What is the Palmetto Bowl?

One of the craziest rivalries in College Football, the Palmetto Bowl has included riots, pranks, and on-field brawls in its long history.

It’s college football’s “Rivalry Week,” and all across the country teams are gearing up to beat their most hated foes. In the Palmetto State, South Carolina and Clemson are the only two Power Five teams. The two will play in the annual Palmetto Bowl Saturday night, one of the country’s most heated rivalries.

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What is the Palmetto Bowl?

The Palmetto Bowl is the annual rivalry game contested between the Clemson Tigers and the South Carolina Gamecocks. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the Palmetto Bowl was the longest-running annual rivalry game in the south, being played every year since 1909.

Even after South Carolina left the ACC in 1971, the teams continued the rivalry, alternating sites each year. In 2015, the universities expanded the Palmetto Bowl to become the Palmetto Series, which includes all NCAA-certified sports, an academic component, and a blood drive.

In 2023, the Palmetto Bowl will be held at William-Brice Stadium in Columbia.

History of the Palmetto Bowl

The first meeting between Clemson and South Carolina on the gridiron was in 1896. Clemson dominated the early years of the rivalry and still holds a 72-43-4 series lead in what is considered one of the most heated rivalries in college football. In fact, there are several incidents throughout history that in today’s world, seem almost fantastical.

1902: The March on Columbia

In 1902, following South Carolina College’s first series win, a professor drew a picture of the new football team mascot (A Gamecock) riding and whipping a Tiger. The cadets from Clemson College were so enraged, that they marched on Columbia, wielding bayonets and swords. South Carolina students and professors alike barricaded themselves in buildings and hurled rocks at the angry mob.

The incident was the first of many heated clashes in the rivalry. As a result, the rivalry—known as “Big Thursday” at the time—was discontinued until 1909.

1946: Fake Tickets and Another Riot

In 1946, the mob got involved in the rivalry by printing fake tickets and selling them. Fans were denied entry by the hundreds, which caused riots between opposing fans and security.

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After multiple political figures including prominent senator Strom Thurmond and Secretary of State James Byrnes urged fans to be civil, a compromise was reached allowing fans to stand alongside the players and coaches on the sidelines.

1961: The Fraternities Get Involved

In what many consider to be one of the greatest pranks in the history of college football, South Carolina’s Sigma Nu fraternity worked their way past security and took the field for pre-game warm-ups in uniforms that resembled the Clemson jerseys, tricking the band and crowd alike.

From there, the fraternity brothers proceeded to jokingly drop passes, miss kicks and make fools of themselves to antagonize the hostile crowd. Clemson fans soon realized they had been duped. South Carolina eventually won the game, 21-14.

2000: Push-Off or Clean Catch?

In 2000, a tightly contested matchup ended in controversy as a deep Clemson pass from Woody Danzler to Rod Gardner was completed to the eight-yard line to set up a game-winning field goal.

South Carolina fans point to the fact that Gardner seemingly pushed off and have dubbed the game “The Push Off” while Clemson fans simply refer to it as “The Catch II.”

2004: The Brawl

One of the craziest on-field occurrences in the history of college football, “The Brawl” lives in infamy among Palmetto Bowl lore. Unlike several other harmless back-and-forths between the rivals, this one involved multiple injuries, suspensions, and self-imposed bowl bans for both teams.

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Occurring the same day as “The Malice in the Palace”, “The Brawl” involved pre-game pushing and shoving before climaxing with an all-out fight that ended the game prematurely.

When South Carolina quarterback Syvelle Newton was hit late and subsequently laid on by multiple Clemson players, South Carolina players left the bench. Chaos ensued as multiple players threw punches and swung helmets. State troopers rushed the field and struggled to control the violence. At one point, a Clemson player was photographed kicking a South Carolina lineman who struggled to protect his uncovered head.

Both teams suspended themselves from bowl games and multiple players served suspensions the next season.

A New Rivalry

In 2015, the universities agreed to expand the Palmetto Bowl into what is now called the Palmetto Series.

Each varsity sports team that wins its game or series against the other school earns a point for their university. In addition, a point is awarded to the school with the highest average GPA among its varsity athletes and the school that donates the most blood during the week of the football game.

Though Clemson has traditionally dominated on the football field, South Carolina has a complete stranglehold on the Palmetto Series, as the Gamecocks have won the first eight years of the rivalry.

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