Monday Morning Quarterback
I often get asked by the younger generation why Clemson and Georgia dislike each other so much. It is a question that is not hard to answer.
They just do not.
Georgia is as natural of a rival to Clemson as South Carolina is and considering today’s landscape in college football they could be more.
Georgia and Clemson sit about 75 miles from one another, and they often go head-to-head for the same players in recruiting. The only reason the younger generation does not look at Clemson and Georgia as rivals is due to the fact, they do not play each other every year.
In fact, they have met just four times on the gridiron since 1995, with the last meeting coming in 2014.
But prior to that, the Tigers and Bulldogs faced each other every year, with the exception of 1966 and 1972, from 1962-’87. By the end of that 26-year stretch, Clemson vs. Georgia became one of the best rivalries in college football.
Why did it become such a big game?
Because they both became nationally relevant, and the games were epic.
From 1977-’87, Clemson won five times, Georgia won five times and there was one tie. Nine of the 11 games were decided by a touchdown or less and the average margin of victory was 4.7 points.
In 1980, though Clemson dominated the game statistically, the Bulldogs pulled out a 20-16 victory on their way to a national championship. In 1981, the Tigers returned the favor by forcing nine Georgia turnovers in a 13-3 win, en route to the 1981 national championship. That turned out to be Herschel Walker’s only regular season loss in a Georgia uniform.
In 1982, the two teams agreed to move the game to open the season on Labor Day to accommodate television, as ABC carried the game in primetime. Dubbed the Battle of Champions, it became the first college football game played on Labor Day Night.
In a hard fought, physical game, the Bulldogs outlasted Clemson, 13-7, in Athens. It was Clemson’s only loss in 1982 and Georgia went on to an undefeated regular season and played for another national championship.
Georgia rallied from a 16-3 deficit in 1983 to tie the Tigers, 16-16, at Death Valley, as each team missed an opportunity at a game-winning field goal in the final seconds. In 1984, Kevin Butler kicked a then NCAA record 60-yard field goal to beat Clemson in the final seconds.
Again, Georgia rallied at Death Valley, this time scoring 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to edge the Tigers, 20-13, in 1985.
Clemson returned the favor in 1986 and ’87, rallying late in both games to beat the Bulldogs. David Treadwell kicked a 49-yard field as time expired to beat Georgia in Athens, 31-28, in 1986 and then he did it again, this time from 21 yards with two seconds to play, in 1987 for a 21-20 win.
The yearly home-and-home series was stopped in 1988 due to the fact Georgia had to add another SEC game to its schedule.
Those that remember those extraordinary 11 years when both programs, like now, were consistently ranked in the top 15 and were nationally relevant, understand the bad blood between Clemson and Georgia.
They lived through some of the best games the series has ever offered. They can only hope this year’s game, which will open the 2021 season for both teams in 12 days, will live up to the hype and it is as good of a game as anyone of those 11 games from 1977-’87.
Then, and only then, can the younger generations get a sense of why Clemson vs. Georgia is a rivalry.