Big Thursday

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"The Last Big Thursday" by Furman Bisher

From "The Fireside Book of Football", edited by Jack Newcombe, Simon and Schuster, Inc., New York, 1964, first printing, Library of Congress card number 64-19933, pages 45-46. Reprinted from "With a Southern Exposure" by Furman Bisher, copyright 1962 by Thomas Nelson & Sons.

As streaks of eastern light cracked the skies of South Carolina this Thursday morning, many a Sandlapper arose from his bed and dressed in his garish best while in the kitchen his bride packed the picnic basket. Flasks were filled with tonic water, in case venomous snakes were encountered on this hazardous journey, and shortly they set out, hardy pioneers advancing on the state capital.
From Wampee to Walhalla, from Yemassee to Tamassee this little drama of the dawn was enacted. Fathers, mothers, daughters and sons, alumni, alumnae and spiritual affiliates, politicians, storekeepers and bankers, doctors, lawyers, bakers and thieves, alcoholics, teetotalers, preachers and bartenders all were going the same way.
There was a funeral of an old friend to attend.
This is a strange way to prepare for a funeral, but this is a strange old friend.
Precisely at 2 P.M. in Carolina Stadium, a steel saucer located on the state fair grounds in Columbia, last rites would begin for Big Thursday.
This 1959 game is the last of the series between South Carolina and Clemson that began in 1896 and reached such a degree of bigness as to become a national classic in itself. This is because it is the only college football game played in America on this day, and because it therefore enjoys the undivided attention of the nation.
This had become too much for Clemson College. Each year the Tigers had to play their most important game on the soil of their most vicious rival. Win or lose, whatever came afterward was a letdown for one or the other. It might be said, however, that Clemson did make the most remarkable resurgence of any Big Thursday victim last year.
Slaughtered 26-6 at the State Fair, the Tigers moved on to the championship of the Atlanta [sic] Coast Conference and played to millions in the Sugar Bowl.
Nevertheless, the game had become so big that Clemson, its highest authorities, its coach and athletic director, Frank Howard, its alumni and its students had reached a common agreement. South Carolina should be met on Clemson soil at least once every other year. Negotiations began. Old-liners didn't like the idea. Downstate Clemson alumni didn't like the idea. But Clemson liked the idea, and since Clemson was able to muster enough support in the state legislature, Clemson swung things Clemson's way.
Big Thursday was declared dead. The Clemson-South Carolina game was moved to the last Saturday of November, to be played alternately in Carolina Stadium, seating 42,000, and Clemson Stadium, seating 40,000, and equipped with an elevator to the press box.
This day will be no different from any of the rest, except that it will be the last of the Big Thursdays. These Sandlappers will come out and they will whoop and they will holler. There will not be enough tickets for all who'd like to see it. Some will get too drunk and have to be toted home. Some will sing and celebrate until their heads split.
Because this is the kind of day it is, and because it enjoys national exclusiveness, whatever has happened here has been magnified. Two events, however, would have forced attention on most any occasion, for they shall never be forgotten.
There was the year the former baseball umpire and associates forged about 10,000 tickets and distributed them about the state. (1946 - ed.) A few minutes before the kickoff a wild commotion arose at the stadium gates. People with legitimate tickets were being turned away and people with bogus tickets were demanding admittance.
The thwarted ones vowed to get in somehow and somehow they did. There were two huge wooden gates at one end of the stadium and the angry ticketholders amassed at this entrance. Together they pushed and they shoved until about midway of the first quarter the gates came crashing down and 5,000 to 10,000 humans surged into Carolina Stadium.
There weren't enough police in South Carolina to restore order and so the human cattle milled about the place until the surface of the football field was the only patch of earth left exposed. Gregarious fans intermingled with players and coaches. Generously some of them offered players drinks from their flasks.
One man sidled up to Rex Enright, then the Carolina coach, and said, "Why don't you put ol' 67 in, Coach? He's from my hometown and they's a crowd of us up here'd like to see him play."
That was in '46. It was a year later, I think, that some Clemson gallant rushed out onto the field, captured Carolina's gamecock mascot and ran up and down the field wringing the poor fowl's neck. This almost started a war. Not only were Carolinians irate but the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals rose up in protest. Clemson is said to have punished the game student but I've always suspected that as soon as he returned to the old campus he was extolled as the autumn hero.
In '48 the only perfect team in the history of the two schools used this game as a springboard but it wasn't at all easy. Clemson won in the last few minutes on a blocked punt by Phil Prince and a touchdown recovery by Oscar Thompson, a runty little end from Columbia.
Carolina had led almost from the start when Bo Hagan, now backfield coach at Rice, threw a scoring pass to Red Wilson of Macon and Bayard Pickett kicked the extra point. Clemson scored, but missed the extra point; then the game was in the dying stages, Carolina punting to protect its lead when the punt was blocked and suddenly it was Clemson's day.
Big Thursday isn't exactly dead in South Carolina. It merely moves to November and becomes Big Saturday. But for the rest of the nation which has shared the high moments of this Roman holiday in October, it dies at sundown, or when the last drop is downed, and when the last weary body has been returned to its bed in Wampee, Walhalla, Yemassee or Tamassee.

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