CLEMSON, S.C. – Dabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier say they have no animosity towards one another.
They say they respect each other.
But you’d never know it by listening to the barbs that the Palmetto State’s most prominent football coaches repeatedly fire at one another.
Over the last three years, Clemson and South Carolina have emerged as two of the nation’s best programs.
Over the same period, Swinney and Spurrier have engaged in a war of words that has made the Tigers and Gamecocks’ rivalry one of college football’s most entertaining soap operas.
This week marked the latest, but certainly not the last, episode in the pair’s seemingly never-ending feud, with the coaches trading barbs from victory celebrations following their respective bowl games.
It is fueled by mutual success, South Carolina’s burgeoning dominance of Clemson and Spurrier’s acidic tongue. And it shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
It began, strangely enough, with a misunderstanding.
Following South Carolina’s 34-13 win in November 2011, South Carolina play-by-play announcer Todd Ellis stated, “We aren’t LSU and we aren’t Alabama. But we sure ain’t Clemson.”
South Carolina’s official Twitter account tweeted out the quote but attributed it to Spurrier.
Five days later, Swinney was asked about the comment, and it sparked a memorable rant.
“I was taught to win or lose with class, and that’s a childish thing to put out there, to be honest with you,” he said in a six-minute clip that went viral on YouTube. “Our program speaks for itself. I guess I’d have to say I agree with him. I’d say he’s right. They’re not Clemson. They’re never going to be Clemson. No three-game winning streak is going to change that."
“It’s not the first time they’ve won three in a row, and it won’t be the last time. I’ve gone out of my way to be complementary to them and complementary to coach Spurrier, but I’m going to defend my program, my players and my coaches because I believe in them."
“There’s a lot of rivalries out there,” he said. “This is more of a domination. That’s a fact. My kids’ grandkids won’t live long enough to see this ever really become a rivalry."
“They ain’t Alabama. They ain’t LSU. And they’re certainly not Clemson,” he continued. “That’s why Carolina’s in Chapel Hill and USC’s in California and the university in this state always has been, always will be Clemson. … You can print that, tweet that, whatever.”
In October 2012, South Carolina prepared for a trip to LSU and the Tigers' “Death Valley.”
Naturally, Spurrier was ready with a quip.
“Most of our guys have never been to Death Valley,” Spurrier told the Charleston Post and Courier. “(LSU’s stadium) is the Death Valley, isn’t it? Or is there another one? There’s two of them. That’s right. There’s two Death Valleys.”
Swinney responded: “I can see where he might have a little confusion. Our guys have never been to USC. California is a long way from here,” he said. “I can see where there would be a little confusion, got two Death Valleys, two USCs, but only one real one.”
Two weeks later, Swinney offered heartfelt support to star South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore in the wake of a devastating knee injury.
On a teleconference with reporters the day after Lattimore’s injury, Swinney said he was praying for Lattimore’s full recovery.
“It took my breath away,” he said. “I was watching, and it just breaks my heart. I mean, I just hurt for him and his family and his teammates. This is a guy that, to me, represents all the good things that college football should be about. He's a guy I know personally. He's a class young man and so is his family. I know how hard he has worked.”
Two days later, Spurrier responded at a rally held in Lattimore’s honor.
“I read one today from the head coach at our upstate school, you know, that school that used to beat us a lot that doesn't beat us much anymore,” he said. “Usually, when that coach up there talks about South Carolina, it's a bunch of garbage and a bunch of BS. Usually. But I have to agree with him on what he said the other day. He said, 'Marcus Lattimore stands for what's right about college football.'”
Before South Carolina’s 31-17 win in November, both coaches professed mutual respect for one another and said nice things about the other’s wife.
“Coach Spurrier’s only mean to me when he ain’t around me,” Swinney said. “He’s always really nice, he really is.”
But Spurrier couldn’t resist another jab after his team’s Capital One Bowl win over Wisconsin.
“Those two Capital One Bowl trophies are nice, but that state championship ain’t bad either,” he said during the on-field trophy presentation.
Following Clemson’s Orange Bowl win over Ohio State, Swinney fired back, saying during his team’s trophy presentation that Clemson was “the first team from South Carolina to win a BCS bowl game.”
Sunday, Spurrier told ESPN.com's Chris Low, “We’ve never even been to a BCS bowl. We can’t get invited. We’re in the SEC.”
South Carolina’s success against Clemson should keep Spurrier’s quips coming. The Gamecocks have won five consecutive games against the Tigers, their longest win streak in the rivalry’s history.
Over the last three seasons, the Gamecocks are 33-6 with a trio of 11-2 seasons.
In that same time span, Clemson is 32-8 with a 10-4 season and a pair of 11-2 seasons.
Both teams are likely to finish in the top 10 when the season’s final polls are released Tuesday, continuing their national prominence.
And as long as it stays that way and both coaches stay in-state, the Palmetto State’s war of words should continue unabated.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.
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