Clemson University

Why Frank Howard wanted to end Big Thursday

Former Clemson football coach Frank Howard is shown in this 1990 photo with his hand on "Howard's Rock."
Former Clemson football coach Frank Howard is shown in this 1990 photo with his hand on "Howard's Rock." ASSOCIATED PRESS

In a letter to a long-time Clemson fan, late Tigers coach Frank Howard wrote about why he wanted to kill Big Thursday, the annual Gamecocks-Tigers game that was played in Columbia during the state fair in October until 1959.

Howard said doing away with Big Thursday was one of the best things that happened to the rivalry.

“Playing the game at the end of the season at Clemson and in Columbia” elevated both teams, Howard said.

Byron Vaigneur of Jackson, who attended Clemson from 1950-54, shared Howard’s letter with The State.

“For years, Clemson had to go to Columbia to play the Gamecocks on Big Thursday,” Howard wrote. “This Big Thursday game did away with two dates (the Saturday before and after the game) that we could have played other football games. The Gamecocks also always put the Clemson people in the sun and we did not get anything like one-half of the football tickets.

“It might also interest you to know that the South Carolina season tickets were sold with the idea that people would get tickets to the Clemson game when it was played on Big Thursday every year in Columbia.”

Vaigneur attended his first Big Thursday game in 1947. USC won 21-19. “Clemson couldn't make its extra points,” he said.

He was one of four members of the 4-H club who had been invited to go to the game and spend the next night with then-Gov. Strom Thurmond.

“Big Thursday was a big deal,” Vaigneur said. “People wore their very best outfits. It was serious in the stands. Fights would break out. The governor would sit on the USC side in the first half and switch over to the Clemson side in the second half. It was the only game that day and got national attention.”

Vaigneur attended most of the Big Thursday games between 1947 and ‘59. He said the two greatest players he say in Big Thursday games were Clemson fullback Fred Cone and USC halfback Steve Wadiak.

Howard liked to joke about the first game played at Clemson in 1960, Vaigneur said.

“Those Gamecocks were coming up to Clemson and got to Greenville and saw a sign that said, ‘Clemson left,’ ” Vaigneur said, telling Howard’s story. “Well, I'll be doggone if they didn't all turn around and go back to Columbia.”

Maybe they should have that year. Clemson won 12-2 and leads the series 67-42-4, including a 17-10-1 advantage in games played at Clemson.

USC (6-5) vs. Clemson (10-1)

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. | Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson

TV: ESPN | Line: Clemson by 24