It’s more than a game

It’s more than a game

Football

It’s more than a game

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By Will Vandervort.

Will Proctor jokes that ever since he met his wife, Ainsley Earhardt, Clemson has not beaten South Carolina on the football field.

The former Clemson quarterback met Earhardt, a University of South Carolina graduate, before the 2009 game in Columbia. Since then, the Fox and Friends co-host has owned bragging rights in the Proctor household.

The Gamecocks have won five straight in the series – the most consecutive wins in the longstanding rivalry since Clemson won seven straight from 1934-’40.

“Yeah, it’s been pretty bad for me,” Proctor laughed.

Proctor and Earhardt, who live in New York, are like a lot of married couples with Palmetto State ties. They are a house divided. And every year, on the final Saturday in November, they spilt up. One will sit on one side of the sofa wearing orange and the other will sit on the other side wearing garnet.

For three hours they will not directly talk to each, except for an occasional request for something to drink or something along those lines if one goes to the kitchen.

“People don’t speak to each other this week, you know,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “It’s schools that are divided, friends don’t talk. It’s about bragging rights. I mean, that’s what it is. Everybody wants to brag about their team.

“There is a lot of pride in both of these universities with the fan bases. Everybody wants to brag that their team won the game.”

Clemson fans have not had the chance to brag since the 2008 game, when Swinney was still the interim head coach. His predecessor, Tommy Bowden, always liked to say, “You don’t know how important the rivalry is until you lose it for the first time.”

That’s probably why he did not lose it that often. Bowden was 7-2 against the Gamecocks, winning four straight over USC from 2002-’05. Swinney can’t remember what it is like to beat South Carolina. The first two years of Carolina’s streak, he played off the game somewhat and said it was important, but it was “Just another game – another nameless, faceless opponent.”

Now that the streak is well into its fifth year, Swinney can understand Bowden’s logic a little more. Despite beating Ohio State, Georgia, Auburn and LSU in the last five years, all any Clemson fan wants to talk about on the IPTAY circuit is beating the Gamecocks.

“As of late with the history of the rivalry, as we’re talking about it, it’s really been kind of lopsided,” Swinney said. “South Carolina has kind of been on top and had a heck of a run. That’s just added a little fuel to it probably, as far as evening out both sides, as far as everybody having a little taste of both sides of it.”

Before USC’s current run, the Tigers owned the rivalry. From 1976-2008, Clemson posted a 24-8-1 record against the Gamecocks. That’s a win percentage of 74 percent in that 33-year span.

The Tigers won seven of eight meetings from 1976-’83 and then won eight of nine from 1997-2005. Clemson has a 65-42-4 advantage in the all-time series, but the last five years have all been Carolina victories, which has been a hard and bitter pill to swallow for those dressed in orange.

“I’ve been on both sides, and I can tell you it’s a lot better when you win in this state,” Swinney said. “I hate that it’s that way. I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘You can go 1‑11 as long as you beat South Carolina.’”

Because it has been roughly 1,800 days or more since Clemson last beat the Gamecocks, Swinney placed a countdown clock all around the WestZone at Memorial Stadium to remind the players just how important this Saturday’s game is.

“It’s not something that’s ruined our six years here, but it’s something that we’ve got to get changed,” he said. “So it really is a season of its own. You have the season, and then you have South Carolina. We don’t say anything about it, never have. But we want everybody to be reminded every day that, hey, that game is coming.

“It only comes once a year, and it’s something that we thought just to make sure that we kept it in front of our guys every day because, again, you can lose a game and a couple months later you see people in the grocery store and they’re not going to say anything about it. But when you lose this one, it never stops because it’s something that everybody is really passionate about.”

It divides household’s even those in New York involving a former Clemson quarterback and his television wife.

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