In a park in Conway, S.C., near the Waccamaw River on a beautiful spring evening in 2014, Steve Spurrier savored what turned out to be the final moments of a (the?) golden age for South Carolina’s football program. The team that played for more than 100 years before it ever won a bowl game had won 11 games for three consecutive seasons. More importantly — as the cheers from the crowd that night confirmed — the Gamecocks had run their winning streak against Clemson to five.
“The game went about like all of them went,” Spurrier deadpanned as he let the fans relive a 31-17 win against a Tigers team that went 11-2 and won the Orange Bowl. One of Spurrier’s great rhetorical gifts is making the extraordinary sound routine when it serves the purpose of needling a rival. Make no mistake: Five consecutive South Carolina wins against Clemson was extraordinary. Before that stretch, Clemson led the series with a 65-37-4 record.
But at that moment, winning against Clemson felt as certain as the sun rising over the water at Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head.
Then everything flipped.
Clemson retook the Palmetto State rivalry a few months later when freshman Deshaun Watson led the Tigers to a 35-17 win at Williams-Brice Stadium while playing on a torn ACL. Clemson went on to win the next six meetings. During that stretch, Spurrier retired. Will Muschamp got hired. Clemson kept winning — including two national titles — and dominated in-state recruiting. Muschamp got extended after beating Michigan in an Outback Bowl, but that only raised the price for South Carolina to fire him in 2020. Meanwhile, Dabo Swinney’s Tigers seemed as if they’d rule the rivalry indefinitely. What felt certain a little more than six years earlier suddenly seemed almost impossible to fathom.
Shane Beamer understood the doubt. When Beamer was hired to replace Muschamp, South Carolina had gone 2-8 against an all-SEC schedule the previous season. Beamer had been at Oklahoma as the special teams coordinator, but before that he had spent two seasons on Georgia’s staff. So he knew exactly what Kirby Smart was building in Athens. After clashing with Clemson on the recruiting trail in his previous jobs, Beamer understood the challenge of fighting what Swinney had constructed. As the Gamecocks’ head coach, Beamer would have to deal with both monsters.
Asked now whether he was intimidated by all of that, Beamer redirects. “I really didn’t think about it that way,” he said. “I know it’s cliche, but for me, it really was just knowing that we had a lot of work to do.”