November 28, 2008 was a cold, rainy day across the south. A mediocre South Carolina team was facing a similarly mediocre Clemson team at Memorial Stadium in the upstate. Connor Shaw and Marcus Lattimore had just finished their junior football seasons in high school, and Jadeveon Clowney was a high school sophomore newly on the recruiting radar of Division 1 schools.
Leading up to the Clemson game the 2008 season had offered a few bright moments for the Gamecocks – a season opening (albeit closer than the score would indicate) 34-0 win over NC State, a surprising road win at Ole Miss, and a thrilling victory at Kentucky in which redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia introduced himself to the college football world.
But there were also the here-we-go-again moments that were hallmarks of a South Carolina football season – playing down to our competition (23-13 over Wofford), near misses (a 14-7 loss to top-ranked UGA, a 24-17 loss to 13th-ranked LSU), and the standard humiliation on national TV (a 56-6 loss to eventual BCS national champion Florida on CBS).
Meanwhile, in the upstate, Clemson was having similar struggles. The Tigers had fired head coach Tommy Bowden midseason and promoted Dabo Swinney to interim head coach. Swinney was not considered a strong candidate to become the head coach at the time of his promotion, but by the time the South Carolina game rolled around there were enough positive signs within the program that he might have a shot at the job permanently. A win over the Gamecocks would definitely help his case.
The game started fine enough for USC, picking up an early turnover and driving into Clemson territory, only to turn the ball over themselves on the first of Chris Smelley’s four interceptions on the day. It was all downhill from there, as the Tigers built a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, and extended it to 24-0 before the Gamecocks scored a touchdown just before the half. Clemson cruised to a 31-14 win. It was an unsurprising game, and it capped off an unsurprising regular season. Of course, we finished off the campaign with an unsurprising 31-10 loss to Iowa in the Outback Bowl and an unsurprising 7-6 final record.
I barely watched the second half of the 2008 Carolina-Clemson game. I just couldn’t take the pain of hearing the Memorial Stadium crowd cheer every first down and big stop, and count down the final seconds of yet another win in this lopsided rivalry. It was a dreary day, a dreary game, and it made for a dreary mood for all Gamecocks.
But that was 2000 days ago. The rivalry doesn’t feel so lopsided anymore, because that was the last day that Clemson football fans counted down to a victory over South Carolina. That was the last day the air smelled fresher, the food tasted better and the wine sweeter because they had beaten their rival.
It’s been 2000 days since South Carolina last lost to Clemson. Almost five and a half years.
2000 days. And counting.