. In South Carolina, “Carolina” refers to the South Carolina Gamecocks; the rest of the world uses that term to refer to the place where Michael Jordan played basketball. The world loses most arguments in this state.
The only other football team in South Carolina that anyone cares about is the Clemson (clem(p)son) Tigers. I am sure you have heard of them. It doesn’t matter who you root for outside the borders of South Carolina, inside them you must pick one of the two teams. I have decided to approach the rivalry as a chameleon. I root for the better team unless I am surrounded by an inordinate amount of the worse team’s fans and then I will pretend to share their misery. Being a Clemson fan these last five years has been a lot of fun. They have beaten the Gamecocks five times in a row and won two national championships. Before that, I was a big fan of the Ol’ Ball Coach. He lead the Gamecocks to five-straight victories over Clemson before he retired. I haven’t pulled for a loser in the Palmetto Bowl in ten years.
My South Carolina friends are split down the middle; half of them are Gamecocks fans and half of them are Clemson Tiger fans. Whether I get invited to a Clemson viewing party or a Gamecocks viewing party, I dutifully show up with my orange or garnet pompoms. It has been fun watching my Clemson friends revel in their success these last few years. It hasn’t been as fun watching my Gamecocks buddies wallow in such misery, but at least they have a good women’s basketball team.
One of the greatest qualities of Gamecocks fans is their optimism. Every “national signing day” they joyously expound upon their new recruits like they just won it all. I consider this day to be their national championship because they are undefeated and the new recruits have yet to disappoint them. Clemson’s national championship is usually the national championship.
I have enjoyed Clemson’s domination of college football these last few years, but it is becoming tedious. I’m a Tar Heel at heart and since we don’t mention football, I only watch the games to be entertained. There is nothing entertaining about a 55-10 trouncing, even if the victim is N.C. State. Clemson made its bones ending Alabama’s preeminence only to become that which it killed. Nobody except for those draped in orange wants to watch a football game where graduate student-transfers are substituted for starting players in the third quarter because the game is already won. The price you pay for being better than everyone else is that your games become boring and unwatchable.
I would like to encourage all the Cocks I know to keep their heads up. What, what? Another word that means something different in South Carolina than it does everywhere else in the world. Anyway, things will not stay terrible forever. Life has an ebb and flow like the tide and the Tide may be your only hope. Dabo will go to Alabama after Trevor Lawrence leaves and things will be peachy in Columbia once again. You will be Sandstorming your way back to prominence before you know it. In the mean time you’ll just have to be content with beating Georgia every year.
On November 30, 2019, the Clemson Tigers will play the South Carolina Gamecocks for the 117th time. Clemson’s season will be on the line and the Gamecocks will have nothing to lose because their season ended weeks ago. Both teams are lucky that the Tar Heels don’t mention football because they have already beaten South Carolina and they almost beat Clemson. Regardless, I believe that the Palmetto Bowl will be a great game; one in which the Gamecocks have a real chance of winning. No matter the outcome, I am going to enjoy watching the game because it is guaranteed that I will like the winner.
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