For Carolina, Beating Clemson is a Mindset
Steve Spurrier left the makeshift press room on a cold rainy November day in Clemson having asked a Columbia reporter, “What do you want me to do?” This “answer” was in reference to the reporter’s question as to how his team just got handled so easily by a seemingly equal opponent in the 2008 Clemson Tigers. More questions than answers and answering questions with questions have long been identified with Gamecock football. South Carolina fans also had questions concerning their football team. What they most wanted to know was why their football team couldn’t seem to “get up” for their long hated rival and put that something extra into the season finale. That is something their counterpart had long thrived at to the tune of 65-39-4. Since he came to Columbia Spurrier has been preaching that winning the SEC East (and then The SEC outright) is what matters most in the bigger picture outside the Palmetto State. This seemingly unattainable goal was lost (no pun intended) on many Gamecock fans that couldn’t quite get over their old mindset. Winning college football’s most elite conference football title, much less the Eastern Division was an afterthought to most who would have just settled for being State Champs. With this sense of resignation came people who thought they did have the answer to such questions. Spurrier has recited several times the statement made by one all-knowing Gamecock fan who said, “The Gamecocks don’t hate Clemson enough”. However, Spurrier did have the answer for this misguided statement saying something to the effect of "When we start playing smarter and start coaching better then we will have success at South Carolina.”
This omniscient fan’s perspective could have stemmed from some of the things the Head Ball Coach did upon arriving at South Carolina. One of the most unpopular was having the “Beat Clemson” signs taken down from around some of the football facilities. This was unthinkable to most Gamecock fans who didn’t at the time understand the mindset behind such an insane act. With Spurrier's previous college coaching stints at Duke and Florida, what did he know about this rivalry game? Very little probably, but one thing Spurrier did bring to Columbia was a Championship résumé and with it a Championship mentality. Spurrier was never trying to devalue the Palmetto State Rivalry by saying “we treat it like any other game.” He was trying to get a football program and its fan base to look past the borders of its own State to see loftier goals. Through the years the handful of Gamecock fans who did dare to believe winning the Eastern division was possible considered beating Clemson to be a byproduct of such a feat. The mindset being that if they could take down the three powers in the East in route to Atlanta then beating Clemson would be a given. A championship mindset would be needed to turn things around in this rivalry.
A New Carolina
In 2009 I spoke to Clemson football color commentator Will Merritt after the Gamecocks dismantling of the Tigers. He said prior to that game the Gamecock people he spoke to were saying “We will beat Clemson this season". In years past most of his Gamecock buddies were just “hoping to win” The Game. The mantra of “New Carolina” started to leak out of the football program and into public knowledge shortly after its 34-17 victory over Clemson in 2009. “New Carolina” wasn’t something the coaches and players talked a lot about as they limped into the season finale at 6-5. Instead, it was a “New Mindset” the team adopted in the offseason that year and it had very little to do with beating Clemson as the signs said that once hung in the Carolina weight room. What good are signs if the entire team is not there to see them? “New Carolina” meant 100% participation in offseason workouts, a renewed dedication to weight training and conditioning and players starting to think they could do more than just compete in the SEC. Last season, en route to its first ever SEC East Championship, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said in a radio interview that “there was no more talk about becoming a New Carolina”. He said they had “become a New Carolina.” Now, with each passing week with Steve Spurrier on the sidelines it seems that another first is accomplished by him and his staff. The latest was beating Tennessee, Georgia and Florida two years in a row. Last season at Clemson they accomplished a first in beating their rival two years in a row for the first time in almost forty years. That achievement came a week before appearing in their first ever SEC Championship Game. There is no doubt a different mindset has finally set in within the Gamecock Football Program over the last three seasons. Different teams take different approaches to beating their rivals and there is no doubt that for Carolina, beating Clemson is a “Mindset”, one brought to Columbia by a championship coach with more on his mind than conquering the Palmetto State.
He said it (again)
Entering the press room Saturday night in Columbia was Steve Spurrier. He was just three minutes into his press conference and fresh off of his 3rd straight victory over Clemson when he said “I hope our fans realize hating them is not going to get it done”. He has proven the “Old Carolina” (as he suggested in his postgame presser) theory wrong answering the questions with a “New Carolina” three years in row