Hate Thy Neighbor? Rivalry Week Is Here

by - Senior Writer -
Clemson and South Carolina boast one of the nation's most intense rivalries
Clemson and South Carolina boast one of the nation's most intense rivalries

It’s here. It’s been out there, in the distance, building day by day and week by week and game by game and now Rivalry Week is finally upon us. It's House Divided Week. It's Hate Thy Neighbor Week.

For those of us who pay attention to the rivalry in the Palmetto State, that means Clemson and South Carolina. Starting early Saturday morning, all roads in the state will lead to Clemson and Death Valley as long lines of cars, pickup trucks, motor homes and SUVs snake their way onto 123 and 93 and finally Perimeter Road and the other lanes and avenues that surround the best stadium and game day atmosphere in the country.

Fans will throw out their chairs and grills and tables, and most of the folks in garnet and black will get a reception that will be both warm and chilly. Pleasantries will be exchanged, people will talk game strategy and X’s and O’s and give their take on the game, and most of it will be civil until some naïve South Carolina fan tries to five-bomb a tailgate photo and…well…you know the rest. That’s how innocent footballs get stabbed at the tailgate.

The leaves have turned and many are falling, cooler temperatures have arrived in the area and by the time the final few days of preparation pop up Thanksgiving will be in the rear view mirror. Once the turkey day and the time spent with family comes to a close, all eyes and hearts in the state will turn to the game and the possible ramifications of a win or a loss by either side.

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier got a small head start on the festivities after the Gamecocks miraculously beat Florida a little over a week ago, mentioned Clemson’s loss to Georgia Tech and Deshaun WatsonDeshaun Watson
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’s injury in just a few minutes of rambling air time.

Clemson head coach Dabo SwinneyDabo Swinney
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has been extraordinarily quiet, which isn’t hard when you’re on the wrong end of a five-game losing streak to your rival. Towards the end of his Sunday night teleconference with the media, I gave Swinney the opportunity to say something about his rival or Spurrier’s fascination with all things Clemson, and he declined, saying, “I don’t have time for all that. I am just focused on this game and getting this team ready to play.”

In other words, don’t expect a lot of smack talk out of Clemson this week. And that’s the way it should be. Until the streak is broken and the tides have turned back into Clemson’s favor, all smack talk from the orange side of the fence needs to stop. Forget quoting Clemson’s historical advantage in terms of wins and concentrate on the here and now.

Following Clemson’s 28-0 win over Georgia St. Saturday, we stood in the hallway outside of the Clemson locker and spoke with several of the Tigers’ senior defenders. To a man, they all said the right things and declined to add any fuel to the fire. That’s the way it should be.

For both teams, the smack talk matters little. One of Clemson’s former defensive tackles told me that smack talk during the week, fiery pre-game speeches and tons of emotion were great, but “it all goes out the window the first time you get hit in the mouth, then it’s all about football. It’s all about who the better man is, and who the better team is. Sometime around 3:15 or so Saturday, all of those tailgaters and the fans watching from around the state and around the country will know who the better team is. The scoreboard will tell you.

Swinney has felt like Clemson has had the better team more than a few times during the streak, but mentioned Sunday that the Tigers have had 15 turnovers to only three for the Gamecocks in that span. You can say whatever you want about who has the better players, but on those particular days South Carolina was the better team. Will that be the case again Saturday? Only time will tell, but Swinney and the coaches have been pointing to this game for the past year. He has mentioned several times how sick he was on the bus ride home after last season. Sick? Yeah, tell those long-suffering fans who have had to live out in the real world with the streak.

Countdown clock? Doesn’t matter. It’s all about football and getting hit in the mouth and responding. It’s all about hitting someone in the mouth and seeing how they respond. It’s rivalry week, and it doesn’t get any better than this. Enjoy the show, it only comes around once a year. Hate thy neighbor? Yep, that comes pretty close to explaining it.

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