For most of us born and raised in South Carolina, we really did not have a choice. You are either a Clemson fan or a South Carolina fan. There is no in between.
In most cases, our parents made that decision for us long before we were born and our grandparents made that decision for them before they were even born. In other words, we are born in to it.
So you can say we are a product of the environment we were raised in.
Even those true South Carolinians, who for 364 days don’t care about football—like my brother—care about the outcome of this one game. They care about the Clemson-South Carolina or South Carolina-Clemson football game, depending on how you say it.
This is the biggest game in our great state. It’s our Super Bowl. It’s fun. It’s who we are.
Do you remember your first experience of the Clemson vs. South Carolina football game? I do.
I was sitting on the floor in my parents’ Greenville home playing with my blocks. I was five years old and my entire family was sitting around the television watching the game. At the time, I barely knew what football was.
I grew up in a Clemson family. So everyone was of course wearing orange.
The game they were watching is still known today as the greatest game in the longtime history of the rivalry. It was the 1977 game or known by every true Clemson and South Carolina fan as “The Catch.” Sorry Sports Illustrated, NFL and 49er fans everywhere, Clemson-Carolina had that name marketed long before Dwight Clark caught Joe Montana’s pass to beat the Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship Game. Coincidently, Clark played for Clemson in the 1977 game.
Anyway, I don’t remember much about the game, but I do remember how my family went nuts when Jerry Butler made a diving reception of a 20-yard pass from Steve Fuller with 49 seconds remaining, giving the Tigers a 31-27 victory in Columbia. It was a heck of scene in the Vandervort household when Butler made that catch, and of course I participated in the celebration, though at the time I had no idea what I was celebrating.
There are two moments I can remember, as a kid, when I was influenced to be a Clemson fan and that is one of them. I’m sure you have your moments, too. By the time I was nine years old, I was wearing something orange every day and I lived to be a Clemson Tiger.
When I think about it now, it is crazy that I’m now covering this great rivalry. This year’s game will mark the 13th season I have covered it. There are a couple of guys like me, who cover the Tigers and the Gamecocks on a daily basis, that grew up pulling for one or the other or went to either school. And though none of us will come out and admit who we are rooting for, or even if we are rooting, you can tell by the attitudes in the press box after the game who had a little bit of an invested interest.
Out of state media members don’t really get it. They don’t understand the rivalry. Most of them grew up in state’s were professional sports dominate and they don’t really understand what a true rivalry is. They don’t understand why it is so personal to those of us born and raised in South Carolina. They don’t understand the history of the rivalry. It goes deeper than just football.
The beauty of this year’s game is that it will have a great deal of meaning on the national landscape. Not since 1981, when Clemson was undefeated and playing for a national championship, has this game had more meaning than it will this Saturday when the Gamecocks and Tigers kick it off in Death Valley at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.
Clemson is in the middle of the College Football Playoff hunt. If the Tigers, who already have one loss, win this week and win in the ACC Championship Game the following week, they will make the playoff for a second straight year and will have an opportunity to play for a national championship. If they lose either game, then that dream is over.
You know the Gamecocks would love nothing more than to play the role of spoiler.
So this Saturday there will be some little boy or some little girl watching the Clemson-Carolina game whose choice of who they are rooting for will already be made for them because in South Carolina, you are either born a Clemson fan or a Carolina fan. There is no in between.