The news this week that Georgia and Clemson finally have set the dates for their 2013-2014 series and will open those seasons against each other has gotten a lot of us longtime fans nostalgic for what was once one of football’s greatest, most hotly contested rivalries.
The Bulldogs have met the Tigers 62 times on the gridiron, second only to in-state rival Georgia Tech among nonconference foes, and they played every year except two between 1962 and 1987, before conference schedule requirements got in the way.
While Georgia leads the series 41-17-4 and has won the past five meetings, the rivalry was dead even during its glory days in 1977-87 — a period that saw each school win a national championship — with the two teams going 5-5-1.
Younger fans probably may not appreciate just how big the Georgia-Clemson rivalry used to be, but I think a good argument can be made that in that decade the close proximity of the schools and the parity between them on the field made Clemson UGA’s biggest rival, topping even Florida and Georgia Tech.
Clemson’s only regular-season losses in 1978, 1982 and 1991 were to the Dogs, and Georgia’s only regular-season loss during that great three-year Herschel Walker run was in Death Valley to the eventual 1981 national champion Tigers.
Great rivalries make for great trash talking, and aside from Tech, Lewis Grizzard got off some of his best shots at “Clempson,” the school he referred to as “Auburn with a lake.” My favorite was after protesting farmers staged a tractorcade at the state Capitol in 1978. Lewis cracked that he hadn’t seen that many tractors since the last time Clemson played in Athens.
It’s a real shame that the two schools no longer play each other on a regular basis in football. I know the desire of some fans to see the Dogs and Tigers play every year isn’t realistic, given that both schools are locked into annual battles with major nonconference opponents, but twice a decade just isn’t enough. When the two schools play in 2013, the decade break in the series will be the longest ever since they first met in 1897.
Hopefully with Georgia now having an athletic director who grew up a Bulldog in Athens during the years when the rivalry was at its peak we’ll see some consideration given to upping the frequency of the meetings. Ideally, I’d like to see Georgia and Clemson play home-and-home series every two years, meaning two years on and two years off, but even playing the Tigers just four years out of every 10 would be an improvement.
Anyway, as a reminder of what a great rivalry Georgia-Clemson has been in the past, here are my favorite games from the series:
1968: Georgia wins 31-13 in Athens. I remember after I finished selling my game programs at Sanford Stadium I managed to snag a seat near the 50-yard line in the south stands for this great game in an SEC championship season. The typically tough Erk Russell defense notched two safeties that day, but it actually was an atypical game for the Dawgs in the Vince Dooley era in that Georgia had 300 yards passing, including a 37-yard touchdown strike from Mike Cavan to big Dennis Hughes.
1969: Georgia wins 30-0 at Clemson. Cavan threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score as the Dogs shut out the Tigers in Death Valley.
1976: Georgia wins 41-0 at Clemson. Before a national television audience on ABC, Georgia’s quarterback tandem of Ray Goff and Matt Robinson humiliated the Tigers. Goff had a 73-yard scoring run and Robinson threw three touchdown passes, including an 85-yarder to Gene Washington. Quite a day.
1980: Georgia wins 20-16 in Athens. A tightly fought game during the national championship season in which Scott Woerner ran back a punt 67 yards for a touchdown and returned an interception 98 yards to set up a Buck Belue score.
1982: Georgia wins 13-7 in Athens. This was a big, big game, Georgia’s first under the new Sanford Stadium lights as the two preceding national champions met on national TV on Labor Day night. Hey, Jim Nabors was there to sing the national anthem! Herschel had an injured thumb and no one was sure how much he’d play, if at all. When he entered the game as a decoy in the second quarter the focus was so much on him that Tron Jackson was able to score on a 41-yard reverse, though the score was wiped out by a penalty. But the Georgia defense rose to the occasion, intercepting Athens native Homer Jordan four times and blocking a punt that turned into a touchdown for the Dogs. And Kevin Butler kicked two field goals.
1984: Georgia wins 26-23 in Athens. Speaking of Butler, his legend was made on this day as the Dogs upset the No. 2-ranked Tigers when he kicked it 100,000 miles, as Larry Munson said (actually 60 yards) for the winning field goal with 11 seconds to go. The stadium, as Munson screamed, was “worse than bonkers.”
1985: Georgia wins 20-13 in Clemson. Breaking out their red britches for the first time in a few years, the Dogs won a big upset in Death Valley thanks mostly to the spark provided by second-string quarterback James Jackson.
1991: Georgia wins 27-12 in Athens. On Goff’s best day as head coach, the Dogs upset the No. 6-ranked Tigers on national television.
2002: Georgia wins 31-28 in Athens. The close calls that characterized Georgia’s first SEC title season in 20 years started on this day at Sanford Stadium as QB David Greene struggled. But backup D.J. Shockley threw for one touchdown and ran for another, Fred Gibson returned a kickoff 91 yards for a score and Billy Bennett made a late fourth-quarter field goal for the margin of victory. A Tiger field goal attempt that would have tied it up fell short, and the Dogs clinched it when they converted on fourth down with 40 seconds left. Whew.
2003: Georgia wins 30-0 at Clemson. The Dogs entered the game with a shaky offensive line, two starters out injured and eight other players out on suspension, but Greene connected early with Gibson on a beautiful 56-yard touchdown strike. Greenie also had a 3-yard touchdown run, Shockley scored on a 29-yard run, Bennett added three field goals and the defense, which held Clemson to 7 yards rushing in the first half, saved a shutout with a David Pollack interception. Perfect.
And that’s the last time Georgia and Clemson played.
Feel free to share your own memories of the rivalry. And do you agree that the Dogs and Tigers should meet more often?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg