One of the great rivalries in college football, the Carolina-Clemson game has it all: a long history dating back to 1896, colorful pre-game traditions, two huge fan bases devoted to their teams, and of course, some serious tailgating.
But whether breaking out the orange cups and napkins or setting a table with garnet and black, when it comes to pre-game gatherings, these rivals actually have a lot in common.
Brenda and Truitt Brittingham have been tailgating at University of South Carolina games together for almost 40 years. “It started with just the two of us, then some friends,” says Brenda. “As we had children, it became more of a family affair. And now we have a grandchild who may be able to start coming soon.”
As the family has grown and evolved, so has the Brittinghams’s tailgating style. On game days now, the Brittingham crew may include two of their three adult children, plus spouses and friends.
“We started out with no tents,” says Brenda.
“Now we have two tents and two tables,” adds Truitt.
“Everything is very Gamecocky,” shares Brenda, from the cooler, napkins, and chairs to the Gamecock centerpiece filled with peanuts.
Like the Brittinghams, Angie Mealing has a long tailgating tradition, though Clemson University games have been her destination for the past 45 years. Her father, Dr. John Wells, Jr., went to Clemson on a basketball scholarship. When she was a girl, sometimes the whole family would tailgate. Other Saturdays, she and her dad would go dove hunting first, then head to the game and grab something to eat at the stadium.
She says she became more serious about tailgating after she married her husband, Bret Mealing, and they had children. Now her regular Clemson game day crew includes her husband’s family from Greenville, the couple’s adult children, sons Wells and Bret Jr. (along with wife, Caroline), and daughter Ann Mealing, as well as Angie’s brother, David Wells; his wife, Mary; and their children: Elizabeth, David, and Anderson Wells.
“There’s a lot of orange … and a lot of laughter,” says Angie. “We’re like everybody else out there, just your basic tailgaters.”
How do these families decide what to feed a crowd before the game? Everyone contributes, so it becomes a group effort. And, while both the Mealings and the Brittinghams have favorite dishes they bring out every year, it really depends more on game time and weather.
For a noon game, it’s breakfast. “It’s hard to eat fried chicken at 10 a.m.,” Brenda says.
“For people who live in Columbia, those noon games at Clemson are horrible,” says Angie. “I’ll make sausage biscuits for a noon game.”
But for later start times when the weather is cool, the tailgating options expand.
Angie looks forward to the sandwiches her husband’s family picks up from Duke Sandwich Company in Greenville. Bret sets up his tripod and serves hot homemade chili over individual-sized bags of Frito-Lay chips.
Rain or shine, the Brittinghams are ready for a serious lunch spread once temperatures drop. “What do you feel like eating when it’s 100 degrees at noon?” questions Truitt. “Personally, I don’t want barbecue with a lot of sauce. That’s the only thing the weather plays a role in.”
Cooler weather also means Brenda will bring the family’s top request, Scotcharoos. “My kids still ask for them, so as long as the chocolate won’t melt, I’ll bring those.”
There are no big screen TVs or pre-game radio shows blaring at either of these tailgates, though both families confess to sneaking a peak at college games on the televisions other tailgaters have set up.
Conversation and music are what the Mealings and Brittinghams prefer to hear. As Truitt points out, he’s had the same tailgating neighbors at Williams-Brice Stadium for years and only gets to visit with them seven times during the season.
“Walking around and seeing people before the game is part of the fun,” says Angie. Her son, Bret Jr., in fact, likes to split his tailgating time between the Mealings and their longtime friends, the Goudelocks. “Their daughter and our son are great friends. But they’re on the other side of the stadium, so I don’t go that far to visit.”
One reason Angie stays put is that she doesn’t want to miss the Tiger Walk, during which players and coaches greet fans on their way to Memorial Stadium from buses that transport them there. “It comes right through our parking lot about two hours before game time,” she says.
With both football programs renowned for their dramatic stadium entrances, the Brittinghams and the Mealings are in complete agreement regarding game day priority No. 1: No matter how great the tailgate, everyone must be in the stadium to see the team run in.
