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A look back at the infamous 2004 Clemson vs. South Carolina game

Eric Sprott // Provided
Clemson and South Carolina players fight in 2004 during the annual rivalry game.

Almost two decades ago, when Dabo Swinney was merely a coaching assistant, a blood feud between Clemson and South Carolina in their annual rivalry game came down to a physical altercation that went far beyond football.

On that day in Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2004, the Tigers did their age-old routine of running down The Hill as their game opener. Some Gamecocks waited for them to reach the bottom of the hill, where they began to shove and yell at their opponents before the coin could even be tossed.

“You could see that it was a perfect storm that was building,” then-Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden told USA Today 10 years later.

The game continued on as normal. Clemson scored 14 points in the first quarter, and South Carolina responded with seven of their own in the second. The Tigers extended their lead with two touchdowns and a field goal to make it a 29-7 game, sealing a loss for South Carolina and a win for Clemson.

But with 5:48 left on the clock, the final score of the game became a mere footnote on what was about to transpire on the field.

At that time, South Carolina quarterback Syvelle Newton had control of the ball. In came Clemson defensive end Bobby Williamson, who tossed Newton to the ground for an incomplete pass. Several South Carolina offensive linemen then pushed Williamson in defense of their teammate, triggering both teams to go at one another.

The coaching staff from both teams and law enforcement flooded the field in an attempt to break up the fight, which went on for several minutes.

Speaking about the brawl in 2014, Swinney recalled seeing then-South Carolina head coach Lou Holtz on the ground, holding onto a player’s leg. Swinney said he thought, “This guy’s fixing to get killed.”

During the brawl, Clemson running back Yusef Kelly ran along the sideline waving a Gamecock helmet in the air, which he then threw into the Clemson crowd. Kelly is infamous for a picture of him kicking a helmetless opponent on the ground.

Afterward, the Tigers were reprimanded by Bowden, but the players stood up for themselves. In the days following, the players, especially Kelly, said they were provoked.

“There were cheap shots thrown back and forth all game,” Kelly said in a 2019 interview with The Clemson Insider. “There was no punishment on either side.”

When Clemson finished the game with a 29-7 victory, state troopers escorted South Carolina staff and players to the locker room immediately as fans rushed the paw. Some Gamecocks tried to stay on the field to continue to defend themselves verbally but were led off the field.

In light of the brawl, both teams declined to play in bowl games that year, though both held 6-5 records and were bowl-eligible. The SEC and ACC suspended six players from both South Carolina and Clemson for one game.

The infamous 2004 rivalry game marked Holtz’s final game of his coaching career, while Bowdin had another four years before Swinney replaced him as head coach.

A pre-game handshake of sportsmanship between the rivals was required the following year in Columbia.

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Kiley Bouchard, Senior Reporter
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