In bitter college football rivalries like this week’s South Carolina-Clemson game, wearing the right colors — garnet and black or orange and white — can be more important that your blood relatives.
“Are you a Clemson fan?” Margaret Vaigneur, a long-time Clemson fan in Jackson, greets callers. “If you are, you can be kin to us.”
If not, well, you might be a Gamecocks fan, and she’s not claiming you.
“I don’t dislike South Carolina fans. I like them fine,” Mrs. Vaigneur says. “But when we have a game, it’s dog eat dog. We’ll pull for Carolina when they’re playing somebody else.”
Clemson will be trying to win back-to-back ACC Championships next week, and USC will be awaiting a bowl bid.
But for this week, it’s all about bragging rights in the state.
First-year USC coach Will Muschamp was asked what fans have told him about the rivalry. “I can’t say any of that publicly,” he said. “I’m being serious.”
The rivalry means plenty to Billy Wallace Jr., the Cheraw mayor pro tem, who has been a Clemson fan all of his life — “all my family has been.”
Wallace says his daddy first told him the story of his Uncle Tom Wallace at a Big Thursday USC-Clemson game in 1946. It seems Uncle Tom hid a chicken under his trench coat, ran onto the field, wrang the chicken’s neck and threw it into the stands.
“It about started a riot,” Wallace said. “I’ve heard that story over and over. Clemson fans love to tell it.”
Wallace said he is glad order has been restored in the rivalry with Clemson winning the past two games after South Carolina and Steve Spurrier had won five in a row.
“The five years Carolina won, I was still wearing my orange, but all those USC fans were giving me a hard time. They were always holding up five fingers. I told them, ‘Boys, our time will come,’ and it has.”
Joe Bedenbaugh and his older brother went to USC, but his son and grandson went to Clemson.
“I’m caught in a vise between the two,” Bedenbaugh said. “But I don’t go hog wild either way. All I’m asking for this year is mercy.”
Clemson has been listed as a 24-point favorite for most of the week.
Roy Davis, who was offered a football scholarship by Frank Howard, wound up playing basketball at USC and is a big Gamecocks fan.
“I went up there to Clemson and saw those Army barracks and thought it was the ugliest campus I had ever seen,” Davis said. “But I was up there two years ago, and now it’s beautiful.”
Davis said he doesn’t hold a grudge against Clemson fans. “I have a lot of friends who are Clemson fans,” he said. “I cheer for Clemson when they are not playing us.”
Davis has proposed changing the name of the game from the Palmetto Bowl to the Catbird Bowl, or even the Palmetto Catbird Bowl. He said he wrote to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and former USC coach Steve Spurrier about his idea and received letters from both saying they loved it.
He said all his friends like his suggestion. “If the state voted, Catbird Bowl would win,” Davis said. “It’s catchy.”
Davis said the thing he likes best about the rivalry is that both USC and Clemson are great schools. “But Carolina is No. 1 and Clemson is No. 2. It’s a good thing for our state. People from up north come down here, and they don’t go back.”
Byron Vaigneur, Margaret’s husband, is part of a family that has a long history of being Clemson fans. His granddaddy played for Clemson in 1898, a Tigers team that beat USC 24-0.
“When they are in uniform, we hate them,” Mr. Vaigneur said of Carolina fans. “We hate them during the time of competition. When the game is over, we shake hands and move on to bigger things.”
▪ Who: South Carolina (6-5) vs. Clemson (10-1)
▪ When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
▪ Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson
▪ TV: ESPN
▪ Radio: 107.5 FM and 93.1 FM
▪ Weather: Mostly clear. Temperatures in upper 40s at kickoff and low 40s by end of game