TigerIllustrated - MEMORY LANE
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MEMORY LANE

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Dabo Swinney almost never forgets a name.

His memory would be considered extraordinary even if he didn't have extraordinary profile. But as it stands, given how many new people the man encounters per day in his role as rock-star college football coach, his recall is startling.

He remembers the names of guys he played golf with in a fund-raiser more than a decade ago when he was a receivers coach. He can rattle off the name of someone he met years ago just by hearing his or her voice on his radio call-in show. He remembers the names of not just his players' parents, but of their grandparents too.

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Whether it happened two weeks ago or two decades ago, the man doesn't miss much. And you can rest assured he'll never miss the importance of Clemson's rivalry with South Carolina.

A fiery Christian Wilkins is shown here having a few words with Gamecock quarterback Jake Bentley in Death Valley last November.
A fiery Christian Wilkins is shown here having a few words with Gamecock quarterback Jake Bentley in Death Valley last November. (Getty)

In 2013, the Tigers went to Columbia thinking this was finally the time they'd snap the agonizing streak to the Gamecocks. But before they built a reputation for finding all manner of ways to win, they had a reputation for finding all manner of ways to lose. They did precisely that in Columbia that night, committing six turnovers in a 31-17 loss.

South Carolina was on its way to a third consecutive 11-win season, and Gamecock fans were beside themselves with glee. Steve Spurrier could do no wrong, and their fans were saying they hoped Clemson signed that cheerleader head coach to a lifetime contract.

Swinney spoke to Clemson fans that night through the media, saying the right things about how he knew how much it hurt and how important this rivalry was to them. He said he was going to get it turned around, but not many people believed him. Even after a glorious win over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl sealed a second consecutive 11-win season, some fans were saying Swinney needed to go because he couldn't beat South Carolina.

Since that late-November night at Williams-Brice six years ago, South Carolina is 37-39 and will be home for the holidays this winter. Clemson is 77-7 with two national titles and is bearing down on another one as it looks to complete its second consecutive perfect regular season next week in Columbia.

For the better part of the past four years, Clemson fans have been preoccupied with Alabama. The Crimson Tide and Tigers have been the top two programs in college football over that time, so it's natural that there's a lot of scoreboard watching and monitoring of the team in Tuscaloosa.

The developments of the past two weekends -- Alabama's home loss to LSU, then Tua Tagovailoa's season-ending injury -- have shifted the Tide a bit to the side as Clemson folks compare their team to Ohio State and Ed Orgeron's Bayou Bengals.

And that's totally fine, this everyday measuring stick. Clemson is in an amazing place right now, and its fans have the extraordinary luxury of walking into every game feeling very little tension. After their Tigers spend the first-half boat-racing some poor foe, fans get to walk back to their tailgates to catch up on the happenings of other relevant teams near the top of the college football world.

South Carolina, of course, is not one of those teams. The Gamecocks are a mess on the field and an utter dumpster fire off it, evidenced by the strange chirping by various university administrators last week.

It's been a forgettable season for the Gamecocks who slipped to 4-7 over the weekend.
It's been a forgettable season for the Gamecocks who slipped to 4-7 over the weekend. (Getty)

Clemson fans do not lose any sleep worrying about South Carolina, nor should they.

But as the head coach moves through this week and next, don't think for a minute that his mind won't be squarely on the task of beating the Gamecocks a sixth consecutive time.

A year ago, South Carolina gave Clemson hell when no one anticipated it. The Gamecocks' offense broke out some funky looks and tempo and went up and down the field.

But Clemson stopped that offense a few times and South Carolina never stopped Clemson's offense. The final score said the Tigers won by three touchdowns, but most Clemson fans walked out of the stadium wondering what just happened. Heck, Brent Venables and some of his defenders looked like they'd just lost a game when they met with media members afterward.

The head coach was irate that the win wasn't being fully appreciated. He went off about it the next day, saying he'd go somewhere else if 21-point wins over the main rival weren't sufficient.

The defensive showing from Clemson provoked some seemingly reasonable questions about the Tigers' ability to match up with high-powered playoff offenses (namely, Alabama's).

As it turned out, Venables' crew put it all together and never looked back. The Tigers allowed 29 points in 180 minutes of football against Pitt, Notre Dame and Alabama while claiming their second national title in three years.

The Gamecocks, meanwhile, were shut out by Virginia in the Belk Bowl. Sometimes truly weird things happen in a college football season, and the Gamecocks' offensive performance in Death Valley went down as such an anomaly.

Swinney pointed out to his team after its demolition of Wake Forest that beating South Carolina is a goal of its own. Clemson can win 20 straight in the series with the Gamecocks and the importance of winning this game is never going to be diminished in Swinney's eyes.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is shown atop The Hill in Death Valley last Saturday prior to kickoff between the Tigers and Wake Forest.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is shown atop The Hill in Death Valley last Saturday prior to kickoff between the Tigers and Wake Forest. (Getty)

The man shed tears in 2008 after the convincing win over South Carolina assured he was going to get the head-coaching job for good.

He shed more tears in 2014 after a one-legged Deshaun Watson and a ferocious defense brought the streak to an end.

As Swinney makes a routine of kissing national championship trophies, South Carolina has reached a point so low that it's not even in the market to have a chance at kissing the lowliest bowl trophy.

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The gap between the two programs has never been greater. Clemson has moved on to bigger and better things, while South Carolina has sunk back to where it's been for most of its history.

If you think any of that is going to take away from how much Swinney is putting into this game, you're mistaken.

He has a long memory.

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