Clemson-South Carolina rivalry won't be decided by 'war of words'

Coaches' verbal sparring adds spice for fans, but players are focused game preparation

Members of ROTC's Tiger Platoon stand guard by as the South Carolina Gamecock mascot 'Cocky' lays in his casket before his funeral at a Clemson pep rally on Campus Monday night.

Photo by Mark Crammer

Members of ROTC's Tiger Platoon stand guard by as the South Carolina Gamecock mascot 'Cocky' lays in his casket before his funeral at a Clemson pep rally on Campus Monday night.

American poet Emily Dickinson wrote: “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word.”

Maybe she knew something of the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry.

It’s amazing the cause and effect of what comes out of a person’s mouth or written down for all the world to read.

Words have started wars, impassioned people in ways nothing else can, and brought out both the best and worst in folks.

It’s amazing how two coaches from the two biggest rival schools in the state of South Carolina have done all that and more in the last year with their verbal volleys.

This column isn’t designed to rehash the entire feud, but a little history is needed. Things got really heated after USC beat Clemson for the third consecutive time last November. A quote attributed to Gamecock coach Steve Spurrier that was never made by Spurrier led to Dabo Swinney’s now infamous “Real Carolina” rant.

Both coaches have since thrown a jab or two, leading to the fan bases to overreact and get all worked up over “words.”

Now, what I’m about to write is going to be a major letdown to some, maybe even ruin the entire rivalry for a few: Dabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier don’t dislike each other. In fact, their “War of Words” was mostly for show — a way to get the fans fired up.

“First of all, I like Dabo. I think he’s a wonderful guy and an excellent coach,” Spurrier said Sunday. “Every now and then, just to keep the rivalry going, I think he and I probably need to say a little something to stir up emotions here and there.

“It’ll probably be all about football this week.”

Swinney returned similar kind words about Spurrier and was quite complimentary of the USC program.

“Whenever I’m around him, our relationship has always been very cordial,” Swinney said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a football coach, the success he’s had.”

I get that these guys like to fuel the rivalry, but I don’t understand the hate that ensues from the fans.

Look, both are hardworking coaches who have successfully brought both programs into national prominence in recent years.

Do these grown men take it a little too far at times? Maybe.

And that might be why people get so worked up over these words.

I’ve lived my entire life in this state and understand this rivalry as much as anyone, but the truth is, words won’t matter when the ball is kicked off Saturday night.

This past offseason, USC defensive back D.J. Swearinger and Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins took their spat with words to the popular social media site Twitter, where most showdowns occur these days.

Will it affect what happens in Death Valley?

“That’s in the past,” Swearinger said. “I always say all the talking, it’ll come to an end come Saturday. Both of us will be ready for that game.”

No matter what the coaches say or how enraged the fan bases get, this rivalry exists because of the players — and what they do on the field, not off it.

In most cases, this can be a healthy rivalry, and there’s nothing wrong with the fans sharing jokes and jabs. What a coach said about a program’s history or home venue has nothing to do with what will happen Saturday.

“Regardless of what their coach says, our coach says, it’s going to be a heated game,” USC running back Kenny Miles said. “I feel like that’s good for the fans and the fans love that, but when it comes down to it, it’s what happens between the white lines.”

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TrevorT writes:

Maybe I'm just one of those fans stirring the pot, but I couldn't help but notice... Spurrier says he likes Dabo. Dabo says they are cordial and he has respect for Spurrier, but not that he likes him. I guess Dabo is just like 99% of other people who have ever seen a Spurrier press conference and instantly realized what a d-bag he is.

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