“I have to be in the stadium when they run down the hill,” says Angie of Clemson’s famous entrance. With the marching band playing The Tiger Rag, a cannon fires and the entire team spills down The Hill into the east end zone, players touching Howard’s Rock for good luck. “It really is the greatest 25 seconds in college football.”
Brenda and Truitt feel much the same way about watching their Gamecocks emerge through smoke and flames to the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“We’re close enough to hear the rooster crow when it’s an hour to game time,” says Truitt.
“When the cock crows, we start packing it up and walk into the stadium,” Brenda says.
Win or Lose
Over the past 10 years, Carolina has enjoyed five wins, followed by five for Clemson. If Tiger fans are feeling a little extra cocky going into this year’s rivalry week, that is understandable. They not only won state bragging rights last year, but they also won the national championship. It makes for more excitement or more stress, depending on how the rivalry plays out among tailgating family and friends.
“We do have a daughter who went to Clemson,” says Brenda. “She’s married to a Clemson grad. We will definitely have some Clemson people at our tailgate, which is a lot of fun.”
As a Tiger fan who will be on Gamecock turf this year, Angie is still thinking about her options. In years past, she and Bret have gone to games at Williams-Brice Stadium with Columbia friends who own a box. “My husband is a Clemson fan when we go to Clemson and a Carolina fan when we go to Carolina,” she says. “But when we go with our Carolina friends here, I always call closer to the game and ask, ‘Will there be any Tiger fans in the box?’”
After the football game ends, the Brittinghams will return to their parking spot and break out the Gamecock cooler and Scotcharoos and then rehash the plays while they wait for traffic to thin out.
“Clemson’s had a great run, and it looks like they’re set for another terrific year,” says Brenda when it comes to projecting the outcome. “But we believe in Will Muschamp and our team. Everything’s possible, right?”
Truitt agrees. “That’s why you play the game.”
Winning Tailgate Recipes
Scotcheroos (A Brittingham family favorite)
1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup peanut butter
6 cups Rice Krispies
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 cup butterscotch morsels
Cook sugar and syrup over moderate heat until mixture boils. Remove from heat. Stir in peanut butter. Add Rice Krispies and mix. Press into buttered 13-inch by 9-inch pan.
For the icing, melt one cup chocolate morsels and butterscotch morsels together. Stir to blend. Spread over Rice Krispie mixture. Chill until icing is firm. Makes at least 4 dozen bars.
Margie Brown’s Chili
The Mealings use this recipe for their tailgate chili; it was given to them by a family friend, Margie Brown.
3 pounds ground beef
2 medium onions, diced
3 15-ounce cans kidney beans
(2 dark, 1 light)
2 38-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
2 cans tomato soup
3 to 4 tablespoons chili powder
1 package chili seasoning
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup water
Brown the beef and onions in butter. Add beans, tomatoes, soup, and seasonings. Make a paste of the flour, sugar, salt, and water. Add the paste to the beef and onions, along with the other ingredients. Simmer and adjust seasoning. Serve with individual-size Frito-Lay chips. Each person spoons the chili into their bag on top of the chips. Include favorite toppings such as scallions, shredded cheese, and sour cream.
Southern Way’s Sweet Blend BBQ Sauce
2 pints yellow mustard
5 tablespoons Burgundy wine
1 pint and 1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 cup apple juice
6 ounces corn syrup
6 ounces honey
2 cups and 1 tablespoon ketchup
5 ounces brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon Texas Pete
1 tablespoon salt
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1/2 tablespoon coarse black pepper
Mix all ingredients thoroughly in mixer. Store at room temperature. Yields 2 quarts.
Southern Way’s Sweet Potato Biscuits
1 1/2 cups sifted bread flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons shortening
1 1/2 cups baked sweet potato
Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar together into a bowl. Cut the shortening into the flour mixture until it is the consistency of cornmeal. Mix in the sweet potatoes. Turn out on a floured board and knead lightly. Roll out to 1/2-inch thickness and cut with a 2-inch biscuit cutter. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees F for 12 to 15 minutes. Makes 3 dozen biscuits.