Past years, great talent draw big fans back
Last year, the student section at South Carolina’s football games started to get a reputation. A bad one.
In the home opener against East Carolina, the student section was nearly empty midway through the third quarter. A noon kickoff in early September against an overwhelmed opponent didn’t help matters, but the bleachers were embarrassingly empty in the second half. Students were seen leaving in the second quarter against Tennessee. Even in a blowout win in a nationally televised game versus Georgia, one of the most dominating and impressive wins in the history of the program, there were those who departed while the game was still going on.
Every student at the University of South Carolina is not a football fan and that’s alright. The student body at USC consists of multiple cultures and interests. Columbia is a diverse town with lots of attractions and there are plenty of students who don’t want to spend their Saturdays at Williams-Brice Stadium. There is nothing wrong with that. The point of this isn’t to talk badly about those who decide to leave; it’s about why I stay.
I attended my first Gamecock football game when I was two years old. My dad took me into the lower deck, diapers and all, and we watched the 1994 team together from 30 rows up in the end zone. I always enjoyed going to games, but I didn’t become a truly committed fan until I got into primary school. I was six years old and in the first grade when the 1998 season began with South Carolina beating Ball State.
The next time the Gamecocks won a football game, I was in the third grade.
South Carolina went 1-21 over the 1998 and 1999 seasons. They were the two most miserable years of my sporting life. I lived in the upstate of South Carolina, where Clemson was king. My friends, teachers and neighbors were all Tiger fans and I received no mercy when fall rolled around. I endured jabs and barbs and looks from nearly everyone at my school as the Gamecocks lost week after week after week. It was two years of riding to Columbia every Saturday knowing that there was almost no chance my team was going to win.
But I still loved going.
I loved tailgating with my family and friends and talked longingly about the recruits that South Carolina would never be able to get. I loved walking into the stadium an hour before kickoff and watching the position groups warm up. I loved standing on the bleachers and stomping my feet as “2001” blared over the PA system. I loved the chills that ran down my spine every time I heard the Mighty Sound of the Southeast play the alma mater, a song that I knew by heart when I was seven. Most importantly, I loved having a team to root for, even if that team wasn’t any good.
Now, I’m 21 and South Carolina is in the midst of the greatest era in the history of the football program. The Gamecocks have the winningest coach in Carolina history, some of the most talented players to ever wear the garnet and black and USC in 31-9 over the last 40 games. The dreams of an SEC championship and a national title have become realities. The program is nearly where so many, including myself, hoped it could be.
That’s why I can never bring myself to leave Williams-Brice before the final seconds tick off the clock.
I don’t know how many more times I’ll get to see South Carolina play in person, but I know I’ve got this year. Going to football games has been a huge part of my life and seeing my classmates play is an experience that I will only get to have for one more season. Those players sacrifice holidays and weekends in order to represent the school they attend, to give me something to be proud of when I go back home. I can’t tell them all individually how much I appreciate the time they put in. The only way I know how to thank them is to be in the stands when the clock runs out each Saturday.
Not only do I want to support a team that sacrifices so much, I also want the opportunity to watch players that I may not get the opportunity to watch after this year. I can’t imagine how sickening it must have been for students to leave last year’s Tennessee game early, only to find out that they would likely never see Marcus Lattimore play in person again. USC has arguably the most outstanding athlete in college football this season and I’m going to watch him every chance I get. Jadeveon Clowney will most likely be playing in NFL stadiums across the country next year, but this fall, he’ll be in my town for seven Saturdays.
I am still somewhat shocked at how far South Carolina’s football program has come, but I am not going to forget where it was. I will never take a USC win for granted because I still remember 1-10 in 1998 and 0-11 in 1999. That’s why I stay in those stands until the alma mater is played. The Gamecocks aren’t where they once were and that’s reason enough for me to stay until the end.
No one wants to be told how to spend their time and I’m not telling anyone that they have to watch the Gamecocks play on Saturday. All I’m saying is that for those who decide to go to the games, it’s worth it to stay for all 60 minutes.
If you think that all of this is silly, pointless and not worth your time, I completely understand.
But if any of this makes sense, I hope you’ll be in Williams-Brice Stadium when the Mighty Sound of the Southeast plays the final notes of the alma mater after games against North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Florida, Coastal Carolina and Clemson.
I’ll be there.