As my Clemson Tigers prepare to kick off our most promising season against erstwhile Top-10 rival Georgia Bulldogs, my mind goes back to 40 years of memories from this on-again/off-again matchup on the gridiron. The Clemson-Georgia face-off was an annual out-of-conference tradition in my youth http://blogs.ajc.com/junkyard-blawg/2013/08/28/a-primer-for-young-dawgs-who-dont-understand-how-big-georgia-clemson-really-is/, lost now to time now much as Maryland is to the ACC.
Let’s be clear about one thing, when it comes to the Religion of Football in the Deep South, Georgia fans are Sectarian Pentecostals. They are fervent, loud, extreme, and are convinced only their way is the right way and everybody else can (and will) go to Hell. And they’re more than happy to speed the rest of us along our way.
I recall 31 years ago when defending National Champions Clemson opened the 1982 season against Georgia and its eventual Heismann Trophy winner Herschel Walker. Apart from just remembering the loss, I recall Georgia fans being extremely sore winners shouting things like “Go to Hell Clemson, we’re taking over!!!” The Bulldogs went on to dominate the 1982 season and expected to walk away from the Superdome on New Years Day with a trophy of their own. I watched with glee as they were defeated by Penn State.
Humorist Lewis Grizzard often wrote (http://grittree.wordpress.com/2010/06/02/lewis-grizzard-wednesday-the-clemson-article/ ) and spoke (http://grittree.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/lewis-grizzard-wednesday-lewis-on-clemson-and-auburn/ and http://theantiorangepage.com/lewis-grizzard-clemson/) about the rivalry between UGA and Clemson, as he was a dyed-in-the-wool Bulldog whose own father was a Tiger alum. Growing up in a house that had more Orange and Purple Tiger Memorabilia than any other in North Carolina, Grizzard’s column “Did Your Daidy Go to Clempsin” (which I can’t find online to share with you) resonated with me at an early age and did more to build my foundation of satire than any Jonathan Swift tale forced upon us by the teachers of Burlington City Schools.
Fast forward eight years to my Freshman year at Clemson, where my most indelible memory of Bulldog Hospitality was first burned into my retinas. There I sat on one of the eight the Tiger Band Buses rolling into Athens — my first away game experience as part of “the show.” And as we rounded the corner onto the campus, there stood an elderly lady in a bright Georgia-red shirt, wide brimmed white hat and shades. Her hands were busy, as she held a Bud Light in one hand and nonchalantly flipped us off with the other. Her fat, wrinkled face was totally devoid of emotion, as if she were lost in thought like one might while fishing. But there was the bird flying, as if to say “Welcome to our humble city, assholes.” Years later, she must have modeled for a pop-culture touchstone, as she looked almost exactly like that old curmudgeon from the Hallmark Cards. You know, this one:
Grizzard opined about the Bulldog/Tiger rivalry once again after that game in one of his last columns before his untimely death later in my Clemson career.http://www.myajc.com/news/sports/college-football/lewis-grizzard-flashback-clemson-1991-georgia-bull/nZgLy/. Seems Grizzard was offended by Clemson Hospitality in the past and Trash-talk in his own back yard. But I don’t know, I think I’ll take “Y’all about to get whooped bad” against this …
… any day of the week.
Regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s season opener I am glad to see Georgia and Clemson square off again for the first time in a decade. Georgia was ALWAYS a worthy opponent and made us WORK for our victories. Hopefully the time apart has allowed us to rise above the unsavory rancor of generations past and return some decorum and Southern Charm back into the game. But then again, I won’t mind if we see them Dawgs get Whooped Real Bad once again.