South Carolina natives Chris Fulmer and Kirk Hollingsworth grew up going to Gamecock football games. Despite COVID-19, some things never change.
Fulmer, a 59-year-old insurance salesman and barbecue caterer from Aiken, has been to 435 straight games. He’s only missed one home game since 1970, on the day of his brother's wedding. Since then, he hasn’t missed a game since 1984, when South Carolina played at Notre Dame.
Hollingsworth is a 54-year-old who lives and works in Columbia and has been to 343 straight games, including the game in South Bend Fulmer missed.
The two started their streaks as children. Fulmer said he attended his first game with his dad when he was about 7.
“We were just like a lot of people, I guess, a Gamecock family, and grew up with it,” Fulmer said.
Hollingsworth started off by handing out flyers for his dad's business at USC games.
“We did everything as a family,” Hollingsworth said. “That’s kinda how it started.”
Hollingsworth and Fulmer crossed paths several times over the years.
“In past years, [Hollingsworth] had some problems where he couldn’t make a game, and we made it where he could ride with us,” Fulmer said.
Woodie Chavis, a mutual friend of the two, echoed Fulmer's sentiments.
“Kirk used to go with us all the time — he would ride with me," Chavis, who is a member of the Ultimate Tailgaters, said.
Chavis praised his friends' streaks. He said Fulmer loves Gamecock football.
Although they started differently, both their streaks were put in peril because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They almost lost their streaks during the 2020 season, when they were unsure if they would be able to attend the Vanderbilt game in Nashville.
“I didn’t really think I was going to be able to extend the streak,” Fulmer said.
Hollingsworth ended up knowing someone at a hotel in Nashville, and Fulmer and others ended up joining him and watching the game from a hotel window that overlooked the field.
“Chris and his wife, Kathy, took good care of me,” Hollingsworth said. “It was fun to get back with them.”
The Vanderbilt game wasn’t the only time the two Gamecock super fans found themselves together last season.
“I went to three games with Chris this time around,” Hollingsworth said. "If it wasn’t for Chris, my streak would have ended.”
Hollingsworth said he normally attends games with a group of fans called the Carolina Fanatics, but COVID-19 limited who wanted to go. According to Hollingsworth, the group would take a bus full of 30 to 45 people to away games during a normal season. Since he uses a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy, Hollingsworth had to rely on individuals to keep his streak going.
Normally, Fulmer and his group of Ultimate Tailgaters would travel to the city of the game and stay the night before or after the game, going to local restaurants and bars. This year, it was almost impossible to do that due to COVID-19, so a much smaller group went to games, according to Fulmer.
“This year, man, it was tough,” Fulmer said.
Both Fulmer and Hollingsworth said they are grateful for their streaks and the memories they’ve made along the way.
“I look at my streak now, and it's not the day it started, it's not the day it's going to end, it's all about everything that happened in between,” Fulmer said.
Hollingsworth said meeting new people made his streak worth it.
“That’s really the most important thing — that I got to know people that I probably wouldn’t have before,” he said.