Georgia Bulldogs' 2013 and 2014 College Football Series with Clemson Tigers Evidently Saved

[T]hat's a game that I grew up watching. I've heard so many stories about Clemson-Georgia, and I'd love to be a part of it and have a chapter of that history. . . . I'm certainly for keeping that game.

Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney
Bottom line is this - we are going to play Georgia. I can't tell you how we are going to put all the pieces together, but we are going to play Georgia in 2013 here and in 2014 we are going to Athens. We are committed to the Georgia series.

Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips

Strictly speaking, this no longer qualifies as "news"---I apologize; it was a busy weekend---but it was important enough to warrant comment, however belatedly. The two-game series, initially announced in 2005 and later slated as the season opener for both teams in both years, will renew a rivalry that was placed in peril by conference expansion, much as it was the last time the ACC and SEC added members. Though it recently looked dicey, Phillips went from equivocal to emphatic in short order. This is as it should be.

Though the Clemson Tigers’ continued status as rivals of the Georgia Bulldogs remains a point of contention between older and younger fans, the powers that be on both campuses, from Greg McGarity to Dabo Swinney, wisely recognize the continued vitality of the border war. From the time of the first series meeting in 1897 to the most recent clash in 2003, the two teams had never gone more than seven seasons without facing one another, which helps explain some of the support the series still enjoys.

As noted by our SB Nation sister site, Shakin’ the Southland, it appears that what has ostensibly saved the series is the likelihood that the Tigers will have seven home games, even with a nine-game conference schedule. It would be nice, of course, if, every now and again, defining traditions trumped financial considerations purely out of a sense of right and wrong, but I am not naive enough to believe heritage has ever held out for very long over perceived economic self-interest, in any arena, athletic or otherwise. I’m just glad when succumbing to the lure of cash and making the correct choice line up occasionally, and, fortunately, this appears to be one of those times.

As noted above, this is as it should be, as this rivalry has it all. Ours has been a neutral-site rivalry (played at the Georgia-Carolina Fairgrounds at Augusta annually from 1907 to 1913, and at Cater Park in Anderson in 1916) and a home-and-home arrangement; ours has been a weekday affray (16 of the 62 series meetings have taken place on a Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday) and a weekend showdown; ours has been a season-opening rivalry (the first three series meetings, from 1897 to 1899, and the last two series meetings, in 2002 and 2003, all marked the first game of the autumn for both teams, and Georgia and Clemson clashed on Labor Day night in 1982) and a season-ending affair (Clemson and Georgia have met on Thanksgiving Day four times); ours has been a conference rivalry (dating back to the days of the SIAA and the Southern Conference), a non-conference rivalry (Clemson and Georgia are charter members of the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern Conferences, respectively), and a quasi-conference rivalry (Georgia counted Clemson as an SEC opponent in the mid-1960s, after the Ramblin’ Wreck left the league on short notice).

From 1977 to 1987, no series in the country was more closely contested (each team went 5-5-1 against the other, and nine of eleven meetings were settled by seven or fewer points) or nationally significant (from 1980 to 1982, the winner of the Georgia-Clemson game played in the bowl game that determined the national championship). From 1897 to 1916, Georgia was the only team Clemson played in all 20 seasons (Georgia Tech, N.C. State, and South Carolina did not appear on all 20 Tiger slates) and Clemson was the only team Georgia played in all 20 seasons (Auburn, Florida, and Georgia Tech each failed to face the Red and Black in at least one of those 20 campaigns).

The two football programs sprang from a common fountainhead: Walter Riggs, who founded Clemson football, learned the sport as a student at Auburn, where he played for George Petrie, who learned the sport as a student at Johns Hopkins, where he acquired his passion for the game with classmate Charles Herty, who founded Georgia football. The neighboring institutions share not just geographic proximity, but also family ties: Tavarres King and Jay Rome are two of several Georgia players whose fathers played for Clemson; Tiger quarterbacks Cullen Harper and Jon Richt were the sons of Bulldog lineman Jeff Harper and Bulldog head coach Mark Richt, respectively; even a president of Clemson College (Patrick Hues Mell, 1902-1910) was sired by a chancellor of the University of Georgia (Patrick H. Mell, 1878-1888). Football players Jimmy Orr (who transferred from Fort Hill to the Classic City) and Wynn Kopp (who transferred from the Peach State to the Palmetto State) attended both institutions.

More than once, one school has been responsible for a change of coaches at the other school. A 1903 wager between Red and Black players and their Orange and Purple counterparts inspired the Tigers to deliver a 73-0 thrashing to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, prompting the Engineers to lure Clemson’s head coach, John Heisman, to Atlanta. When the Jungaleers hired away Georgia head coach Frank Dobson following the 1909 season, Steadman Sanford replaced him by hiring Alex Cunningham, whose first recruit was Bob McWhorter.

Likewise, Vince Dooley’s dominance of the Florida Gators throughout the 1970s led to the firing of Gator head coach Doug Dickey, and, when Florida thereafter poached second-year head coach Charley Pell from Fort Hill, offensive line coach Danny Ford was tapped to succeed him at Clemson. Following the 1998 season, the Tigers hired Tulane head coach Tommy Bowden, creating a vacancy with the Green Wave that was filled by bringing Georgia offensive line coach Chris Scelfo to New Orleans. Without the longtime assistant he had brought with him from Marshall, Jim Donnan faltered in his next two seasons, leading directly to the hiring of Mark Richt.

As I freely concede, I am not an impartial observer regarding this rivalry, but there are reasons why both Peach State and Palmetto State partisans place such emphasis on playing one another. In addition to remaining rivals on the recruiting trail, the Bulldogs and the Tigers regularly square off in other sports. Recently, in response to a question raised in a comment thread, I gave a cursory look at the persistence of the rivalry outside of football. Subsequently, I examined the two universities’ varsity schedules more comprehensively, and here is what I found:

  • Georgia and Clemson currently have twelve varsity sports in common: baseball, men’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, football, men’s golf, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis, men’s and women’s track and field, women’s basketball, women’s soccer, women’s tennis, and women’s volleyball. I grouped the men’s and women’s cross country, swimming and diving, and track and field teams together because they play the same regular-season schedules, made up of joint men’s and women’s competitions, which distinguishes those sports from the men’s and women’s basketball, golf, and tennis teams, which play different schedules. Women’s golf is not included on that list because Clemson will not begin fielding a varsity women’s golf team until the 2013-’14 school year.
  • In the 2011-’12 academic year, Georgia and Clemson met in six of the twelve varsity sports they share in common: baseball, cross country, men’s golf, men’s tennis, track and field, and women’s tennis.
  • The six common varsity sports in which Georgia and Clemson did not meet this year include men’s basketball, in which the teams take part in an annual closed scrimmage, and football, in which the preservation of the upcoming scheduled series has been the subject of so much attention and interest of late.
  • The above count does not take into consideration such club sports as, e.g., men’s and women’s lacrosse, in both of which the Bulldogs have taken on, or will take on, the Tigers this year.

At the end of the day, therefore, the salvation of this series is a big deal between longstanding nearby rivals who share much history, both ancient and modern, in several sports. What, then, are we to do in response to this latest development? I believe the proper course is to take a three-pronged approach; to wit:

  1. Take a moment to e-mail Greg McGarity and Terry Don Phillips to thank them both for doing right by their respective fan bases by committing themselves to making this series happen. They did the right thing; they deserve to be told, “Attaboy” for having done it.
  2. Mark your calendar and commit yourself now to making both games sellouts. Go to both games. Make a weekend of it. Spend some money while you’re in town. Make it clear to business owners in Athens, Ga., and Clemson, S.C., that they can make more money hosting this game every other year than they can hosting Coastal Carolina twice.
  3. Pour yourself a cold one and drink it slowly while smoking a fine cigar. Sometimes, the good guys win. It looks like this was one of those times. Enjoy it.

There are 516 days remaining until the Red and Black next meet the Orange and Purple in Death Valley. Is it football season yet?

Go ‘Dawgs!

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