The Daily Gamecock

Not all competitions played on field in Tampa

Games, pep rallies, parade build energy for bowl game


TAMPA, Fla. — They would’ve come for the game alone, but the thousands of Gamecock fans who arrived in Tampa in the days leading up to the Outback Bowl found that the city had activities and an atmosphere that would please beyond the stadium.

Before sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney hit Michigan running back Vincent Smith to force a game-changing fumble, before sophomore quarterback Dylan Thompson passed to sophomore wide receiver Bruce Ellington for a game-winning touchdown, fans took to the beach to get geared up for the upcoming game.

The Outback Bowl hosted its annual Clearwater Beach Day on Dec. 30, where fans, bands, cheerleaders and even a few players gathered in the sand for an afternoon of live music, drinks, cheers and competition.

Redshirt junior defensive end Ashton Holmes represented USC in a key lime pie–eating contest, in which he handily defeated a Michigan player by consuming eight mini pies in two minutes.

Holmes’ teammate Marcquis Roberts, a redshirt freshman linebacker, cheered him on from the stage and afterward took the microphone for an opportunity to rile the crowd.

“Look, this (is) all we do — we win. All day, every day. Gamecock Nation, that’s what we do,” Roberts said, in apparent foreshadow of the team’s victory two days later.

Both teams’ cheerleaders also squared off in tug-of-war. The Gamecocks, with the cheering support of Cocky and Mic Man Chase Mizzell, fell to the Wolverine squad in the best-of-three competition.

Among the USC fans enjoying the Clearwater festivities were Mike Kidd, a 1999 graduate, and his family.

After the family’s first Outback Bowl experience in Tampa in 2001, when South Carolina defeated Ohio State, Kidd and his wife Nikki said they enjoyed the city so much they thought they might move there one day. And three years ago, they finally did.

The Kidd family travels often to watch the Gamecocks play, but this year was the first time since their move that the team has played in their new hometown.

“It’s really very exciting for us because we’ve been waiting for this. It’s always Florida, Georgia, some other SEC team (in the Outback Bowl), so I never really (got) excited,” Kidd said. “This is the first time since we moved here that they’re here, so it couldn’t be any better. This is right in our back yard.”

His 17-year-old daughter Annemarie described her father as “the biggest fan ever.”

In Tampa, the Kidds were mostly the exception to the rule; many Gamecock fans made treks upward of eight hours for the game.

Frank Davis drove nine hours from Edgefield, S.C. The president of the Edgefield County Gamecock Club, Davis has been going to USC bowl games since 1979, he said, and has attended all four of the team’s Outback Bowl appearances in Tampa.

“Wherever the Gamecocks are playing is special,” Davis said.

The Tampa locals had something special to offer most traveling fans.

Kyle and Sarah Greer, of York, S.C., stayed with friends Greg Hunter and Brittany Adkins, both of Rock Hill, S.C., in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood. The 2002 USC graduates said they were looking forward to visiting the aquarium and doing some outlet shopping during their stay, but they also noted the flair of Ybor City’s nightlife.

They said they’d been told that Tampa was known for its drag shows, and according to Hunter, “it looked like a Halloween contest (in Ybor City) last night.”

“We might put Greg in a drag show,” Sarah Greer said, with laughs from the whole crew.

But Tampa’s drag queens weren’t the main attraction in Ybor City on New Year’s Eve, when Gamecocks and Wolverines came by the thousands and flooded the streets and sidewalks of the historic Latin district for a Mardi Gras–esque parade and pep rally.

Beads were thrown into the crowd, marching bands strutted, and fans of both teams struggled to outdo each other with competing cries of “Game! Cocks!” and “Go! Blue!”

Vicki Cline of Myrtle Beach, S.C., fit right into the night’s carnival-themed revelry. Donning a lavish garnet and black feathered Gamecock “victory hat,” Cline sounded her own signature cock crow among the crowd.

Cline was a bit generous with her prediction for a USC victory. She called a three-touchdown margin and said she looked forward to “a great year ahead of us.”

Rachel Price, a fourth-year environmental science student, offered the Gamecocks a slightly thinner cushion in her game prediction, anticipating a two-touchdown margin of victory for USC.

The next day, South Carolina beat Michigan with a thrilling last-minute touchdown, winning 33-28.

Price traveled to the game from Columbia with a group of 11 from Cocky’s Reading Express. They handed out about 1,000 books to kids at the Ybor City parade, she said, and planned to donate another 500 books at a Tampa library on their way home.

USC President Harris Pastides said he could not say enough of the fans’ faithful attitudes and willingness to trek down to Florida.

“[The fans] were here when even getting to a low-tier bowl game was a huge accomplishment,” Pastides said. “Now, coming to Tampa in a top-tier bowl on New Year’s Day ... they’re paying us back with their affection and noise.”

He and other top university brass, including Athletics Director Ray Tanner, men’s basketball coach Frank Martin and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Jerry Brewer, joined several hundred Gamecock fans at the My Carolina alumni tailgate before the game.

Pastides said Tampa might be his favorite bowl site so far, praising the city’s food, weather and “New Orleans flavor.”

But, he said, “next year if we happen to be in the Sugar Bowl or at the National Championship, I might reconsider.”

Expectations all around were optimistic looking toward the upcoming year, and with the New Year’s Day victory putting an exclamation point on the end of a historic season, Gamecocks had plenty of reason to continue the celebration they had started days before in Tampa.

“It’s a celebration of a great season, and I’m proud of our players and proud of the University of South Carolina,” Tanner said. “This is the best experience I’ve ever had.”