Today’s blog is a fun one for me because it combines two great loves for me: sports and politics.
In his first inaugural address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered one of the most inspirational quotations ever spoken by an American president. He spoke of the confidence America’s people could have in the everlasting endurance of their nation.
He told us “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.
The sentiment communicated by FDR has a direct tie to the rivalry taking center stage this week in the Palmetto State. For Clemson, it might mean the difference between victory and defeat.
For Clemson fans, victory over South Carolina seems a distant memory. Football isn’t the only sport, either. It seems the Gamecocks have spent the past half-decade making up for lost time across the athletic spectrum.
But football is where the conversation always begins. Football is the sport most familiar to the water cooler crow waiting to take center stage during coffee breaks at work on Monday. It is the axis around which the athletic sphere rotates in this state.
Many Clemson fans spend 364 days a year trying to figure out if their program has what it takes to beat the school from Columbia. South Carolina fans do the same thing. It’s learned behavior passed down by our forefathers to a new Palmetto generation.
As the nation begins to catch onto the significance of the rivalry within these borders—albeit more slowly than a snail’s pace—each game seems to increase in magnitude. Both programs continue to grow at unprecedented rates in terms of expenditures, and most historians would probably agree this is the best era of football in the shared history of the two major in-state programs.
But success has been fleeting for the Tigers over the past four seasons. Fans that have grown accustomed to being the tone-setter in the state have anxiously awaited a team that can turn the tides of the series.
If you look at the trajectory of the two programs, Clemson seems to be closing the gap again. Progress has been made on the defensive side of the ball, and the offensive line of scrimmage has been shored up. At the same time, South Carolina lost its two biggest impact players on defense after last season (more on that tomorrow) and just doesn’t look as consistent on offense as it has in previous years.
On paper, this might be the first time Clemson has a legitimate edge in four years.
So why does it still feel like an uphill battle for the Tigers in the minds of so many?
Going on the road is definitely a reason to temper enthusiasm. This rivalry hasn’t exactly adhered to the sanctity of home field advantage in recent history, but it seems much tougher to win in Columbia than it used to for the Tigers.
With personnel comparisons seeming to favor the visitor, the only thing really going against the Tigers is the last four years of memories. That’s where we re-introduce FDR.
Fear is the thing swinging the momentum to the Gamecocks this year. The idea that South Carolina has a mental edge in this rivalry is alive and well, and for good reason.
Clemson hasn’t had a bad team for the past four seasons. Sure, 2010 wasn’t a good year. But other than that, the teams have accomplished much throughout their respective seasons. They just haven’t beaten the Gamecocks.
This may be inaccurate, but it sure seems like the players on both sides of the rivalry understand this. All of a sudden, after a century or more of the inverse, it is South Carolina that believes itself superior to Clemson, whose fans seem to have adopted the “we just can’t beat these guys” mindset.
Even if Clemson has the better team—and I would argue that it does—there is still that mountain to climb. The ability to win the game could be trumped by a lack of confidence in that ability.
One could make the case I just made. One might say Clemson is better than South Carolina this year, that the matchup favors the upstate once again.
In that scenario, the only thing Clemson has to fear is fear itself. It just might be the difference between a streak-busting win or an historic fifth straight defeat.