Tigers vs. Gamecocks: A Rivalry Week history

The Palmetto Bowl returns to Memorial Stadium this weekend.


The Tigers hold a 72-42-4 lead in the series. | Photo credit: WLTX19

On Saturday the annual Clemson-Carolina game, AKA the Palmetto Bowl, returns to Memorial Stadium — marking the 113th matchup between the two schools. Until 2020, when the rivalry game was canceled due to COVID-19, the matchup was the second longest continuous rivalry in all of college football.

What makes it such a competitive affair with the Tigers holding a funeral for USC’s mascot Cocky and Carolina hosting an annual Tiger burn? Let’s look back at some of the rivalry shenanigans.

1896 — The first meeting between the Tigers and the Gamecocks was on Thursday, Nov. 12 in Columbia, played on what was known as “Big Thursday” during the State Fair. Carolina won the game 12-6 and a new tradition was born.


USC’s football team of 1896. | Garnet And Black, 1963; USC/South Caroliniana Library

1902 — Clemson’s only loss of the season came at the hands of the Gamecocks, who won 12-6. The game involved three days of fist fights between the two fan bases after South Carolina fans carried a poster showing a tiger with a gamecock standing on top of it.

The aftermath resulted in the stoppage of the rivalry until 1909.

1946 — A near riot ensued when fans from both sides were denied entrance to the game due to the distribution of counterfeit tickets. At halftime a Clemson fan strangled a live chicken at midfield and both fanbases stormed the field. It took U.S. Secretary of State — then James F. Byrnes — and then-Governor-elect, Strom Thurmond, to subdue the crowd. The Gamecocks eventually won the matchup 26-14.

1959 — This was the final year the game was played on “Big Thursday” moving to a home-and-home series played on Saturday.

1961 — “The Prank” might be the most infamous moment in the history of the rivalry. Minutes before the Clemson football team was set to start pregame warmups, members of the Sigma Nu fraternity at USC dressed in makeshift Clemson uniforms, took to the field kicking the ball backwards + intentionally dropping passes. Clemson’s band played their fight song “Tiger Rag” before they realized they’d been duped. Another near-riot ensued, before Carolina eventually won the game 21-14.


The Tigers had their first 11-0 season in 1981. | Photo via Clemson University

1981 — In 1981, Clemson defeated Carolina 29–13 en route to the National Championship.

1989 — After suffering two disappointing upsets to Duke and Georgia Tech, the 8–2 Tigers traveled to Columbia + Danny Ford allowed the Clemson players to wear orange pants on the road for the first time. The Tigers rolled the Gamecocks on the ground for 355 yards en route to a 45–0 victory.

2003 — Clemson defeated Carolina 63–17 to set the record for the most points scored by either team in the series.

2004 — An on-field brawl between the two teams happened just ahead of the retirement of South Carolina coach Lou Holtz. The following season both teams met at midfield in a sign of sportsmanship.

Since the 2004 melee, the rivalry has let on-field performances settle debates with the Gamecocks winning five straight games in that time, and Clemson winning the last seven.

The Tigers have their 40-game home winning streak (the longest active home streak in college football) on the line + the Gamecocks are riding high off its win against No. 5 Tennessee.

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