Why I Have Been So Fixated Lately on the College Football Rivalry Between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers

(Author’s Note: There will be no postgame baseball report this evening. My wife and children are out of school this week on spring break, so I am taking a couple of days off to spend with my family and attend to some responsibilities at home. My son and I will be traveling to Clemson, S.C., to see the Diamond Dogs take on the Country Gentlemen in Doug Kingsmore Stadium this evening, so my postgame write-up will not appear until Thursday. This confluence of circumstances, however, presents a unique opportunity to share a significant announcement with the Dawg Sports community.)

Let’s be honest. There have been times in the last year or so that I’ve been mailing it in here at the weblog. You know it, I know it, and the American people know it. While there is no excuse for this, there is an explanation, which most likely will confirm some of your suspicions.

I take pride in the fact that there are many astute readers of this weblog, both among the Bulldog faithful and from opposing fan bases, so surely some of you have asked the question, and more than a few of you probably have answered it. In fact, I’d bet cash money that at least one reader figured it out, but was too polite to say so. (NCT, I’m looking at you.)

Having majored in political science and been a lifelong (if largely self-taught) student of history, I am quite mindful of the heritage of my alma mater’s athletics programs; John Stegeman’s book upon the subject was particularly influential. However, I have been especially attentive to often obscure minutiae in the history of Georgia football of late; moreover, this focus largely has been in chronological order. In 2009, I wrote about the early 20th century in January, the 1940s in March and in May, the 1950s in April, and the 1960s in May.

Beyond that, my concentration on the Bulldogs’ gridiron history has evidenced a particular preoccupation with Clemson. I have regaled you with tales of Floyd "Breezy" Reid’s 1945 kickoff return against the Orange and Purple, Frank Howard’s change of non-conference scheduling practices in the late 1950s, Vince Dooley’s fretting before the 1967 series meeting between the rivals, Coach Dooley’s decisionmaking in the 1977 and 1983 games against Clemson, Kevin Butler’s historic 1984 field goal to beat the Country Gentlemen, the role of the red road britches in the two teams’ 1985 encounter, Danny Ford’s decisionmaking late in the 1986 affray between the Bulldogs and the Tigers, renewing the rivalry, renewing the rivalry, and renewing the rivalry.

The recurrence of these themes has not been coincidental. This is why:

Over the course of the last two years, I have researched and written a 270,000-word manuscript entitled Fighting Like Cats and Dogs. After the fashion of Bill Cromartie’s Clean Old-Fashioned Hate (Georgia-Georgia Tech) and Cale Conley’s War Between the States (Georgia-Florida), Fighting Like Cats and Dogs provides the definitive game-by-game account of the 62-game history of the rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers. Each chapter covers one game in the storied series, which dates back to 1897, and places each contest in the context of the rivalry, the season, and the sport as a whole.

In 1995, I traveled to Clemson, S.C., with two college buddies of mine, Pete Allen and Jeff Rogers, to witness what was then the last scheduled gridiron meeting between the Bulldogs and the Tigers in Memorial Stadium. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to the shores of Lake Hartwell, and, upon our return to Athens, I penned a column for The Red and Black arguing that the rivalry should not be consigned to history.

Nearly a decade and a half later, Pete and Jeff accompanied me on numerous research trips to the campus libraries at Georgia and Clemson, where we spent hours poring over contemporaneous newspaper accounts and sifting through old photographs. Ere the week is out, I will be sending book proposals to prospective publishers in the hope of finding an avenue for getting Fighting Like Cats and Dogs into the hands of the reading public.

While my purpose partly was to chronicle the rich history of this intense rivalry, I also had an objective that went beyond simply conveying information (although I believe the individual game accounts, series record breakdowns, and series odds and ends contained in the book accomplish this objective in great detail). I do not want a rivalry which was central to my formative years as a fan to fade away, as such once-annual affrays as the rivalry between Penn State and Pitt have.

Fortunately, the advent of the twelve-game regular season, at first temporarily (in 2002 and 2003) and now permanently (since 2006), has made it possible for the Georgia-Clemson series to be renewed. I want to see the rivalry revived regularly, for the reasons I gave just last month:

Prior to the 1986 clash between the two clubs, Georgia linebacker John Brantley declared: "This is one to see who the men are. It is the kind of game where women and children need to be sitting in the top level because bones are going to be cracking. It’s going to be really intense." Three years earlier, Vince Dooley had proclaimed that the Bulldogs’ rivalry with Clemson was "a series as heated as we have, a game as intense as we play."

That same year, Red and Black assistant sports editor Edward Thomas wrote that the two teams "have always fought fiercely on the field, but in recent years a bitter hatred has erupted between fans of the two schools, due to the colleges’ proximity, mutual success of both football programs, and the hotly-contested recruitment of Herschel Walker." The passage of two decades did little to change that sentiment, as a 2003 article in the Fort Hill student newspaper, The Tiger, panned ACC expansion by noting that "many Clemson fans, particularly ones who attended Clemson in the 70s and 80s, would rather see the Tigers take on the Bulldogs every year. . . . [R]ivalries like Clemson-Georgia are good for the landscape of sports."

Multiple journalists have noted the peculiar ferocity of the series. Before attaining on-air fame with ESPN, Ivan Maisel observed that "the rivalry has grown big enough here that quarterback Homer Jordan can say, ‘It’s getting bigger than the South Carolina game’ and no one blinks an eye." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jeff Denberg concurred that "[n]either has played more fiercely against an opponent in recent times." Tony Barnhart called the rivalry "even more intense" than war and the Greenville News-Piedmont’s Dan Foster quoted a University of Georgia athletic official as saying, "I think now the Georgia Tech game is the one we’d hate most to lose, but the Clemson game is the one we most want to win."

Such a series is too deeply woven into the fabric of college football history to be cast aside permanently. As NCT succinctly put it: "I love to hate Climpson. I miss you guys." So that the past will neither be forgotten in the present nor forsaken in the future, someone ought to write a book about it.

Well, now someone has.

Go ‘Dawgs!

(Postscript: I am sending book proposals to several potential publishers, but I am not so arrogant as to assume that I have identified every possible target. If anyone has any suggestions in that respect, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks.)

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