Clemson-Carolina: The end of Big Thursday

Clemson-Carolina: The end of Big Thursday

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Clemson-Carolina: The end of Big Thursday

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The Clemson-South Carolina game grew to be an important social and political event. From the first time the two schools met in 1896 to the 1959 meeting, they played in Columbia during the week of the State Fair. The first 57 meetings were played on the third Thursday of every October.

The game became so big, it was known as “Big Thursday” in the state of South Carolina. It was a holiday in the state as students from both schools got out of class for what was known as the State Fair Holidays. There was no business by the state government and all offices were closed.

Clemson would hold its annual Gamecock burial the Tuesday night before the game, while South Carolina fans hosted their annual Tiger Burn at the steps of the State House in Columbia.

On game day, men and women dressed in their Sunday’s Best, no matter the temperature. It became an attraction, a party, if you will. Drinking and socializing became the norm on Big Thursday.

However, the novelty of the game started to wear off by the 1950s, and though the people of South Carolina loved Big Thursday, interest for college football was not quite the same after it was over each year.

“Big Thursday had been a tradition for 45 years before World War II and 16 years afterwards,” long time Clemson Sports Information Director and Hall of Famer Bob Bradley said in the 1983 book, The Clemson Tigers: From 1896 to Glory. “But that Thursday didn’t work after a while because once the game was over, there was no football interest left in the state. There were still college and high school games to play, but the interest just wasn’t the same.”

The game was also wearing on the Tigers. Clemson head coach Frank Howard and college officials were not having as much fun as South Carolina, though Clemson owned a 33-21-3 advantage in those first 57 meetings.

Clemson wanted the game to be moved to a home-and-home series.

“We always had to sit in the sun, and we got tired of going down there every year,” Howard said. “We weren’t getting half of the tickets, half of the program and concession sales, and it knocked one game out of our schedule because we could not play the Saturday before or the Saturday after the Thursday game.”

Clemson also made additions to Memorial Stadium in 1958 and 1960, so the seating capacity was comparable to Carolina Stadium in Columbia.

The last Big Thursday Game was played on October 22, 1959. Clemson, on its way to another ACC Championship and a No. 12 ranking in the final AP Poll, beat the Gamecocks, 27-0. At the end of the game, as The State Newspaper photographer asked Howard if he would be willing to look out over Carolina Stadium and blow a kiss, symbolizing Clemson and Howard finally kissing Big Thursday goodbye. The picture is one of the more iconic images in the history of the rivalry.

–File photo courtesy of Clemson Athletic Communications 

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