Carolina-Clemson rivalry runs deep for alums

A Night With The Stars: Former players, coaches revel in big game week

Special to The StateNovember 24, 2013 

George Rogers doesn’t hesitate when asked if he ever thought South Carolina could beat Clemson five times in a row. The Heisman Trophy-winning running back only managed to beat the Tigers once.

“N-O,” Rogers said, spelling it out. “Can you believe it? Five in a row?”

The Gamecocks will have the opportunity to do that when they host Clemson on Saturday night. As former stars for both teams gathered at Seawells Restaurant for a charity function benefitting the Palmetto Health Richland Trauma Unit, they disagreed on the outcome of the rivalry’s next chapter.

But there was a consensus on one thing — recent ranked matchups between the two teams has the rivalry experiencing its biggest stage yet. With Clemson ranked No. 6 and USC ranked No. 10 in the BCS standings, this year’s top-10 contest will add to the lore. It’s the first time the two teams will meet with both ranked in the top-10.

“It’s certainly an exciting time to be a fan of either school,” former USC quarterback Erik Kimrey said. “I think with the quality of coaches that both schools have and the programs that they have, it’s just a positive for both universities that they’re both doing well and it’s certainly a plus for the state.”

The football coach at Hammond, Kimrey said the next week will be filled with trash talk between him and his players that are Clemson fans, especially tight end Cannon Smith, a Clemson commitment.

Once of his worst memories of playing the Tigers was in 2000, best known for “The Pushoff” when Rod Gardner allegedly shoved USC cornerback Andre Goodman to make a 50-yard desperation catch on the Tigers’ game-winning drive. Kimrey was able to move past that loss when the Gamecocks beat Clemson the next season.

“I grew up here in Columbia as a kid,” Kimrey said. “Just the intensity of the rivalry, the passion for both teams and having to live with Clemson fans for a whole year or being able to brag for a year is something that always stays with you.”

Former Clemson All-American Jeff Bryant went to the rivalry game last year at Clemson and said he left with his head down after the Tigers lost their fourth straight to USC. Bryant played on the 1981 national championship team.

With the potential BCS bowl bids for both teams, the stakes for the rivalry are higher than ever, even though it’s a non-conference game.

“It’s really taken on a lot of significance with what’s going on nationally,” Bryant said. “I feel like it’s time for my Tigers to get one.”

Former Clemson coach Danny Ford understands the pressure of the rivalry as much as anyone. He said he used to tell people it was fun when it wasn’t any fun at all because it was challenging to win. This year will be no different.

Ray Tanner had fun at his first rivalry football game as the USC athletics director. Also attending the charity event at Seawells, Tanner said he’ll be monitoring the scores on Saturday night as the Clemson game isn’t the only one USC fans care about. A Missouri loss to Texas A&M sends the Gamecocks to the SEC Championship regardless of the outcome against Clemson.

“The national rankings certainly add to it,” Tanner said. “It’s just like our baseball rivalries when we would end up playing in Omaha. I think we’re all very fortunate that we have this in our state.”

Sitting only a few feet away from Ford and at the same table as former Clemson offensive lineman Jeff Bostic, Rogers made subtle digs about the Gamecocks’ recent success in the rivalry with fans throughout the evening.

He’s making up for lost time.

“Right now, these guys can’t say very much,” Rogers said. “Back in the day, I couldn’t say very much, but right now, it feels good to be a winner.”

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