Sunday, October 7, 2012

Loyal Football Fans

Like most red-blooded American guys, I am a football fan, loyal through and through to my team. Back in my high schools days it was Friday Night football. I was in the band playing my heart out in the hopes that my team, the Bishop Kenny Crusaders, would win. My senior year, my high school band marched onto the field for the first time in school history and there I was; the drum major setting the downbeat. But alas, we were a small school in the land of powerhouse football that was Florida and we did not win many games. But that didn’t stop me. I still had the school spirit and nobody had better trash my team. So, in high school, I knew the agony of defeat all too well.

Yesterday, I was reading the magazine that BKHS publishes for parents and alumni and I noted that the football team went 10-0 last year. That brought a smile to my lips. The team has been pretty successful several times in all the years that passed since I was a student and that is nice but I wished that “my team” could have been that perennial powerhouse that won all or most of its games with me in the stands. Would lightning ever strike for me?

Along came college and my fan life didn’t change too much. The University of South Carolina Gamecocks were in the ACC back in those days. We were “also-rans” in a league dominated by the football powerhouses in North Carolina and we always wound up in the middle of the pack. Again I was in the band, cheering on the sidelines and marching out onto the field before the game and at halftime hoping that this game would be different; that we would dominate the other team and things would be different from then on out. We won the ACC championship once during the time I was a fan, but we were always out-recruited and never fielded that dominating powerhouse team that struck fear in our opponents. Even after leaving the ACC and becoming independent, most of the games we played were against the ACC and we still were a 50-50 team.

Then a sea-state change came, South Carolina joined the SEC! “Yes” I thought, “now something was going to happen!” We got a name coach when we hired Lou Holtz who had taken Notre Dame to a national championship. There was hope! But Lou still had recruiting problems and now we were playing in the powerhouse of all powerhouses. We were the whipping boys of the eastern division at first but Lou got us to a 75-25 team. We were in the mix but never came out on top. Our bowl performances improved under Lou much to the chagrin of Ohio State in a pair of Outback Bowls. There was even a game where the Gamecocks dominated the first half but almost gave it up before the end of the game. Talk of the “Gamecock Curse” re-emerged and it was clear that Lou was getting discouraged. In 2005, the lure of being a sports analyst drew him away from the sidelines of Williams-Brice Stadium and into the ESPN studios. But Lou had a final parting gift for the Gamecocks. He spent some time on the golf course with Steve Spurrier who had dominated the SEC and won a national championship at Florida.

I don't know what Lou said to Steve, but the next thing I knew, Steve was coming to South Carolina! Hope springs eternal! Was My Team about to become one of those dominating teams? Now I was really getting excited, we would have one of those exciting offences, the “Fun and Gun” and we would be wild with enthusiasm. For the first time it was no longer “wait until next year” but now it was “next year is here”.

“Not quite yet, my son!” spake the gods of football fame and fortune. “The Gamecock Curse is still alive!” The next few years were those where Steve’s omnipresent visor was thrown to the ground, and there were the naysayers that said that Steve’s experience in Washington somehow broke his coaching mojo. But Steve persevered and last year he vanquished the curse and won the SEC east and we enjoyed an 11 – 1 season. I could tell the difference in myself watching the games. No longer was I hoping we could catch up if the other team jumped out to an early lead. Now I was expecting our team to make up those points and take the victory in the end. After all, we had Gamecock success in baseball with back to back national championships followed by number two this past year.

Yesterday, the stage was set; Number 5 Georgia vs. my Number 6 Gamecocks! For the first time, a battle of two top-10 teams was being played on my home turf; big time college football. ESPN College Gameday was on the Horseshoe, that beautiful old part of the campus that was my favorite place. The day was clear with a touch of fall in the air. Commentator Lee Corso, one of those naysayers who said that Steve could not win at South Carolina was on hand ready to witness what was going to happen. A day that could be the biggest day in Gamecock Football was on hand. All the pieces were in place for a day that could justify my lifelong support of teams that had not made the big time. Could this be the day?

To make a long story short, finally, lightning struck for me last night! Carolina’s opening drive from the game kickoff was a masterpiece ending in a touchdown and the city went up in an eruption of fan joy that sent the Gamecock Curse out of the atmosphere. Neither the fans nor the team looked back as the Gamecocks dominated the first quarter 21 – 0 and held on to win the game 35 – 7. I reveled in the joy in the faces of the Gamecocks fans in the stadium and completely understood the shock and dismay of the faces of the Georgia fans. Sandstorm was playing and the stadium was alight in swirling victory towels. The ESPN commentators were almost shocked into silence by what they were seeing.

The season is still young; although the Gamecocks are #3 on the AP College and Coaches polls, we have some really tough away games to play the next couple of weeks against top 10 ranked teams, LSU and Florida, but last night made all those years as a fan suffering through mediocre seasons fraught with disappointment worth it. We had our moment in the glaring spotlight and were found worthy! Oh MY!

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