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THE 2004 BRAWL TO END IT ALL

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A BRIEF TOUR OF RECENT BRAWLS AND ONE PAST EPIC YET TO BE ECLIPSED

NCAA Football: Clemson at South Carolina
CLEMSON AND SOUTH CAROLINA, FIGHTING FOREVER FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to remember exactly what other people might also happen remember.

For instance: We thought West Virginia/Oklahoma was the chippiest game of the 2017 season, something we’re not sure others would agree on when first asked. If you need help, recall that the game not only had the pregame brawl between the two teams, but also had a spectacularly disordered first half. On one drive, four straight plays ended in post-play tusslin’, a sequence capped by the ejection of Oklahoma offensive lineman Dru Samia for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Note: This play missed an important opportunity when officials declined to flag someone for committing a facemask penalty against their own teammate. Samia was, after all, dragged away grill-first by a Sooner attempting to pull the enraged lineman away from the fight.

Bonus Note: This should explain why, on review, we are filing copyright infringement claims against the Sooners immediately on behalf of the University of Florida, the team whose entire thing is blocking and hitting teammates in the heat of battle. Attorney Matt Elam is on the case, and if he’s true to form he’ll blindside every friendly witness on the way up to the stand. You know, for motivation and stuff.

Then we remembered that 2017 was the year two different games featured unsportsmanlike penalty calls assessed to everyone on both teams. The first to break the Yes, The Law Can Arrest You All Barrier: Tennessee/Kentucky, where officials handed out personal fouls all around following some minor fisticuffs in the first quarter. Wisely, players avoided fighting for the rest of the game and everything was finNOPE NOPE YOU BET YOUR ASS RASHAAN GOLDEN GOT TOSSED FOR GETTING A SECOND.

We really cannot talk enough about Rashaan Gaulden doing that, then flipping double birds to the entire crowd down 28-6 at Bama, and then still getting a third round pick from the Carolina Panthers in the NFL Draft. OH: And when he was asked about the Alabama thing at the draft, replied that he did it because “I hate Alabama.” There is no permanent record, no one is keeping track of your tardies, and the ADHD cases of the world with authority issues sometimes do find a soft and welcoming place. That place isn’t the NFL, btw, it’s the loving arms of football fans like us who respect a player who’ll flip off 85,000 people with a smile on their face.

The second universal flagging came in TCU/Baylor after a game-long build to a late hit on a Baylor ball carrier running out of bounds. It generated a solid but brief fracas, and an even better call by the ref.

Look at him. He’s not mad, he’s just disappointed.

This is all to say that 2017 was still a beastly year for bad behavior on the field, and that even then thankfully none of it equals the 2004 South Carolina/Clemson brawl. The most jarring thing about it on our rewatch of the legendary mini-riot last night wasn’t just the violence. If anything, the video isn’t as bad as the photography coming out of the fight—i.e. the iconic photo of Clemson wide receiver Yusef Kelly booting South Carolina lineman Woodly Telfort in the head in the endzone, taken by Independent Mail photographer Ken Ruinard.

One advantage in retrospect for Clemson and South Carolina in the wake of the fight was the game’s diminished profile that year. South Carolina came into the game 6-4 and sputtering after a 48-14 loss to Florida. Clemson sat at 5-5, their season scuttled by an early four game losing streak and a ghastly loss to a 2-9 Duke team the week before the rivalry game with South Carolina.

The low-wattage matchup ended up in the blessedly underfunded hands of Jefferson Pilot. With more camera coverage the six minute stoppage and brawl could have looked a lot worse, but instead the most disturbing thing about the actual video is listening to color commentator Doc Walker openly call for dogs to be set loose on the players. (We are not joking, this is what he thinks the police should do in the middle of a football fight.)

Both teams declined bowl bids in the aftermath of the fight, which happened the day after the Malice at the Palace brawl in Detroit between Ron Artest and half the population of downtown Detroit. If you don’t like Lou Holtz, come closer: This is the last game Lou Holtz ever coached thanks to that voluntary bowl ban.

Better still, Yusef Kelly, the Clemson player photographed kicking a prone Woodly Telfort in the head, found a job. After throwing Telfort’s helmet in the stands at Clemson—Kelly claims Telfort was swinging it wildly trying to injure people before being knocked to the ground—Kelly apologized formally to both South Carolina and Clemson in 2005. He has two kids and a wife and is doing very well in his job in Easley, South Carolina.

What does he do, you say? So glad you asked. He’s a cop.