Georgia and South Carolina began competing in football in 1894, and UGA holds a 54-19-2 record in the series. The Bulldogs have dominated the series but don’t have a lock on the storytelling, even though the Bulldogs’ Harry Mehre was a classic raconteur.
The Bulldogs and the Gamecocks were part of the Notre Dame influence on the college game, brought about the legendary Knute Rockne. Following the run of the “Four Horsemen,” many schools across the country aspired to install the Notre Dame Box.
Who better to coach your team than a Notre Dame player, which led to many schools, particularly in the South, bringing to campus former Irish football lettermen. That is how Frank Thomas wound up at Alabama after starting out as an assistant at Georgia. Jim Crowley went from Georgia to Fordham in 1933, following three years at Michigan State, and Rex Enright left Athens for South Carolina as the head coach in 1938.
Harry Mehre, perhaps the best known of the Irish mafia, had come to Athens as an assistant in 1924 and became the Bulldog head coach in 1928. Georgia hired Thomas, Crowley, and Enright as assistant coaches during that time.
Mehre was a very funny man and was a popular after-dinner speaker in his later years in which he wrote a sports column for the Atlanta Journal. His sprightly and insightful column was a staple of the Sunday sports section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for years.
For home games at Sanford Stadium, he always arrived early, read Dan Magill’s pregame notes and the printed program. One day as the crowd was settling in at Sanford Stadium, where he had coached the dedicatory game on Oct. 12, 1929, he called me over to his seat and said, “Isn’t it nice that they still remember the old coach in Sanford Stadium?”
I didn’t catch his drift, until he said, “Listen up, hear ‘em. ‘Coach Mehre, Coach Mehre.’” It took me a few seconds to make the connection. The Coca-Cola carrier boys were shouting, “Cokes here, Cokes here.”
Never was exposed to any confirmation that Enright was a raconteur, but he certainly was the subject of good-natured derision from his cross-state rival, Frank Howard of Clemson who applied the needle to his opponents at every opportunity.
A well-traveled yarn that had to do with Enright according to Gamecock-Tiger lore—even if it is apocryphal—always left audiences laughing without retreat. It had to do with a highly rated prospect who had made up his mind that he would play for the Gamecocks. Coach Frank Howard, the Clemson coach, was not throwing in the towel and made one last effort.
When Coach Howard arrived in town, he called the mother and asked if he could stop by and visit the family? She was very polite and told the coach he could stop by, but it would not cause any reconsideration with regard to where the son would play college football. “He has,” the mother said adamantly, “made up his mind he is going to South Carolina coach Howard and that is final.”
Coach Howard began a commentary that went something like this. “Well, I understand that. Your boy will get a good education just like he could get at Clemson. He’ll get good coaching with coach Enright like he would get with me.
I am proud of my friendship with Coach Enright. He is one of the finest fellows I know. He is honest and forthright, and he always supports his community and goes to church every Sunday. He never misses Mass. He is a fine, fine Catholic.”
With that the mother, not knowing of Enright’s religious preference, said, “How is that? You say Coach Enright is Catholic?” Coach Howard, said, “Sure is. He’s one of the finest Catholics I know.”
The rest of the story? The prospect’s family, being devout Southern Baptists, huddled and made a life changing decision. He would play for Clemson.
Today, coaches don’t have time for any frivolity and are too busy to even tell a joke, but if you need a speaker for a banquet, call Danny Ford, the former Clemson head coach. When he took over at Clemson, he was a proponent of downhome humor like his predecessor.
One of the memorable features of the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry was the years that the game was played on Thursday of the state fair in Columbia. It was known as Big Thursday and was an annual sellout.
With the passing of time, Clemson aficionados didn’t like playing their main rival on the road every year and forced the game into a home and home format. Before Big Thursday bit the dust, there were countless stories about the game that left all in earshot amused.
Like the time a guy, who happened to be a Clemson man, but was dressed in South Carolina colors. He appeared in the stadium hoisting a rooster as he walked in front of the Carolina stands to raucous Gamecock cheers.
As the crescendo of cheering peaked, suddenly, the rooster’s host took the cock by the head, ringing his neck and tossed the unfortunate rooster into the Gamecock stands. You know the rest of the story. A memorable free-for-all ensued.
Another time, during pre-game, what appeared to be the Clemson team came onto the field and began warming up, side straddle hops, pushups, etc. They even had a Frank Howard look alike with his felt hat pulled down low and looking very authentic.
The cheering in the Clemson stands was deafening. But suddenly, the Clemson band started playing the twist and the players paired off and began dirty dancing to the song Chubby Checker made famous. The rest of the story? Free-for-all-No.2-ensued when Clemson fans realized that Gamecock imposters were pranksters in those Clemson uniforms.