Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rivalry Weekend

This weekend I had the rare opportunity to observe up close and personal two classic college rivalry games; Georgia vs. Georgia Tech and South Carolina vs. Clemson. I even got to experience game day traffic for both games on the same trip. There was some back up on the cross town connector in Atlanta a couple of blocks from Bobby Dodd Stadium about an hour before the Georgia beat Tech but the traffic was much better on I-77 in Columbia a couple of hours before Carolina routed Clemson in Williams-Brice Stadium a mile away from the interstate in Columbia. Kudos to both Universities for managing the biggest annual gatherings of sports maniacs in their respective states. It all came off without a hitch. Congratulations to Georgia and South Carolina for winning their big rivalry games. Especially sweet was the victory for my USC Gamecocks, this year it was three in a row against those tigers.

Growing up, the big rivalry game that I remembered the most was the game between Florida and Georgia that is still played at a neutral site, the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. In my eyes, that game was more important to the two schools than either the Georgia-Georgia Tech game or the Florida-Florida State game. Most of my family were Gator supporters and we got caught up with all the hoopla and trash talking with the local Bulldog fans. It was all great fun. I was planning on becoming a Florida Gator myself when I was in high school but I received a scholarship to South Carolina and converted to being a Gamecock instead.

On Left, 2011 Tiger Burn, courtesy the Daily Gamecock. I must admit that I didn’t know too much about the Carolina Clemson rivalry when I arrived on the USC campus in Columbia, but I learned quickly. As a member of the marching band, I was always on hand for the annual tiger burn and pep rally on Davis field and cheered with the rest of the student body as the paper mache replica of the Clemson mascot went up in flames. Of course, I was in the stands and on the field with the band on game day. That first year, 1963, was not a good one for my introduction to the rivalry, Clemson won 24 to 20 in Columbia, but the next two years were better with back to back Gamecock victories 7 to 3 in 1964 and that ever so sweet 17 to 16 victory in1965.

I had a chance to see the Clemson pep rally back in 1978 when I was the producer/engineer for the Gamecock network. Bill Wagy the sports director and I drove up to Clemson the night before the game to get some interviews and we were able to get our battery powered recorder onto the grounds and capture some of the Clemson trash talk the night before the game at their "Cocky’s Funeral" pep rally. That was an interesting year, because later that year, Clemson was the ACC representative at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville and Bill and I broadcast the "Gatorama" party before the game from the Jacksonville Coliseum. That was a fun event for me, because I got a chance to visit with several of my high school classmates who were surprised to see me on stage with the broadcast team.

That night concluded with end zone tickets for the game itself. Clemson was playing Ohio State coached by the legendary Woody Hayes. Yes, that was the game that Woody’s career ended ignominiously when he was fired after striking Clemson nose guard Charlie Bauman, who intercepted an Ohio State pass and returned it toward the OSU sideline where he was run out of bounds right in front of the coach. Most of us in the stands were not even aware of the punch and watched Clemson beat Ohio State 17 to 15 that night. It wasn’t until the next morning that we saw the video of the punch on the news and learned of the firing of Woody Hayes in my parent’s living room. They saw the punch because they were watching the game at home. Interestingly enough the ABC broadcast announcers, Keith Jackson and Ara Parseghian didn’t see the punch either. The incident was not in their field of view, and at that time, replay footage was relayed through the studio in New York City.

So now, the college football season enters the final stage for 2011. There are a few late season games including the league championships and bowl games. How did my Gamecocks do this year? We went 10 and 2 and swept the SEC East but will not be in the SEC Championship Game because we lost two games to SEC West teams. So Georgia, will be the SEC East champs and will play in the league championship game despite the fact that we beat them. Oh MY!

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