Two great universities, separated by a mere 75 miles, Clemson and Georgia, have a shared, storied history.
A rivalry born in the earliest days of the game of football. Led by men that either played for, played with, or were coached by, men of vision. Men like Walter Riggs, the father of Clemson Football. He was coached by George Petrie while at Auburn. Petrie learned the sport while playing at Johns Hopkins, he was a teammate of the father of Georgia football, Charles Herty.
The two teams first played in 1897(Georgia won the first game, 24-0) and then played every year through 1921, except for the interrupted 2 games during World War I. All games were played in Georgia, in either Athens or Augusta. The two teams would play intermittently between 1927 until 1955.
In 1962, the series would once again be played as a yearly contest until after the 1987 season. Interestingly, in 1967, Coach Frank Howard negotiated a home and home agreement to finally level the playing field, well sort of.
Georgia leads the series 42-18-4. The numbers, as you can see are a little lopsided but looking deeper, you need to know the first 42 games played we’re all home games for the Bulldogs. In attempting to write a short history of this rivalry, I found there are too many great games to recount. So, I’ve decided to focus on some of the more interesting personalities that have made this rivalry great.
Larry Munson and Jim Phillips
Neither of these legends ever touched a football for either school. However, their passionately animated play-by-play offered thousands of fans, those unable to be in the stadium, a seat on the 50 yard line. Who can forget hearing Larry Munson’s call a game in that unapologetic homer’s gravelly voice?
Then, there was “The Voice.” There is no way anyone could ever match Jim Phillips letting out “Touchdown Tigers!” Like Munson, he was a homer too, but being objective isn’t a needed attribute for play-by play-announcers.
Vince Dooley and Danny Ford
Vince Dooley was a formidable adversary. He won often and Clemson lost too many games to his Junkyard Dawgs. Yet, even in defeat, you had to recognize his greatness. He was one of the last generation of coaches where the coaches, not players, were the face and embodiment of the team.
Danny Ford, during his tenure, humanized the Bulldogs, he proved them beatable. He played to win and he usually did. While not as “polished” as Dooley, his “aww shucks” persona cleverly hid a brilliant tactician and a true leader. The 1981 game was my first game in the student section and I will never forget the electricity, the feel, the smells of that game. It was iconic to say the least.
Hershel Walker and Perry Tuttle
I know, to most Tiger faithful, Hershel Walker was the enemy but oh, what a great one he was. An exceptionally talented player, he is a true legend. As an opponent, you worried every time he had the ball in his hands because anything was possible. It’s noteworthy, that he only lost 1 regular season game in his three year career and yes, it was to Clemson in 1981. Fitting and still satisfying to the soul of every Tiger, old enough to remember.
Perry Tuttle was and still is a true inspiration to anyone that knows him, he makes a great impression. During his career, he made an even greater impression on those that tried to cover him as a wide receiver. If I close my eyes, I can still see that pass from Homer Jordan in that ‘81 game, that he caught in the corner of the end zone…Wow!
David Treadwell and Kevin Butler
David Treadwell, a 150 pound wisp of a fellow, was appropriately named “Mr. Clutch” by Jim Phillips. That mighty leg of his gave the Tigers two last second victories. With ice water pursing through his veins and that leg of his, he became a living legend. It’s weird, between he and Butler, they would account for three such, last second dramatics all during the 1980’s.
Kevin Butler and his leg, broke Tiger fans hearts in 1984 with an unbelievable 60 yard field goal in the waning seconds of the game. Enough said, I know the mere mention of that kick makes some a little emotional about that particular loss.
Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins
The 2013 opener in Death Valley was a much anticipated game. ESPN’s College Gameday was on Bowman Field. With at least 85,000 in the stadium and another 20,000 outside, it was an atmosphere that up to that point, was the loudest game I’d ever seen or heard. For the record, it was the first game played under the watchful “eye” of The Oculus and the rest, as they say, is history. The game was a nail-biter from start to finish and the difference that night was the almost magical connection between Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. The defense stood tall at the end to deny Georgia quarterback Aaron Murry, a chance to break the orange faithful’s hearts, again.
In my opinion, this was one of two games that brought Clemson into national prominence. This game and the 2012 Chick-fil-a bowl against LSU. The great opening segment on ESPN shown from the players point of view, giving the millions watching, an up close view of just how the Tigers go from the locker room to running down the Hill. That moment was so much more than exciting, it was spine tingling. It was indeed, a spectacular moment in the history of this great rivalry.
Deshaun Watson and Dabo Swinney
In 2014, Georgia would defeat the Tigers in Athens but that wasn’t what most Tiger fans remember. Somewhere in the collective memory of all the Tiger faithful, lies the memory of a confident head coach, sending in a true freshman quarterback, that then threw a laser between two defenders for his first college touchdown pass. That young man, Deshaun Watson, and that head coach, Dabo Swinney, were to lead the Tigers to heights few could have ever imagined.
That brings us to this week. The story of what happens on Saturday is yet to be written. As evenly matched as these rivals seem, it’s likely going to be one for the history books.
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