Lexington resident Tommy Harman has not missed a Clemson-Carolina football game in 63 consecutive years.
Monday night, the Clemson fan will be in the stands for another game he just couldn’t miss.
“We are just beyond thrilled to be able to be watch Clemson play in the national championship game,” Harman said. “Words just can’t describe this feeling. I guess if I had to pick a word I would say ‘proud.’ There’s just so much pride.”
Harman has lived in Lexington since he was 2 years old, and – like many Clemson fans might say – it’s not easy being a Tiger in the middle of Gamecock country. That’s especially so, considering Tiger fans aren’t far removed from the five-game losing streak they had going against the Gamecocks until this fall.
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“If I’m around Clemson people I can talk Clemson all day long, but I try to be respectful to the other side because they want to win their games and have a good team,” said Harman, who developed and established the annual Clemson/Carolina Big Thursday Tailgate event in Lexington seven years ago. “You still have people coming up to you when you wear Clemson stuff, and they’ll hold up five fingers for five in a row or they’ll walk up to me and say, ‘Go Cocks.’”
Last week, Harman was able to respond by showing them his tickets to the College Football National Championship.
The Tigers (14-0) play Alabama (13-1) at 8:30 p.m. in University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. If Clemson wins, it will capture its first national title since the 1981 season.
“All I have to say is it’s a great time to be a Clemson Tiger and live in Columbia,” said Hannah Pittman, president of the Columbia Clemson Club. “We had a few rough years there while we lost to South Carolina, and they had a great team then. It’s been easier living here the last few years, but going to the national championship ... Words can’t describe how exciting that is.”
While Columbia Clemson Club members have never been hesitant to show their school spirit, the club has seen an uptick in membership and attendance at events this football season, Pittman said.
“We’ve had really good crowds at viewing parties this year,” said Pittman, who received an undergraduate degree from Clemson in 2003 and a masters in 2013. “I think we all felt like we knew we were going to have a good team but we never thought we’d be where we are. It’s been 34 years since Clemson has been in this position and that’s a long time. But we do have members who are seeing this happen twice in their lifetime – older people who thought they might never see it again. We all just hope this is the beginning of some sort of dynasty.”
Though she is surrounded by Gamecock fans and could, perhaps, justify directing some good-natured ribbing in their direction, Pittman doesn’t rub the Clemson season in anyone’s face.
“I usually don’t say much because I know that at any given time things could turn around and they could say those things to me,” said Pittman, adding that she has even been pleasantly surprised at support shown by some University of South Carolina fans.
“That’s been cool, too – to see people here who would not normally be supportive being very supportive,” Pittman said. “I’ve actually had several Carolina fans who I never thought would say this, telling me, ‘We hope y’all go all the way; we’re pulling for you.’”
But make no doubt about it: most Gamecock fans will be rooting for someone else tonight, said Columbia attorney and Columbia Clemson Club member Benson Driggers.
“There have been a few that are happy for us but they’ can’t say they’re pulling for Clemson. Make no bones about it – they’re pulling for Alabama Monday night,” Driggers said.
“And look, full disclosure, if the shoe were on the other foot, I would absolutely be pulling for the team playing against South Carolina, so there’s no hard feelings toward them in that regard.”
After graduating from Clemson in 2003, Driggers earned his law degree from USC in 2006. But the purple and orange that began coursing his veins in his childhood did not gain a garnet tinge at all. In fact, 35-year-old Driggers has not missed a Clemson game, home or away, since 1990.
“For me growing up and going to Clemson games was like other children going to Disney World,” Driggers said.
But living in Columbia during that five-year streak from 2009-13, when Clemson lost each year to the Gamecocks, was “horrible,” Driggers said.
“I really can’t express how bad it was – how tough it was living here,” Driggers said. “I always say that you are in enemy territory but you have a lot of Clemson people around, and we circled the wagons so to speak and endured it together.”
While Driggers never experienced mocking from Gamecock fans, just living on their home turf was no cake walk.
