• U.S.

Sport: Big Thursday

3 minute read

In South Carolina, it is unpardonable for a red-blooded citizen to be neutral on Big Thursday. On that momentous day, by decree of state law and with the State Fair as a backdrop, Clemson College (enrollment 3,200) fights it out on the football field with the University of South Carolina (enrollment 4,000). As usual last week, schools closed down and politicians scurried back from Washington as citizens began working themselves into the mood for the 47th annual battle.

At Segars Mill in the low country, the Segars clan performed the annual ritual of closing down the grist mill and padlocking the general store. As Clemson folks, they looked askance at other pilgrims making the journey to the state capital at Columbia; there was no telling who might be a Carolina sympathizer. There had been friction between the two factions since the day Pitchfork Ben Tillman, the state’s rip-snorting governor of the 1890s, branded the university as a center of snobbery and helped found Clemson, a “heman” agricultural college with a strong emphasis on military training.

Drawn Bayonets. For 24 hours before the game last week, the bell on the university chapel clanged without let. At dusk on Big Wednesday, the Clemson Tiger was burned in effigy on the State House steps while alert policemen stood by to prevent free-for-alls. There were precedents for their fears. In 1902, the Clemson cadet corps showed up for the game with drawn bayonets. In 1946 the Great Day splashed over into a riot. This time, except for a few Carolina enthusiasts who lobbed rotten tomatoes and grapefruit rinds at Clemson cars, the partisans were on their good behavior.

On the day of the game 35,000 spectators, the biggest crowd ever to watch a sport event in South Carolina, jammed the stadium. The grimmest man present was big Rex Enright, Carolina’s coach. His team had lost every game this season. If he lost on Big Thursday, he and everybody else in South Carolina knew that he’d better begin looking for another job. Before the end of the first quarter, Enright’s team was behind, 13-0, and the Clemson stands were calling for their boys to pour it on.

“They’re Wilting!” Coach Enright paced the sidelines, hoped for a break—and got one. Carolina’s star halfback, Steve Wadiak, got some blocking and ran a kickoff back 60 yards. A few plays later Carolina had a touchdown. At halftime the score was 13-13, and Enright began to believe in miracles. As his boys ran in & out of the game they told him: “Coach, they’re wilting!”

Carolina, which had done nothing right in the first quarter, could do nothing wrong after that. Quarterback Bo Hagan tempted fate by throwing passes deep in his own territory—and completed them. The Carolina stands rocked as he heaved a 40-yard pass to put Carolina ahead, then engineered another touchdown to make the final score Carolina 27, Clemson 13.

At game’s end his players carried Enright off the field on their shoulders. His job seemed safe, even if Carolina didn’t win another game all year.

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