Thanksgiving Day has been a little bit easier the last five years for Tony Elliott.
Prior to Clemson’s five-game winning streak, Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator had to deal with all the bragging from the South Carolina graduates that were sitting on the other side of the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day.
Elliott’s sister and his aunt both graduated from South Carolina, so it made for some interesting conversations during the Gamecocks’ run of five straight victories from 2009-’13. Elliott was the running backs coach at Clemson during the last three years of that streak.
However, it is Elliott who has the bragging rights now as No. 3 Clemson looks for a sixth consecutive victory over the Gamecocks Saturday at noon when the two rivals collide for the 117th meeting at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.
The Tigers (11-0) snapped their five-game losing streak to Carolina in 2014 and they have not lost to them since. Actually, Clemson has not lost to many teams since then. The Tigers have won 68 of their last 72 games and currently own the nation’s longest winning streak with 26 consecutive victories.
Elliott is one of the few people in the Clemson-Carolina Rivalry to understand all aspects of it. As a player at Clemson from 1999-2003, he experienced it in a way few can understand as the Tigers went 4-1 in his five years inside the program, including Clemson’s historical 63-17 win in 2003.
After he graduated from Clemson, he saw the rivalry the way most do – from the fans’ perspective. Elliott was out of football for two years after he graduated from Clemson, and while working as an engineer at Michelin in Greenville, South Carolina, he worked with fans on both sides of the rivalry. It was at that time he really got to see what the rivalry was like through their eyes.
“As a player, and being from the state, you know how important it is. You dislike them on that day,” he said. “You are not going to say you love those guys down there, but you have friends and you respect them. You don’t necessarily have that distaste as a fan does throughout the entire year. But on game day you know the importance, and on game week you understand what your job is as a player.
“When I became a fan, it was like, ‘Wow!’ I did not realize how serious this really was because as a player you are just focused on playing. It is just another game with a little bit more atmosphere because it is South Carolina.”
Elliott eventually got into coaching and was hired as Dabo Swinney’s running backs coach in 2011. The 2014 win over the Gamecocks at Death Valley was his first taste of victory in the rivalry as a coach and gave him a different appreciation for the rivalry, again.
“As a coach, you understand the off-the-field implications to the program each year when you play this game. You understand how important it is to win this game for your fans,” he said. “You have to have your guys, your players, understand the importance, but not push them to the point where they are paralyzed because they are scared not to have success in this game.
“You have to have them understand this game is important to a lot of people. You are playing and representing a lot of people, more than just yourself, so you have to take a tremendous amount of pride.”
Elliott says players don’t realize fans plan their weddings, family reunions, their entire budget for the household around football season.
“For fans, they love every game, but they really, really mark this one on the calendar because it is an opportunity for bragging rights,” the Clemson coach said. “Then you have some families that are split so they really want to have the upper hand on some of their love ones.
“As a player, you knew it was a big one. There was always a lot of energy and you always had things to remind you about the game … the ball run, the beating of the drum. But not until I got out in the real world and was around some folks that really take pride in it. That is when I realized it.”
The main thing Elliott learned in his short time out of football is that Clemson fans are extremely passionate about football.
“You have a genuine appreciation. One for the school you are representing. The Clemson people are very passionate about this, and especially this game,” he said. “It has been neat to see all different aspects.”
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