When I first came to the University of South Carolina and people would ask me where I went to high school, I could barely get "Boiling Springs" out of my mouth before I was asked: "Did you know Phil Petty?"
Actually, I arrived in Boiling Springs in the middle of my junior year. Being one year behind Phil Petty, I had never seen him play and was confused by all the questions about someone of whom I had not heard. As it turned out, Petty quarterbacked the Gamecocks to two of the best years in the program's history -- 17-7, two Outback Bowl wins over Ohio State and one of only two victories over the Team from the Upstate since I set foot in Columbia in 1998.
Most Gamecock fans, I would wager, never bothered to keep up with Petty's career. He signed with the Tennessee Titans, did little or nothing in the NFL, then got a coaching position at Hammond High, actually coached at South Carolina in 2004 (I seem to vaguely remember this), then went to East Carolina with Skip Holtz. He currently coaches tight ends.
Of course, you might remember all the BCS BUSTER!!! talk after ECU beat Virginia Tech and West Virginia, which promptly disintegrated when East Carolina lost to N.C. State. Off the national radar, though, ECU still had a great year. They play Kentucky in the Liberty Bowl.
East Carolina (9-4) won the school's first Conference USA championship with a 27-24 victory against Tulsa on Dec. 6.
Petty says a bowl victory would cap an already successful season.
"It's an exciting time obviously," he said. "We've been here in our fourth year as a staff and overcome some adversity on and off the field, but we're proud of our young men for how they have hung in there." [RSS HT: A Sea of Blue]
As an SEC homer, I'll be pulling for the Wildcats. But regardless, congratulations to Phil Petty and the other coaches and players at East Carolina. Who knows? Maybe Petty will return to the WB's sideline one day and help guide the Gamecocks to even more great moments ...