A State Divided - Carolina-Clemson - The Beginning of a Rivalry, 1896
Every year dating back to 1909, the University of South Carolina and Clemson University football teams have competed on the field in what was once called “Big Thursday” is now referred to as the “Palmetto Bowl.” Although the first game between the two schools was played in 1896 during the South Carolina State Fair, the contest was banned in 1902 due to the heated rivalry between the school’s fans and players. After a six year “Big Thursday” pause, these two football teams played yearly 111 consecutive times until the 2020 game was canceled. It still stands as one of the longest running rivalries in college football’s history. Clemson leads the series between to the two schools 72-43-4.
Before we get to the very first game between these two schools, let’s figure out where Intercollegiate Football began. Historically speaking, American style football developed from the combination of two sports, rugby and soccer. The game has evolved dramatically over time with many variations and rule changes that have transformed the game into a national pastime. The first intercollegiate game happened November 6, 1869 between Princeton and Rutgers. After this game, the next big event that happened to push American Football forward was a meeting between four colleges, Yale, Princeton, Columbia and Rutgers in New York City on October 19, 1873. The meeting was designed to implement a code of rules for the game and establish the Intercollegiate Football Association. This meeting, which validated and recognized the sport, motivated other schools to join in on this newly formed association and sport.
Fast forward 16 years and on December 14, 1889 the first certified intercollegiate football game was played in the state of South Carolina. The game was held in Spartanburg with Wofford battling Furman and Wofford winning the game, 5 – 1. Three years later South Carolina College played its first ever intercollegiate football game on Christmas Eve in 1892. They played against Furman in Charleston and lost 44-0. Clemson’s first ever intercollegiate game was four years later, on October 31, 1896. The Tigers suited up against Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. The Tigers won a hard-fought game, 14-6. On that very same day, two years into South Carolina’s inaugural season, Carolina lost to a Charleston Y team 6-4. Carolina’s next game was slated for November 12, 1896 against, what would become their arch-rival, the Clemson Tigers.
The official rules of the game of football at the time South Carolina and Clemson played their first game were vague and sometimes determined by the two teams. According to a variety of sources, here were a few rules that were in place for the game. There were two officials (1 umpire and 1 referee) on the field to control the game. Penalties were harsh with offsides and holding penalties resulting in loss of possession of the ball. Scoring points was much different than what it is today as touchdowns were 4 points and the conversion after was 2. Field goals were 5 points and safeties were 2 points. The forward pass was illegal and was not considered a legal play until 1906.
At 11 a.m. Thursday morning, November 12, 1896, the stage was set. It was a rainy fall day and football was not yet the popular sport it is today. At that time most sports fans followed professional baseball. The Baltimore Orioles had just won its third straight national championship that year. The football rivalry game between South Carolina College and Clemson University was seen as a side show act of the South Carolina State Fair.
2000 football fans braved the rain to watch the in – state – rivals face off. This would allow plenty of time to drive home before dark for those watching the horse races that followed the game. In 1896, the Clemson football team had much larger and experienced players, leading many to believe Clemson would win. When the Clemson team entered the field wearing orange sweaters and blue stockings, the all men Clemson crowd, standing by the field and sitting in cars cheered and honked their horns. South Carolina College wore garnet and its fans were mostly male, with the exception of a few female co-eds, on account of the college allowing women to attend a year earlier. The majority of female fans would come from Winthrop University and Methodist College.
South Carolina won the coin toss to determine possession and chose to receive first. Clemson fullback A. M. Chreitzberg was selected to kick off. The kick was received by Carolina Quarterback, Vass on the 25-yard line and he ran it to the Carolina 40-yard line. Left halfback, N. W. Brooker would run the ball 20 yards to the Clemson 25, followed by another 10-yard run by Carolina fullback Gaston. Unfortunately for Carolina, Clemson would take over because of an offsides play. Clemson would mount a short drive on their first possession but South Carolina College would shut them down. Back and forth scoreless possessions would continue until, Clemson fumbled on their own 15-yard line, which would lead to Brooker running it in from the 3-yard line. After Carolina successfully kicked the conversion, they led 6 – 0, 20 minutes into the game.
In the second half Clemson would answer Carolina’s touchdown. South Carolina kicked off and Clemson downed the ball on the 30-yard line. Back up left – end J. A. Stone ran for a 60-yard touchdown 85 seconds into the second half. Chreitzberg kicked the conversion and the game was tied 6 – 6.
Carolina would respond to the Clemson touchdown by driving the ball down to the Clemson 15-yard line. Left end, Foster ends up running it in for a 10-yard touchdown. After conversion, Carolina was once again up, 12 to 6. A few possessions later, Clemson would get their best chance to tie the score in the second half. Carolina fumbled the ball and Chreitzberg would run 15 yards to get Clemson to the Carolina 10. Unfortunately for Clemson, they were called for holding and lost possession.
Several plays later Clemson would get yet another shot to score when Carolina was called for an offsides penalty. Clemson tried a “shoestring” trick play, where one player would pretend to tie their shoe to try to catch the defense off guard. Unfortunately, for Clemson, they lost 15 yards on the play. Carolina would hold on to win the game 12 to 6.
According to the November 13, 1896 article in The State Newspaper, the author summed up the game in the following way, “The especially noticeable feature of the college boys’ play was the bucking. Their line, everyone, are fine players, found impregnable by Clemson. The splendid work of the backs and ends were the features of the game. The whole team did splendid work, and though Clemson’s team was heavier and finely trained, it was evident to all that Carolina outclassed as well as outplayed her. The Clemson boys take their defeat very gracefully with no show of ill feeling.”
Thus, the rivalry begins…
The Carolina-Clemson Game 1896-1966 by Don Barton. Published 1967.
Football: The Ivy League Origins of the American Obsession by Mark Bernstein. Published 2001.
The South Carolina Encyclopedia - https://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/football/
Superb Game. S.C. Boys Defeat the Clemson Football Team – The State Newspaper (published as the The State) – November 13, 1896 – Page 3 – News Article