Former South Carolina and Clemson football players couldn't have picked a better day to celebrate the final Big Thursday game between the two schools 50 years ago.
Thursday, of course.
At an event at the Palmetto Collegiate Institute in Lexington, USC and Clemson fans gathered along with the former players to remember when the teams met each year in Columbia on the third Thursday of October during State Fair Week.
The outdoor dinner event, with the proceeds benefiting the town of Lexington's Gibson Pond Park, brought together a number of the rival players who competed against each other in the latter stages of the Big Thursday series, which featured 57 games over 61 years, with Clemson holding a 33-21-3 advantage. The games were fondly remembered by both sides.
Never miss a local story.
"Both schools let out for the holiday. It was a long weekend for the students," said Harvey White, who quarterbacked Clemson to a 27-0 victory in the final Big Thursday game in 1959. "We enjoyed coming to Columbia. There was so much fanfare."
Winning the last one was special to White's center and fellow co-captain, Paul Snyder.
"Coach (Frank) Howard said that was the way we wanted it to go out," Snyder said. "The '59 game was also a revenge game for us."
That's because the Gamecocks won the 1958 game, inspired by the fiery pregame speech of star running back Alex Hawkins. A senior that season, Hawkins had tired of losing to the Tigers in 1956 and 1957.
"I had these words to say as I recall, 'I'm tired of losing to these (bleeps). It's unacceptable to leave here without beating them once,'" said Hawkins, a West Virginia native who grew to understand the competitiveness of the rivalry.
Bob Fulton, the longtime voice of the Gamecocks, still chuckles about Hawkins sending coach Warren Giese out of the locker room so he could deliver those words.
But 1959 came to be the last Big Thursday at the urging of Howard, who wanted to switch to a home-and-home series as a matter of equity.
"I didn't blame Howard because it was unfair," said Fulton, who called eight Big Thursday games from 1952-59.
Jimmy Howard, son of the legendary coach, admitted his father was ready to make the change. He carried the famous 1959 picture of his father at the top of the stands, where he had climbed at the end of the final game to blow a goodbye kiss to the Thursday event.
"He said, 'Thank God it's gone,'" Jimmy Howard said. "He didn't like it much, to be honest with you."
Fulton said the series did lose some of its uniqueness at that point. He remembered Atlanta sports writer Furman Bisher saying at the time, "'What's the matter with you people? You let the best thing in college football go.'"
Clemson used the final Big Thursday win as impetus to win the ACC championship and the Bluebonnet Bowl in 1959.
"We had some good players on that team," White said.
Ed Pitts, the USC senior co-captain that year, prefers a different memory.
"We remember more about the next-to-last Big Thursday game," said a smiling Pitts, who became the Gamecock Club director from 1962 to 1984. "It was just always a good, hard-fought ballgame. It was very clean."
The respect still showed as the former combatants mingled Thursday evening. Maybe this event wasn't quite as big as the one in 1959, but it was just as much fun. The formal program featured players reminiscing about the final Big Thursday game as well as a live auction of memorabilia, including a Bluebonnet Bowl game ball signed by Frank Howard and his players donated by Snyder.
The two sides will meet again the Friday night before this year's USC-Clemson game in November with a dinner at Seawell's.
"We've really looked forward to this," Pitts said. "And we're looking forward to the reunion that night."