I’m not sure when it started. Maybe it was in 1992 when former walk-on Hank Campbell dropped UT just short of that game-tying 2 point conversion. That loss ultimately knocked the Vols out of the SEC East race that year, so it must have hurt. Maybe that was the beginning, but regardless, it always seems like the Volunteers particularly enjoy smacking South Carolina down. The numbers don’t help the perception, as Carolina has only defeated Tennessee three times since joining the conference.
But it goes deeper than the records. Tennessee has made many a career by stealing our best players and then beating us with them. It’s no secret that former head coach Philip Fulmer liked to raid the state for talent, and it’s also no secret that our coaches fought him tooth and nail. But regardless, the pattern established itself throughout the last two decades: Tennessee took the best two or three players from the state, and South Carolina was left to divide the scraps with C.T.U.
Just take a look at the following short (and not nearly exhaustive) list: Shaun Ellis, Dominique Stevenson, Darwin Walker, Albert Haynesworth, Jon Hefney, Anthony McDaniel, Eric Young, Robert Ayers. All from South Carolina. All spurned the home state school to play for the Volunteers. Most, if not all, went on to NFL careers.
[Speaking of Haynesworth, he will always be a pariah to Gamecock fans. No one will forget how he stood victorious in the end zone that year at Williams Brice and taunted our departing fans while waving a UT flag. It was classless, but it also particularly stung like a betrayal.]
The SC to UT pipeline was so understood, so part of the southern football landscape, that when Derek Watson spurned the Volunteers and signed with Lou Holtz’s Gamecocks, the UT coaching staff assumed that major NCAA violations were involved. After years of NCAA scrutiny brought about by Fulmer’s report, no major violations were uncovered (I think maybe Buddy Pough bought Derek a burger at the Williamston McDonalds when he shouldn’t have or something, but still).
Then came the defection of our former Recruiting Coordinator David Reeves. One day he was recruiting for us, and the next he was calling those same recruits and telling them Carolina was all wrong for them. Again, maybe it was part of his job, but for sensitive Carolina fans, it was another betrayal and another attempt to keep the UT jackboot on our state’s neck.
As a culmination of years of insults and defeats (both on the field and in the recruits’ living rooms), UT coaching wunderkind Lane Kiffin was overheard telling then-highschooler Alshon Jeffrey that if he went to South Carolina he “would pump gas for the rest of his life.”
To Carolina fans it felt like the nuclear option of insults, despite the fact that it backfired and Jeffrey signed with USC. The slight was all over the media, and stays with us still in the football zeitgeist even though young Kiffin fled to the west coast soon thereafter.
Then we saw the photo from the Byrnes High School game. You know the photo. The one with Corey Miller and the young ladies in it.
I, for one, understood the photo to be further evidence of just how far Tennessee would go to keep Carolina down.
So just after noon this Saturday, when toe meets leather and another UT-SC matchup begins, I want you to know this, Coach Dooley: you and your orange-clad soldiers are about as welcomed in Williams Brice as, let’s see, I’m looking for a historical analogy . . . . . . . . .