By Will Vandervort
From 1977-’87 no rivalry in the country was more intense or competitive than the Clemson-Georgia Series. In those 11 years, the two teams battled to a 5-5-1 record, which started with a one-point Clemson victory in 1977 in Athens and ended with a one-point Clemson victory in 1987 in Clemson.
But the rivalry was not the best because the record broke even. No the reason was due to how highly contested each game was and what it meant for the victors. In 1980, Georgia survived Clemson, 20-16, in Athens and then went on to play and win the National Championship that year.
In 1981, Clemson used nine Bulldog turnovers to knock off No. 4 Georgia, 13-3, in Death Valley on its way to a National Championship.
“The Georgia game always seemed to make or break our season,” said former Clemson head coach Danny Ford, who was 4-4-1 against Georgia. “I don’t know why that was the case, but for the most part that was the case.”
The average margin of victory in the series during that 11-year stretch was 4.7 points per game. Nine of the 11 games were decided by a touchdown or less. The only two that were not were the 1978 and the 1981 games.
Clemson had a 3-1-1 record in Death Valley vs. the Bulldogs during that stretch, while Georgia owned a 4-2 mark in Athens. The Bulldogs scored 171 points (15.5 points per game), while Clemson scored 159 points (14.5 points per game).
“If we beat Georgia, we generally went on to have a pretty special year, but if we lost to them, it seemed as if it lingered longer than we would have liked and it would beat us more than once,” Ford said.
That was the case in 1984 when Georgia’s Kevin Butler kicked a then NCAA record 60-yard field goal with 11 seconds left to beat second-ranked Clemson, 26-23. Clemson, who had a 20-6 lead at the break, ran the ensuing kickoff back into Georgia territory and the Bulldogs were flagged for a personal foul after the tackle. But after a long debate, officials ruled the foul occurred after time had run out and the game was ruled over.
Clemson kicker Donald Igwebuike, who led the nation in field goal percentage that year (17-18), was denied the opportunity to kick a 42-yard field goal.
The Tigers lost their next game at Georgia Tech a week later, ending a 20-game ACC winning streak. Clemson went on to finish the season 7-4.
In 1986, David Treadwell beat the Bulldogs with a 46-yard field goal as time expired, 31-28, and then kicked a 21-yard field goal with two seconds left to beat Georgia, 21-20, in 1987. Those two games marked the first and last time Clemson beat the Bulldogs in consecutive years since winning seven consecutive years from 1900-’06.
The Tigers went on to win the ACC Championship in each of those seasons, while posting an 8-2-2 record in 1986 and a 10-2 mark in 1987.
“Our kids always looked forward to playing Georgia because Georgia represented the best in the SEC at the time,” Ford said. “They were the standard to live up to and our kids knew if they could beat them, then they could play and beat anyone in the country.”
Earlier this summer, The Clemson Insider.com took a look back at each of these great battles between Clemson and Georgia so you can get a better understanding of why it was called the “The Eleven Year War,” as well get you set for Saturday’s game when the No. 5 Bulldogs invade Clemson’s Death Valley to play No. 8 Clemson at 8 p.m. on ABC.
Articles from The Eleven Year War series:
1982: A Labor Day to forget
1984: The Butler did it
1987: The end of an era