COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina receiver Kris Clark had finished running his route late in the Clemson game when he spun to see what quickly became the defining moment of the 2004 season for both teams.
Clark’s quarterback, Syvelle Newton, was on the ground. Several Tigers defenders were nearby. Newton watched his incomplete pass, then took a straight arm to his face guard from a Clemson defender. South Carolina’s offensive lineman moved in as one of the ugliest episodes between the longtime rivals unfolded.
“I saw both benches clear and I thought, ’Ah, man, here it goes,”’ Clark remembered the brawl a year later.
The Tigers and the 19th-ranked Gamecocks meet on Saturday with the memory of the fight still fresh in the minds of many.
The fight started after Newton’s fourth-down incompletion with 5:48 left in Clemson’s 29-7 victory. Each sideline rushed to the spot, with South Carolina’s retiring coach Lou Holtz and Clemson counterpart Tommy Bowden charging toward the midfield flashpoint. The coaches, however, couldn’t control the melee and within seconds, the mob of players had stretched across nearly 60 yards. Several times when order looked to be restored, side battles broke out among players: South Carolina’s Daccus Turman cold-cocking Clemson’s Duane Coleman from behind; Tigers’ Yusef Kelley kicked a Gamecock player on the ground.
Holtz called it the most embarrassed he felt during his Hall-of-Fame career.
Coming the day after the NBA’s fight between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers, the football fight became even bigger news nationally.
Steve Spurrier was only days away from introduction as Holtz’s successor when he watched the brawl unfold. “I just thought what everybody else did, what an ugly, embarrassing scene it was for both schools and our state,” he said.
Passion has long fueled this rivalry that began in 1896 and has continued uninterrupted since 1909. The series was called off for six seasons after the 1902 game — a 12-6 South Carolina victory — because a day following the defeat, Clemson cadets marched near South Carolina’s campus with “fixed bayonets and swords drawn,” according to Tom Price’s book, “A Century of Gamecocks Memorable Football Moments.”
Price wrote that a small band of South Carolina students carrying pistols and clubs knelt by a brick wall ready to defend their campus.
In comparison, last year’s skirmish doesn’t look so bad.
Clark sensed something was simmering throughout the game. Before the game, South Carolina players gathered near the bottom of Death Valley’s hill and confronted the Tigers after their traditional entrance.
“We had watched the game with Pacers and the Pistons,” Clark said. “It wasn’t a good situation for us. We weren’t winning and something like that ticked it off.”
Throughout the year, players on each side endured the harsh looks of admonishment across the Palmetto State.
Clemson defensive end Charles Bennett remembered working a Special Olympics event this offseason when one of the competitors out of the blue told him, “You shouldn’t do that.” Bennett realized the young man was talking about the fight.
“It hurt me. I realized he was right,” Bennett said. “We shouldn’t be out there fighting. That went too far. That’s what really touched me.”
At offseason speaking engagements, Bowden had people congratulate him on the school’s stiff actions. “I think a lot of athletic directors, administrators and teams will drink from the well we dug,” Bowden said.
South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman and Clemson’s Terry Don Phillips have coordinated a pregame handshake before this year’s game at Williams-Brice Stadium to put what happened last year to rest.
“We want to put sportsmanship back in the equation,” Hyman said.
The Fighting Irish have a promising future based on coaching, current talent, recruiting, title path, and program power.
CFT: Johnny Manziel nearly transferred out of Texas A&M before the 2012 season after being suspended, according to reports, but he stayed after his successful appeal.
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