Large crowd gathers to witness Cocky the Gamecock's funeral, cremation

Contentious rivalry goes back to the series' earliest days

Col. Sandy Edge, playing the part of The Right Reverend for the Cocky Funeral, tosses feathers at a lectern while giving a speech near Clemson University Pershing Rifles members.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Col. Sandy Edge, playing the part of The Right Reverend for the Cocky Funeral, tosses feathers at a lectern while giving a speech near Clemson University Pershing Rifles members.

The rivalry between Clemson University and the University of South Carolina runs deep.

Hundreds turned out despite the chill Monday evening to hear the traditional condemnation of Cocky the Gamecock and witness his unceremonious cremation in a flaming barrel.

Col. Sandy Edge delivered the eulogy and the ROTC Fightin’ Tiger Battalion provided the military honors for Cocky’s funeral. The pep rally is an annual event held on campus attended by students and the public.

John Hammond and his family traveled from Newberry to witness the event. “I have been meaning to come to this for a long time,” he said.

The two teams played for the first time in 1886. The University of South Carolina won that contest 12—6, but Clemson won the next four games the teams played.

From 1900 until 1903 John Heisman, for whom the trophy is named, coached the Clemson Tigers before moving on to coach Georgia Tech. During Heisman’s tenure Carolina, tired of being beaten, deployed a new defensive scheme that stopped the Clemson offense. Heisman admitted he had been outcoached and lauded the Gamecocks for their victory, according to news accounts of the day.

After that game South Carolina students displayed a portrait of a gamecock crowing over a wounded tiger in downtown Columbia. The 500 or so Clemson cadets in attendance took offense and demanded the portrait be removed. A brief fight ensued, but was soon quieted.

Clemson holds Cocky Funeral before big game

video by Ken Ruinard

The next day Gamecock fans once again displayed the portrait. Clemson cadets marched on the USC campus with drawn swords and fixed bayonets. Students at USC responded with shotguns, brass knuckles and pistols. The atmosphere was tense and if not for the intervention of a USC coach things could have turned deadly, according to Clemson historian Jerome Reel.

Both sides agreed to burn the offensive portrait. After the incident, both Clemson and USC claimed they had prevailed. In the ensuing weeks officials from both schools exchanged angry words about the confrontation. Newspapers quoted the officials in running news stories and as a result USC trustees voted to suspend football games with Clemson. This edict remained in effect until 1909, when the teams resumed their rivalry.

Nowadays the rivalry is less violent, but just as intense. This week Clemson burns a rubber chicken and USC burns a tiger in effigy in advance of the big game between the two nationally ranked teams.

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