A Rivalry Is Cooking In South Carolina

Sept. 2, 1999


COLUMBIA, S.C. – Bowden vs. Holtz.

It sounds like a video game football fantasy, but it’s real, from recruits’ living rooms to “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.” Clemson’s Tommy Bowden and South Carolina’s Lou Holtz have begun a rivalry that could last decades – and they don’t even play for almost three months.

“There’s not a lot of patience here,” Bowden said.

Clemson opens at home Saturday against Marshall, and South Carolina travels to No. 24 North Carolina State. Holtz vs. Bowden, however, has been imprinted on fans’ minds since they both arrived in December to rescue programs in distress.

Almost immediately after they arrived:

-Bowden snagged Holtz’s predecessor Brad Scott to help with area recruits. Holtz snagged South Carolina’s “Mr. Football,” runner Derek Watson.

-Holtz created a statewide stir with an antilitter campaign. Bowden was soon signed up for public service ads for the same campaign.

-The Columbia post office announced a special envelope commemorating Holtz’s debut, the Clemson post office rushed the same for Bowden.

-Talk show host Regis Philbin talked up his friend Holtz on the air this spring. Then Bowden’s wife, Linda, wrote Philbin to remind him there was another rising star in the state. “She’s a true Clemson gal now,” Bowden said.

Clemson-South Carolina is one of the South’s more savage, if not celebrated, matchups.

The Tigers tout their 1981 national championship and Atlantic Coast Conference success with then-coach Danny Ford. South Carolina backers counter with their loyal support, selling out Williams-Brice Stadium four straight years despite just one bowl victory in 106 seasons.

Two days after Bowden’s introduction at Clemson, South Carolina piped in with Holtz, who has since used his megawatt charm to promote the university and readjust its losing attitude about football.

Neither is playing it up, however.

Holtz said when he was hired that Clemson “obviously got a far better-looking, younger and more intelligent guy than me.” Bowden, 45, remembers Holtz and his wife staying with his parents as a child.

“I really know him by hearing my father talk,” the Clemson coach said.

Bowden keeps an eye on South Carolina, but a bigger one on his Atlantic Coast Conference foes. Holtz recognizes Clemson’s importance, but says the Gamecocks have a tough enough task in the Southeastern Conference.

He laughs at fans who say all they care about is beating the Tigers.

“You try going one and 10 and beating Clemson eight years in a row. You won’t be coaching here,” he said.

Holtz wants support from everyone, including Clemson fans, and is teaching the Gamecocks to love thy rival.

“If you’re a South Carolina fan, you ought to pull for Clemson 10 times a year,” Holtz said. “People say they go to the circus and boo the tiger. That’s the wrong approach.”

It may be too soon for a Gamecock-Tiger detente.

Holtz’s ultimate boss, South Carolina president John Palms, joked at a recent lunch that when Bowden arrives at heaven’s pearly gates there will be a nice house flying Tiger flags, but way above will be God’s home – with Gamecock flags.

The Internet is filled with South Carolina fans griping at Clemson “Taterheads.”

Then there’s Tigers fan Steve Bowie, who goes on for screens and screens at his Web site about why Clemson outshines South Carolina. He concludes with, “We get Tommy Bowden … the Cocks get Loose Bolts.”

Holtz says he’ll build a winner with the Gamecocks. If his son and offensive coordinator, 34-year-old Skip, succeeds him, as many fans think, the Holtz name could be at South Carolina for a long, long time.

Bowden says he’d like to stay around by bringing Clemson back on top. He’s talked with several ex-Clemson coaches and had lunch at Ford’s nearby farm, finding out how to stay No. 1 in Tigertown.

Bowden’s father, Bobby, who has to face cross-state rivals Miami and Florida almost every year, knows the importance of locking up one’s territory. But to face Holtz with all South Carolina watching could be more than the elder Bowden wants to ponder.

“Thank goodness he’s Tommy’s problem now,” Bobby Bowden wrote in The (Columbia) State, “and not mine.”