The on-field results certainly helped, but Clemson and South Carolina’s rivalry has soared to new heights over the last few years, in part because of the exchange of verbal jabs between Dabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier.
Swinney was 38 when he took over the Clemson job on a full-time basis in December of 2008. Spurrier had already been around the block a time or two.
When the pot-shots started flying back and forth between Clemson and Columbia, Swinney was still cutting his teeth. Spurrier was in his element.
“He’s just kind of been that way his whole career and you never know what he’s going to say,” Swinney said on Tuesday morning, before Spurrier officially announced his retirement.
“He’d say something and I’d be like, ‘Did he really say that?’ Then, I’d make a comment back, but he’d always be the first one — he would call me from time to time — he’d reach out. He reached out a couple of times to offer me a little bit of encouragement.”
That’s right. The two head football coaches at each of the state’s big schools were friendly with one another — friendly enough for Swinney to call Spurrier on Tuesday morning, and friendly enough for Spurrier to return it.
Swinney wouldn’t go into detail about their conversation, but he did share his favorite Spurrier-ism.
“You name it, all the different schools,” Swinney said. “Probably, the funniest one to me…I said we get along, we’re fine, we’re just different. He’s from Mars and I’m from Pluto. Then I said we’re just different. It was just a really easy comment, wasn’t anything.”
A day after Swinney’s 2014 ACC media day quote, Spurrier offered a response: “Dabo probably thinks there’s only, what, nine planets out there. I think I read where Pluto may not be considered one now.”
Swinney fondly remembered the exchange.
“I’m like, dad-gum, it was a planet when I was at Alabama. I missed that news flash somewhere along the way,” he said. “Then, low-and-behold, we finally beat them suckers last year and guess what happened. Pluto has made a comeback. Pluto is now a planet once again.”
The rivalry between Swinney and Spurrier began years before the status of Pluto was even up for debate. In 1990, when Spurrier took the head job at Florida, Swinney was a wide receiver at Alabama.
Swinney proudly remembers the punt he blocked against Florida in the first SEC Championship game in 1992.
Their rivalry entered into a new realm when Swinney was added as full-time assistant coach at Alabama in 1996. That phase lasted until 2000, when the Tide coaching staff was fired.
It resumed in 2005 when Spurrier took over at South Carolina, two years after Swinney was named
wide receivers coach at Clemson.
“I’ve never known him as a cheater. All the way back to Florida, I always felt like coach Spurrier tried to do things the right way,” Swinney said.
That wasn’t the only good thing Swinney had to say about his long-time nemesis.
“He’s great for college football. I have a ton of respect for him and what he’s done for the game of college football,” Swinney said.