“I’ve talked to my other friends that live in other places who could not believe during that five-year stretch of South Carolina beating Clemson that we were living in Columbia and there was no sugar-coating it,” said Driggers, who, every Friday during football season can hear the “2001” Gamecock fight song playing on campus from his downtown Columbia law firm. “You couldn’t saying anything. You’d just have take your medicine.”
Needless to say, this year’s football season has been easier to swallow.
“Beating South Carolina is always a nice cherry on top of a football season even if you lose some other games,” Driggers said. “But being undefeated for the season is really some other worldly experience.”
Driggers and his wife will also be in the stands at tonight’s game in Arizona.
“It’s almost like it isn’t real. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up from a dream,” Driggers said. “And it’s just made all the better with South Carolina having had a tough season. I’ve been able to walk around with my chest poked out a little bit.”
Where to watch the game
Columbia Clemson Club is hosting a national championship viewing party Monday open to any Tigers fan.
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Where: Hickory Tavern, 907 Senate St., in the Vista
Janet Jones Kendall
More places to watch the game
Burger Tavern 77: 2631 Devine St., (803) 667-9608
Cantina 76: 2901 Devine St., (803) 708-6004
Cock N’ Bull Pub: 326 S. Edisto Ave., (803) 251-4474
Delaney’s Music Pub and Eatery: 741 Saluda Ave., (803) 779-2345
Dano’s Pizza: 3008 Rosewood Drive, (803) 254-3266
Henry’s Restaurant and Bar: 2865 Devine St., (803) 708-4705
Pawley’s Front Porch: 827 Harden St., (803) 771-8001
Publick House: 2307 Devine St., (803) 256-2207
Publico: 2013 Greene St., (803) 661-9043
Rockaway Athletic Club: 2719 Rosewood Drive, (803) 256-1075
Village Idiot: 2009 Devine St., (803) 252-8646
THE VISTA AND NEARBY
Cantina 76: 1301 Main St. (803) 764-1769
Carolina Ale House: 708 Lady St., (803) 227-7151
Flying Saucer: 931 Senate St., (803) 256-2055
Hickory Tavern: 907 Senate St., (803) 765-9280
Jillian’s: 800 Gervais St., (803) 779-7789
Liberty Tap Room: 828 Gervais St., (803) 461-4677
Mellow Mushroom; 1009 Gervais St., (803) 933-9201
Thirsty Fellow: 621 Gadsden St., (803) 799-1311
Tin Roof: 1022 Senate St., (803) 771-1558
Twin Peaks: 600 Gervais St., (803) 602-3667
Wild Wing Café: 729 Lady St., (803) 252-9464
World of Beer: 902 Gervais St., (803) 509-6020
Calloway’s Sports Bar & Grill: 2410 Augusta Road, (803) 926-1199
McCary’s Sports Bar & Grille: 851 Bush River Road, (803) 551-5680
Peebles Wing Shack Cayce-West Columbia: 1919 Airport Blvd., (803) 569-6631
The Sporting News Grill: 110 McSwain Drive, (803) 391-4002
Bakers Sports Pub & Grill: 7167 Two Notch Road, (803) 419-2381
Polliwogs: 10005 Two Notch Road, (803) 736-5775
Beef ‘O’ Brady’s: 2742 N. Lake Drive #104, (803) 781-5656
The British Bulldog Pub: 1220 Bower Parkway, (803) 227-8918
Buffalo Wild Wings: 5570 Sunset Blvd., Suite A, (803) 957-2999
Carolina Ale House: 277 Columbiana Drive, (803) 407-6996
Charlie’s Sports Break & Games: 2046 S Lake Drive # C, (803) 808-6844
Gametime Sports Cantina: 5122 Bush River Road, (803) 213-1000
Hooters: 5195 Fernandina Road, (803) 407-9464
Main Street Steakhouse and Bar: 131 E. Main St., (803) 808-5886
Old Mill Brewpub: 711 E. Main St., (803) 785-2337
Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery: 380 Columbiana Drive, (803) 732-5458
Ventures Sports Bar & Grill: 5531 Edmund Highway, (803) 755-8168
Wings N Ale: 154 Ellis Ave., (803) 359-4475
Jane Moon Dail, Dwaun Sellers