Some of you might remember when Kyle King announced the publication of his book on the Georgia-Clemson rivalry, Fighting Like Cats and Dogs. I recently finished reading the book and want to share a few thoughts about it. It's a book that many Carolina fans would find an interesting and informative way to learn about Carolina's two biggest rivals. I enjoyed it immensely.
I will, though, begin with a caveat: many South Carolina fans won't enjoy this book. Why? As said, the book is dedicated to the Georgia-Clemson rivalry, and it's focused on the rivalry's competitive period during the late 1970s and 1980s. At the time, Georgia and Clemson were among the nation's elite programs, with Georgia winning a national title in 1980 and Clemson in 1981. The book thus relives the glory days for the two programs, and many Gamecocks fans won't enjoy that aspect. The book also includes reference to a couple of barbs thrown towards the Gamecocks by Clemson players, fans, and writers that Carolina fans will take exception to. Of course, there's harsh truth to most of these comments. Clemson and Georgia had excellent football programs during the period under discussion, and, unfortunately, they were generally successful against the Gamecocks in this era, although the Gamecocks had many memorable wins over both programs in these years, too.
One claim I did take issue with is found in the book's opening line, where Kyle writes, "It may sound like bragging to say so, but the Clemson Tigers and the Georgia Bulldogs have one of the best rivalries in all of intercollegiate athletics." It's true that this was a fiercely competitive and nationally meaningful series during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. Kyle makes a compelling case for the significance of the rivalry with his riveting, informative breakdown of its history during the period under examination. Moreover, Kyle has elsewhere revealed that his formative years as a Georgia fan occurred during the height of the series' competitiveness. You can thus easily understand his passion for the rivalry.
However, historically, the rivalry hasn't always been closely contested or significant. All time, Georgia has a 41-18-4 record against Clemson, good for a .683 winning percentage. When you leave out the rivalry's memorable run during the Carter and Reagan years, this has been an extremely uncompetitive series. Moreover, outside these seasons, Clemson, while historically solid, hasn't been a nationally significant program that's consistently vied for national titles. I doubt many football fans outside Georgia or upstate South Carolina would call such a series one of the best rivalries not only in all of football but all of college sports. Given the infrequency with which the two teams play each other now, the importance of the rivalry has diminished among Peach and Palmetto State partisans, too.
I realize that I'm saying this as a Gamecocks fan who has eagerly embraced the idea that Georgia-South Carolina is a rivalry, despite the fact that the Gamecocks have an even worse winning percentage against UGA than Clemson, albeit not by as much as some might think. However, I'm saying Georgia-South Carolina is a rivalry, not that it's one of the best in college sports. That's more or less my take on UGA-Clemson, too. Kyle might say I'm not in a position to judge the rivalry's significance as I've done here given that I'm an outsider. I'd contend, though, that in calling it not just a meaningful rivalry to Georgia and Clemson fans but objectively one of the best in college sports, he's opened his claim up to such judgment.
All of that said, if you can stomach reading about Georgia and Clemson top-ten finishes and championships, admittedly an arduous task for this reader, you'll probably enjoy the book. It's very well-researched. Not only does each chapter contain detailed breakdowns of the biggest moments in each UGA-CU clash between 1977 and 2003, but each one also contains a wealth of quotations of what players, coaches, fans, and beat writers had to say about each contest. Readers will thus get a good sense of the culture of the rivalry. Younger readers may particularly find this aspect of the book interesting. From my perspective, the culture of this rivalry has clearly changed since the two teams stopped playing each other on a regular basis in the early 1990s. This was a very intense, nationally significant rivalry in the 1980s, and those who don't remember what it was like when Clemson-Georgia was something football fans talked about should get a great sense of how it was from Kyle's book.
One thing that stood out to me from a Carolina fan's perspective is that the culture of the CU-UGA rivalry during its most intense period shared some things in common with the culture of our own escalating rivalry with UGA. In the chapter on the 1991 contest, Kyle quotes Mike Floyd from the UGA student newspaper The Red and Black. Throwing a few barbs in the rival Tigers' direction, Floyd admitted that Clemson had recently been on a strong winning run, but he also wrote the following:
Take a look at the top 20 bowl teams of all time. No Clemson. Gaze at a list of the 40 winningest programs in the history of college football. Still no Clemson. How about a list of the 30 best teams in regards to winning percentage? Gee, there must be a mistake, because Clemson can't be found there either.
I'll wager that most of us have heard a Georgia fan say similar things about our beloved Gamecocks. Granted, Carolina's historical numbers, unfortunately, look even more dismal compared to Georgia than Clemson's. The good news is that our winning percentage is improving quickly in recent years after hovering around .500 for many years. According to College Football Data Warehouse, though, Carolina currently sports a 577-546-44 all-time record, Clemson 680-452-45, and UGA 768-407-54. That makes Georgia 14th, Clemson 25th, and Carolina 78th in all-time winning percentage among FBS programs. Still, just as Georgia fans frequently dismiss Carolina's recent success against the Dawgs as insignificant in comparison to Georgia's stronger winning tradition, Georgia fans have done the same in regards to Clemson.
I won't say that this observation inspired any deep empathy for Clemson in me, as my steeled heart holds no place for such sentiments. However, I was ambivalent about which team to root for when CU and UGA faced off last year, and I just might hold my nose and root for CU this year. I'll leave it at that. That contest remains the ultimate meteor game in my mind, in any event.
In addition to learning about the games themselves and the cultural aspects of the CU-UGA series, readers of Fighting Like Cats and Dog will be exposed to a vast array of other facts about the football programs of Georgia, Clemson, and other ACC and SEC programs. Those of you who have been around SB Nation long enough to remember Kyle's work at Dawg Sports will know that if there's a fact to be known about southern college football, Kyle knows it. Readers will also enjoy Kyle's unique, verbose writing voice.
As said, the book won't appeal to some Carolina fans, for obvious reasons. For those who can get over reading a book about Carolina's two biggest rivals, though, I recommend Kyle's work without reservation.