The 2004 Clemson-South Carolina Game
29 - 7 Clemson
The South Carolina-Clemson brawl during the 2004 football game is the most recent eruption of hostilities in this rivalry. It is also the last time Lou Holtz coached, having retired shortly thereafter. Clemson won the game 29–7. Each team had won a total of six games that year, making them technically bowl eligible. However, both schools withdrew from bowl consideration because of the unsportsmanlike nature of the fight.
Prior to the contest, some South Carolina players congregated at the corner of the endzone near the bottom of “the Hill” at Memorial Stadium as Clemson made their traditional entrance to the field. Brief shoving ensued between Gamecock and Tiger players, but was broken up quickly.
The brawl resulted late in the game after USC quarterback Syvelle Newton was knocked to the ground after a shot to the helmet following an incomplete pass on 4th and 11 with 5:48 left to go in the fourth quarter, and Clemson players lay on top of him preventing him from getting up. Players on the field from both teams engaged in shoving and punching and both benches practically cleared as chaos erupted. The iconic image of the brawl was of Clemson’s Yusef Kelly kicking a helmetless South Carolina player in the head as he lay face down, attempting to protect his head with his hands. State Troopers, as well as other local law enforcement officers, entered the field to restore order. No fans ever entered the field. Play was suspended for six minutes.
The ACC and SEC reviewed the tapes of both incidents before handing out proper punishments to players. However, both schools imposed a punishment of their own on November 22, by saying that neither team would be permitted to play in a bowl game because of the brawl.
Both the SEC and ACC suspended players from each school, with the SEC’s penalties effective for South Carolina’s first game of the 2005-06 season, against Central Florida, while the ACC allowed Clemson to stagger the suspensions for their offending players at various games during the 2005-06 season.
The ACC’s policy on players serving suspensions permitted Clemson to punish the players during the season, and not an immediate penalty during the Tigers’ first game of 2005, against Texas A&M. Some of the offending players were involved in the crucial game, which resulted in a Tigers win in the final seconds. The penalties were served, based on a case-by-case basis, in midseason games against the winless Temple and one game winner Duke.
The fight overshadowed the last game Lou Holtz participated in as South Carolina’s head coach, as he retired at the end of the season. Holtz quoted that he “is going to be remembered along with former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes for having a fight at the Clemson game,” alluding to the 1978 Gator Bowl. Holtz then handed the coaching reins to Steve Spurrier. Clemson won the game 29–7.
The following year (2005), in a showing of sportsmanship which was coordinated by both schools’ athletic departments and administrations, both teams met at midfield at Williams-Brice Stadium at the University of South Carolina and shook hands.