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April 17, 2013

Trip to Clemson Can Bring Unexpected

In '74, Georgia had some difficulty stopping a Clemson ground attack, 
the Bulldogs were unexpectedly defeated, & a rivalry was established.
Last week, I was on the campus of Clemson University for the first time in nearly 30 years.  I believe it was during the summer of 1985 when somehow through a friend of my father's, I unexpectedly got to walk out on the field of Death Valley a pretty cool experience for a 10 year old.  For my recent trip, I was conducting a couple of interviews for a story I'm writing on the namesake of the same field Clemson's legendary Frank Howard.  Although I bleed red and black, I'm a huge enthusiast of the history of college football, on the whole, plus this freelance writer has bills to pay.  Therefore, I welcomed the opportunity to put together a piece on Howard for a Clemson football yearbook due out this summer.
The last time I had been at Clemson, the Bulldogs and Tigers bitter rivalry was in its heyday.  At the time, in my opinion, there was likely no opponent the majority of the Bulldog Nation hated more than Clemson.  This time on campus, I saw a sign in their bookstore promoting the upcoming August 31st meeting as a "Rivalry Renewed."  It got me thinking...  If the approaching game is renewing a rivalry, when did the Georgia-Clemson football game actually become a rivalry?
For a series featuring more than 60 games, the results of the meetings over the years have been rather one-sided to say the least and, thus collectively, could be argued as hardly a rivalry at all.  Georgia won the first three meetings between the two schools played prior to 1900.  In turn, Clemson promptly defeated the Red and Black seven consecutive times from 1900 through 1906, outscoring them 184 to 10 in the process.  From there, Georgia went on a tear, recording a remarkable 26-3-3 mark in 32 games from 1907 to 1973.  Currently, the Bulldogs are on a five-game winning streak against the Tigers, taking each game played since 1991.  However, there was a time when Georgia-Clemson was indeed a real rivalry, and one of the more balanced matchups in all of college football.
Many, including myself, have pointed to the 1977 game as to when the rivalry was really established.  Georgia was coming off consecutive seasons of major bowl appearances, while Clemson had been sub-par to awful for quite some time.  Having not defeated the Bulldogs away from Clemson in 18 tries since 1914, the Tigers pulled a 7-6 upset in Athens.  From then through 1987, the 11 Georgia-Clemson games were decided by an average of less than five points per contest.
As I recently sat with a retired Clemson professor and current campus historian, after discussing Coach Howard, I brought up the one-time bitter rivalry between the Bulldogs and Tigers.  Notably, he first informed me of a time when the two sides, you could say, got along quite well.
"Whenever the Tigers played in Athens when Howard was head coach, he was worried about the well being of the college girls that followed the Clemson team down to Georgia," the historian told me.  "So, the girls were placed on a separate campus away from the UGA male students.  (I must have looked confused at this point.)  And good thing, Howard believed the girls would be fornicating with the UGA males under those hedges y'all got down there," he added with a laugh.
Talk of Georgia and Clemson "relations" soon changed to the schools' football rivalry, and the historian suggested that their meeting in 1974 in Death Valley was when the series changed forever.

No, it's not Herschel... This No. 34 -- 
Andy "Breezy" Reid -- actually scored
a touchdown against Clemson.
The Tigers were fresh off an upset win over Georgia Tech after an 0-2 start to their '74 campaign.  The Bulldogs entered with a 2-1 record, as 10-point favorites on the road, and having not lost to the Tigers in 10 consecutive games over a period of nearly 20 years (1955).
For most of the game, Georgia's offense was rather effective, scoring three touchdowns on the ground: two by Horace King and a third from Andy "Breezy" Reid.  In addition, quarterback Matt Robinson averaged almost 15 yards per pass attempt.  Nevertheless, the Bulldogs had some serious issues on defense throughout the 1974 season, and particularly on this afternoon.  Even Erk Russell's recent switch from a five- to a six-man front to slow opposing ground games couldn't hold back the Tigers.  Two Clemson quarterbacks Mark Fellers and Mike O'Cain were each responsible for two touchdowns while directing the Tigers' Veer offense to more than 300 yards rushing in a 28-24 upset victory in the Valley.
Granted, Georgia would whip Clemson by a combined 76 to 7 score in wins over the Tigers the next two seasons.  However, beginning in 1974 to Georgia's current run of five straight wins, the Bulldogs and Tigers battled to an even 7-7-1 series record.
Finally, my second interview while at Clemson was with Jimmy Howard a pretty cool experience for this 38 year old.  The only son of the late Frank Howard, Jimmy played for the Tigers in the early-60s.  Instead of on campus, he chose to be interviewed from a bar his bar, in fact, located in downtown Clemson.  Jimmy had little to add about the rivalry between the Bulldogs and Tigers.  However, while chewing on a wad of tobacco and drinking a beer  (yes, at the same time), he was filled with charisma, quick wit, and some entertaining stories a tad too crude to reveal here (including a classic about his father, an opposing coach, General Douglas MacArthur, and a glass of urine).
Recently, I was reminded that Georgia's most hated rivalry at one time was being renewed.  Also, including for the Bulldogs in '74, me as a youngster, or again just last week, I was reminded that a trip to Clemson often brings the unexpected. 

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