Oct. 19, 2006
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) -Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips admits his school and South Carolina had one critical element to get past their ugly brawl two years ago that Miami and Florida International won't - plenty of time off before their next games.
When the Tigers and Gamecocks fought near the end of their rivalry game Nov. 20, 2004, it was the end of the regular season. Within days, administrators at both schools rejected bowl bids as part of the penalties, leaving the players a long offseason to feel the disgrace and endure the fallout from family and friends.
"The players put it in their own perspective when they had an opportunity to think about it," Phillips said Wednesday, "and how it reflected on them and their university."
The Clemson-South Carolina fight memories resurfaced after last week's brawl between Miami and Florida International.
"I think all of our guys learned from the one two years ago," Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said.
The long time between games gave both sides time to cool down and gave administrators a chance to help heal wounds, Phillips said.
That took shape immediately when Phillips and Clemson president James F. Barker and their South Carolina counterparts, athletic director Mike McGee and president Andrew Sorensen, agreed on the bowl bans.
Dissension in penalties - with one team in a bowl game and the other one out - might have led to more harsh feelings between players and fans, who dote on every aspect of the state's biggest rivalry, Phillips said.
"Everybody understood that we needed to get this behind us," he said.
It was one of the ugliest scenes in the state's sports history.
The fight began midway through the fourth quarter after South Carolina failed on fourth-and-11 and Clemson lineman Bobby Williamson appeared to linger too long atop Gamecocks quarterback Syvelle Newton. Soon, players from both sides rushed in and the mass of people stretched about 60 yards on the field. While no one used a helmet for a weapon, there were similar unbelievable scenes. The most dramatic was the photo of Clemson runner Yusef Kelly attempting to kick Gamecock lineman Woodly Telfort. Kelly later apologized for his role in the fight.
Each team had six players suspended for one game by their respective conference, Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference and South Carolina in the Southeastern Conferences.
South Carolina coach Lou Holtz, now an ESPN analyst, ran to midfield, trying to pull much larger players apart. As the network replayed the Miami-FIU fight, Holtz blamed his impending retirement - the Clemson brawl took place in Holtz's final game - as a factor.
"They announced my retirement on Monday. We played them on Saturday. I did not have control of the team," he said.
The fight also came a day after the NBA brawl between Indiana and Detroit, and took a back seat to that.
Still, the offseason was one of lectures and disapproving comments from friends and family, Clemson and South Carolina players recalled.
Linebacker Lance Laury, then a Gamecock junior, said it was difficult having people think you were a bad guy because of what occurred.
Williamson had said his harshest criticism came from his parents. "They were really upset with me," he said.
Clemson defensive lineman Charles Bennett realized he and his teammates had done wrong when a competitor at a Special Olympics event where he volunteered told him, "You shouldn't do that," referring to the fight.
Clemson coach Tommy Bowden did not want to discuss any brawl-related topics this week.
Phillips said he and Eric Hyman, who took over as South Carolina AD from McGee, agreed the schools needed to close the fight chapter at its one-year anniversary. So players from both sides came to midfield at Williams-Brice Stadium last November for a pregame handshake.
Phillips said he doesn't hear much about the brawl these days. The school recently received a sportsmanship award at the National Division I-A Athletic Directors' convention. Spurrier remembers what he once heard from Penn State's Joe Paterno when asked if the Nittany Lions might take things too far in a big game.
"'Hey, we're not here to fight. We're here to play football,"' Spurrier said, recalling Paterno's words.
"We're not worried about stomping on the other guys logo and all that crap," Spurrier said. "Once that message gets to the teams, hopefully to our team, we don't have to worry about it."