People are always asking Steve Spurrier to reminisce. The former South Carolina and Florida and Duke and Tampa Bay Bandits head coach (and Heisman Trophy winner) has had one of the most interesting careers in college football history, so it makes sense, and when Spurrier is asked specifically about his time with the Gamecocks, he rattles off a few highlights.
Three straight top 10 national finishes. Three straight 11-win teams. An 18-game home winning streak. Four straight bowl wins.
“Then I’ll mention, ‘Yeah, we won five in a row over Dabo,” Spurrier said.
That’s Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, of course.
“I always say Dabo,” Spurrier said. “Clemson wasn’t as big a name with Tommy Bowden, they were pretty big with Danny (Ford) at times, but with Dabo, there they are a lot more relevant. So I always say we won five over Dabo.
“Put that in the paper, Dabo will love that.”
Swinney has taken his revenge on the Spurrier-less Gamecocks, and Clemson is on the verge of matching that five-game winning streak this year when the teams face off in Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m. Saturday. That won’t make history for the Tigers. They won seven straight in this rivalry from 1934 to 1940 and own the overall series lead at 69-42-4.
But for South Carolina, its five consecutive victories from 2009 through 2013 were the icing on the cake of the best stretch of football in school history. In fact, for some fans, they were the cake.
“It was historic,” said Carolina Hall of Fame member Chuck Allen, who played at South Carolina from 1977-1980 and has served on the university’s board of trustees since 2008. “It had been a long time since we had won two in a row, and then it went to three and four and five.”
Clemson had won six of the previous seven games entering the 2009 game, and it had been nearly 40 years since South Carolina had posted consecutive victories.
“It took a lot of growing up to beat those guys from everybody, coaches, players, fans, the whole Gamecock Nation; it took everything to beat those guys,” former Gamecocks defensive tackle Travian Robertson said.
Robertson lost to the Tigers as a freshman in 2008 and then finished his career with three wins in a row.
“For me as a player coming into South Carolina understanding the rivalry and how big the game is, it meant everything to me,” he said. “We always prepared much better that week. It meant everything to me to be able to go in and play in the big time rivalry game, and I know how much it meant to Columbia and to Gamecock Nation to win that game.”
South Carolina got the streak started with a 34-17 upset win at Williams-Brice Stadium in 2009 that came thanks in part to using a freshman defensive back named Stephon Gilmore as a wildcat quarterback. Gilmore had chosen the Gamecocks over Clemson in recruiting and convinced friend and onetime Clemson commit Devonte Holloman to join him in Columbia.
“We hated Clemson. That’s just how it was,” Gilmore said. “Just didn’t like them. We were going to do whatever it took to win. There are a lot of important games in the season, but that’s the biggest game for all the players.”
Robertson used the word hate, too.
“I hate to say this, but the hate in the heart for the rivalry game, you have to show it on the field with the pads,” he said. “We wanted to dominate them, that was the whole deal. In a rivalry game, you don’t just want to win, you want to dominate.”
They did for four more years, winning all five games in the streak by double digits.
“It’s a mental game, and obviously you need good players and assistant coaches, but the mindset when you get your guys believing that they are capable and also understanding what it takes to be successful, you have a chance,” Spurrier said.
No one gives the Gamecocks (6-4) much of a chance this year. The undefeated Tigers are a 25-point favorite to match South Carolina’s five-game win streak this year., And the way Clemson is rolling, the Gamecocks figure to be underdogs for a while to come.
“They are not going that bad,” Spurrier said of South Carolina. “They just need to recruit some (Jadeveon) Clowneys and maybe some D.J. Swearingers and Devin Taylors and Melvin Ingrams.”
For at least another week, though, South Carolina fans will have to get by on the thoughts of a winning streak that moves farther and farther into the rearview mirror but will never disappear from the Gamecocks’ collective memory.
“The fun of it is it has lasting value because it drove the rival and their fan base really crazy. I think it’s still an issue (for them),” Allen said. “Even now it still gives some pleasure.”
Because it still gives the Tigers some pain.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “That’s the nature of the rivalry, right?”