As noted here before, the Georgia-Clemson football rivalry, which resumes Saturday night at Memorial Stadium, once rivaled Georgia-Florida, Georgia-Auburn and Georgia-Georgia Tech for fan intensity.
And as UGA fan Kyle King notes in his new book from Clemson University Digital Press about the series, “Fighting Like Cats and Dogs,” in the 1970s and ’80s there was no more closely contested or nationally significant rivalry in college football than the clashes between the neighboring schools.
Certainly, Saturday’s game between the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs and the No. 8-ranked Tigers is a return to that lofty status, but to provide more context for those who are new to Georgia-Clemson, I chatted (via email) with Kyle (no relation of mine that I’m aware of) about his book, and the series. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a political science degree in 1990 and got a law degree from UGA’s Joseph Henry Lumpkin School of Law in 1997. The former site manager and chief blogger for DawgSports.com lives in Hampton with his wife, Susan, and their two children, Thomas and Elizabeth. Kyle practices law with the firm of Hodges, McEachern & King in Jonesboro.
Now, let’s talk some Georgia-Clemson football!
Why did you decide to write a book about the Georgia-Clemson series rather than, say, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry or any other? Do you have a personal connection to the rivalry with Clemson? Childhood memories or something like that?
I was born after Bobby Dodd retired at Georgia Tech and I graduated from college before Steve Spurrier coached his first game at Florida, so, during my formative years as a fan, the Bulldogs’ toughest conference rival was Auburn and Georgia’s most difficult nonconference opponent was Clemson. I really regretted the loss of Clemson as an annual rival, and I wanted to remind fans of both schools of this important part of their shared heritage, in the hope that remembering their past would encourage them to revive and repeat it.
The book focuses on the period starting in 1977 when, admittedly, the rivalry became much more competitive, but I notice you have chapters on the earlier years online at the Clemson press website. Why limit the printed book to the later years rather than covering the entire rivalry? There is mention made about the possibility of a prequel. Any news in that regard?
This may shock you to learn, but I can be a little long-winded. In today’s market, it wasn’t practical to publish the complete history, from 1897 to 2003, in a single volume, so we elected to go with the most recent, and most storied, period in the print edition. As you noted, the earlier years, through 1976, will be available for download online, and, if the present print edition sells well, there is hope for getting the earlier chapters published in traditional book form, also. The best thing folks can do to ensure there’s a prequel is to purchase the first one!
Tell me about the process of getting this published. Why do it with Clemson rather than a Georgia publisher?
I wanted this book to be written, so I did the research and completed a manuscript before contacting potential publishers. I submitted it several places, both within the Peach State and without, and the project drew the most interest from the Clemson University Digital Press, which has a solid track record of publishing books of regional and local interest in upstate South Carolina. I think it speaks to the evenhandedness of the book that a Georgia fan wrote it but Clemson’s collegiate press published it.
Was it at all frustrating for you writing the book from an even-handed perspective in terms of the two programs, rather than from the point of view of a UGA fan?
Out of respect to both programs, and to the rivalry itself, I wanted to be fair rather than partisan. Both Bill Cromartie (who wrote “Clean Old-Fashioned Hate,” about the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry) and Cale Conley (author of “War Between the States,” about Georgia-Florida) are Georgia alumni and Bulldog fans, so I had good role models in that regard, but it was tough reliving those last-second David Treadwell field goals in 1986 and ’87, that’s for sure.
Tell me about the decision to base the book primarily on contemporary published accounts, rather than talking to former players, coaches, etc.
Journalism, as they say, is the first draft of history, so that seemed to be the best place to start. I spoke with Cale Conley, and he gave me some good advice about interviews. His experience with talking to former coaches and players was that, because they were so focused on doing their jobs during the game, and because so much time had passed since the games, the present-day memories of the participants likely wouldn’t provide as much reliable insight as you might expect.
You’re known for your use of colorful team nicknames, and in addition to the Tigers you like to call Clemson the Country Gentlemen and the Jungaleers. I’m familiar with that first one, but not the Jungaleers, and I’ve asked several Georgia and South Carolina natives and none of them recall it, either. Where did you get Jungaleers from?
The term “Jungaleers” dates back at least as far as the 1927 game between the Bulldogs and the Tigers. That year, both the Atlanta Constitution and The Red & Black used the term to describe Clemson in their respective postgame accounts. Tigers, of course, live in the jungle, and the name Jungaleers also was used by a dance band made up of Clemson cadets from at least 1926 through the early 1960s. The group later came to be known as the Clemson University Jazz Ensemble, which probably explains why the historic term largely has been lost to history.
What’s your all-time favorite Georgia-Clemson game, and why?
The 1984 game holds a special place in my heart. The Tigers came into Sanford Stadium ranked No. 2 in the nation and took a two-touchdown lead into the locker room at halftime, but Kevin Butler kicked a record-setting 60-yard field goal to win it in the closing seconds. The game produced arguably Larry Munson’s greatest play call from a game taking place between the hedges (I admit that Jacksonville in 1980 and Knoxville in 2001 outrank it in the overall hierarchy) and almost certainly Lewis Grizzard’s most memorable newspaper column.
Obviously, the Georgia-Clemson rivalry was at its hottest in the 1980-84 games. What do you think was its peak?
Hopefully, next Saturday! Historically, though, the high water mark was definitely the 1982 game, which was nationally televised and played on Labor Day. It was the first night game to take place in Sanford Stadium in three decades, and it featured not only two Top 10 teams, but also the two most recent national champions. The game was another classic low-scoring slugfest that went down to the wire, with the Bulldogs preserving a 13-7 win by bringing in an interception on fourth down to seal the deal.
I assume that, like me, you’d prefer to see UGA and Clemson find a way to continue the series, even if it’s only twice a decade as in recent years. But that’s going to be especially difficult if the SEC goes to nine conference games. What’s the best argument for the two schools playing regularly, no matter what?
When the Division I-A playoff begins next season, strength of schedule is going to be a factor in determining the participants. With several planned series (Louisville, Ohio State, Oregon) being scuttled, and with Georgia Tech most often serving as a drag on the Bulldogs’ schedule strength, Georgia’s nonconference slate could use the boost that Clemson could provide. This series generates good television, which helps to increase revenue at a time when broadcast arrangements are in transition. Finally, not for nothing, but this is a tradition stretching back more than 115 years in a sport Georgia has played for just over a dozen decades. That’s worth preserving.
Finally, what are your thoughts on this year’s game? And do you care to make a prediction?
In one sense, this is a “throwback” game pitting two highly-ranked teams in a high-profile contest. However, during the days of Vince Dooley and Danny Ford, the clashes between the two schools were defensive struggles hallmarked by field-position football and won on long field goals. This year’s game is likely to produce a lot more points than the series usually has seen. It may come down to which team touches the ball last, but I’m confident the unheralded Georgia defense is going to produce some pleasant surprises this season; I just hope one of those pleasant surprises is awaiting us in Death Valley this Saturday night.
And Go Dawgs!
Got something you want to discuss concerning the upcoming football season or UGA athletics? Or a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg