1959 Big Thursday Program. University of South Carolina Archives.

Big Thursday

November 12, 1896

Big Thursday’s popularity exploded after World War II. By the late 1950s, however, Clemson was pushing for an end-of-season game played on an alternating home schedule, in part so that Clemson could share the tourist money that surrounded the game. Both schools agreed that 1959 would be the last Big Thursday game, which Clemson won, 27–0. Big Thursday ended with Clemson holding a 33–21–3 advantage.

For more than six decades, the story of the lively football competition between the Gamecocks of South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina, or USC) and the Tigers of Clemson College (now Clemson University) was the story of “Big Thursday,” the culmination of State Fair week. The rivalry started on Thursday, November 12, 1896, at the fairgrounds in Columbia before about 2,000 fans. The contest gained popularity in its early years, but the two schools did not compete for seven years following a riot after the 1902 game. Over the next decade, the Thursday matchup became known as the State Fair Classic. By the 1910s it had become a “combination picnic, fashion parade, political rally and drinking bout” for approximately 4,500 spectators.

Through the 1910s and 1920s the annual competition became bigger and bigger. Enlargements to the small wooden bowl stadium on the fairgrounds did little to relieve overcrowded conditions that led to many scuffles among the approximately 14,000 fans. In 1934 USC completed a new steel-and-concrete stadium on land adjoining the fairgrounds, with seating for more than 17,000 fans. Big Thursday’s popularity exploded after World War II. In 1946, after a counterfeit ticket scandal, fans broke down the general admission gate and flooded the field throughout the game. Attendance continued to keep pace as stadium capacity increased to 34,000 by 1949 and to 44,000 by 1957.

Each school developed Big Thursday traditions, including burning the Tiger at USC the night before the game and the burial of the Gamecock at Clemson on the Tuesday before students traveled to Columbia. Schools, businesses, and government offices closed for the state’s most colorful sports contest and “the biggest social event of the year.” By the late 1950s, however, Clemson was pushing for an end-of-season game played on an alternating home schedule, in part so that Clemson could share the tourist money that surrounded the game. Both schools agreed that 1959 would be the last Big Thursday game, which Clemson won, 27–0. Big Thursday ended with Clemson holding a 33–21–3 advantage.

Barton, Donald F. Big Thursday, 1896–1959: Historical Souvenir Program. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1959.

Gault, Harper. Big Thursday in South Carolina: The Story of the Carolina- Clemson Game, 1896–1947. N.p., 1947.

Griffin, John Chandler. Carolina vs. Clemson, Clemson vs. Carolina: A Century of Unparalleled Rivalry in College Football. Columbia, S.C.: Summerhouse, 1998.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Big Thursday
  • Coverage November 12, 1896
  • Author
  • Keywords football competition, South Carolina Gamecocks, Clemson Tigers, State Fair Classic, burning the Tiger, burial of the Gamecock, 1959 would be the last Big Thursday game,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date April 13, 2021
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update October 13, 2016
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