Having different opinions, viewpoints and preferences than your significant other can make life interesting. He likes Italian cuisine, you prefer Thai. He wants to see the latest action-packed blockbuster at the Cineplex and you long to see a documentary that took home accolades at Sundance. These are things you can work around. But what happens when you differ about something essential to your being? Do you calmly agree to hear the other person’s rationale or do you put on your war paint and stand your ground?
We’re talking about rooting for rival college teams, people! In the South, this is serious. Come game day at many Lowcountry households, certain members are draped in opposing colors, aggressively waving their school’s pompoms while exuding a shrill battle cry. We at Mount Pleasant Magazine have searched high and low to find Gamecocks and Tigers living in the same house. Luckily, they have opted to stop pointing that oversized foam finger and live harmoniously – most of the time.
These are the stories of those brave enough to reside under the same roof in a house divided.
“When my husband asked me to marry him in 2004, he had only two requests,” said Michelle Calhoun, a graduate of The University of South Carolina and a lifelong Gamecock. “The first request was to convert. It was not my religion that needed converting. Oh no, it was much bigger than that! He needed me to become a Tiger fan!”
The second request was to learn to cook up his mother’s Chicken Bog, a pilaf dish stuffed with plenty of sausage, butter and bay leaves. Twelve years later, she hasn’t given in to either demand. Well, for the most part anyway.
On Thanksgiving 2015, husband Johnny offered to purchase new furniture for his wife Michelle under one condition – she would agree to proudly root for the Clemson Tigers during the 2016 College Football Play-off National Championship Game. For those of us not fully loyal to one team or another, this may seem like a no-brainer. Throw on another team’s colors, profess your love for them and score a loveseat and dining room set! For Michelle, it wasn’t that easy. What would she do when faced with such a bribe?
“I have to say, I got the better end of the bet,” said Michelle. “I am super excited to have my Gamecock fans over to enjoy the games and my new furniture! He would say it was worth it to see me give some praise to Clemson. As for me, I am enjoying my new furniture and the Gamecock allegiance has never been stronger! Now, if I could just get Ethan on my side, we could dominate!”
Ethan, now 3, is their youngest child. On the last game day he was actually changed in and out of opposing team swag a total of 10 times.
“At different times of the day, one of us would sneak off and change him into our jersey of choice,” said Michelle. “The poor little fella is going to be so confused!”
The Calhouns have two other children. Sawyer, 14 and Shelby, 8, have stuck with their mama and are loyal Gamecocks.
“There is currently a war being waged over Ethan,” said Michelle. “Johnny tells the kids if they decide to attend Clemson, he would pay their college tuition. Of course I have an issue with that.”
In the South, we take our college football as seriously as our shrimp ’n grits. Michelle and Johnny were both born and bred in Horry County, South Carolina. They were raised on sweet tea under moss-covered live oaks, taught the bible and encouraged to have a whole lot of team spirit.
“Most everyone back home knows us, and they enjoy keeping up with our banter every year via Facebook,” said Michelle. “We have informed our new neighbors here in Mount Pleasant that we are a house divided, and, come September, until that last Saturday in November, it may get a little crazy!”
As for where this family hunkers down to watch the game? It’s usually from the comfort of their own Mount Pleasant home. Going to watch it at a local restaurant could actually cause some unexpected drama.
“Johnny hates watching the game in public places. He thinks he helps Dabo coach the team from the comforts of our living room. It’s a wonder they don’t hear him all the way in Clemson,” said Michelle. “If we tried to watch a Clemson game in a public place, we would be thrown out due to his yelling or him getting in a fight with a Gamecock fan.”
As for any superstitious practices before or after a game, the Calhouns don’t go to the extremes.
“If we’re not attending the game on game day, we are parked closely to the TV,” said Michelle. “Our day will start off at 9 a.m. with College Game Day on ESPN.”
“Our main game day ritual is to wear our team colors all day long,” she added. “It doesn’t matter if we’re attending a wedding, birthday party or funeral. You will find us Calhouns with our team colors on!”
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Another couple that proudly wears their opposing team colors is Angel and Richard Leitner. They met in Charles-ton, and, while they had a lot of common interests, they found that their love for rival teams sparked some competition.
“Very early on, we started bringing in aspects of the rivalry, buying cup sets with orange vs. garnet designs and seeing which gets used more,” said Angel, a die-hard Clemson fan whose husband Richard attended USC.
“I’m especially excited about this year, because I have taught our 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Audrey, to chant C-L-E-M-S-O-N, and she loves watching videos of the Tiger Band on YouTube,” said Angel. “I told my husband that he could ruin the second child, but that she is going to be a Clemson girl.”
Angel cherishes her undergraduate years spent at Clemson, and getting amped about her team during football season brings back the nostalgia full force.
“I loved how happy everyone was to be there, to cheer with each other and celebrate,” said Angel, reflecting on her time tailgating and attending live games. “The amount of noise and excitement in Death Valley is an amazing experience.”
As for advice for other couples struggling to come to terms with their partner’s affiliation with an opposing team, it all boils down to not take it too seriously and to know when to fight your battles.
“Have fun with it,” said Angel. “We are fully supportive of each other’s teams, until that day in November when we play each other.”
Angel and Richard may be good luck charms for one another and their teams.
“Our friends pointed out that when we started dating, USC went on their winning streak,” said Angel.
“After our child was born, Clemson finally won again, so it became a big joke that we couldn’t have anymore life-changing events! Being intense but knowing you’re just having fun makes fall the best time of the year!”
She assured me there is still plenty of good-hearted banter between her and her husband: “While we’ve always smack-talked, we generally support each other’s team during the other games of the season, even going so far as to wear supporting gear and colors while watching the games!”
Most people look back at their college memories with pride and a sense of nostalgia. It was a time when all you had to worry about was cramming for your Political Science exam and scouting out a good tailgate spot outside the stadium. Whether you bleed orange or garnet, one thing we can all agree on is that football season is a magical time – one filled with good eats, ice cold brew and plenty of healthy competition.
By Kalene McCort