I was gleefully rolling an imaginary bowling ball.
After a thrilling back-and-forth 35-32 victory over a Matt Jones led Arkansas team, exuberant Gamecock fans spilled out of Williams-Brice – we were bowl eligible! With only games at Florida and at Clemson remaining, Arkansas presented the last viable chance for that elusive 6th victory and bowl eligibility for the first time since 2001. Old men and young kids were “bowling” all over the place – my father (class of ’72), a long suffering fan was giddy for the entire weekend, repeating “what a great game!” His happiness stemming from the type of nail-biting win the Gamecocks so rarely achieved.
Carolina fans expected heartbreak back then. We sadly anticipated blowout losses due to inferior talent or endured heartbreaking defeats because of a dropped pass at the worst possible moment… or a fumbled snap …or a missed kick ... or a terrible (no) call. “Same old Carolina,” the “Chicken Curse,” and “Wait ‘till Next Year” were refrains to a familiar soundtrack. My father and uncle (class of ’82), whose dejection approached embarrassment when discussing their alma mater, warned me as I enrolled in the fall of ‘04: they’ll break your heart, those Gamecocks. And they were right; the ’04 squad predictably lost its final two games and didn’t go bowling because of an embarrassing brawl.
The Gamecocks are entering this season ranked #9 in the country. There’s the Heisman contending running back, the Freak at DE (actually… there are two), and the veteran signal-caller under center. I don’t write about the aforementioned stars because you don’t know about them – you do, and so does everyone else. I’m merely pointing out that this is not “potential” talent or several stars surrounded by mediocrity; this is not an easy schedule that could allow us to sneak into a good bowl game or local stars that only the Gamecock faithful are familiar with. If the football team stumbles to 9 wins the storyline will not be that we were overrated – it will be that we underperformed. Some are even saying that this team is not ranked high enough.
I cannot think of a specific moment when this mindset changed. Maybe it was the baseball team winning the national championship? Or the second? Maybe it was the hiring of Spurrier? Or the phenomenal ’07 recruiting class? Perhaps, when Spurrier chastised us fans for cheering after a loss? All I know is that my father and uncle used to say “Same old Carolina” and “wait ‘till next year”… they don’t say that anymore.