in 1999, the South Carolina Gamecocks wrapped up an utterly forgettable decade of football. Carolina won 45 games over the course of the 1990s, lost 69, and tied 3. That's 45-69-3, if you needed me to repeat it. Much like they had hoped hiring hot young Bobby Bowden disciple Brad Scott would invigorate the stagnant program in 1994, Carolina fans had hoped that hiring legendary Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz would help the program recover from the depths Scott's failed tenure took the program to. Holtz's first year, though, was more of the same. In fact, it was worse--Holtz would take the Gamecocks to an unenviable 0-11 record.
South Carolina football has always been an exercise in futility. Carolina has one conference championship to its credit. It didn't win a bowl game until 1995. It lost to Navy when it had a chance to come to within a game of playing for the national title. What happened in Hotlz's first season in Columbia didn't really surprise anyone. Carolina Gamecocks fans, however, have always stood by their team, even during that forgettable 0-11 season. They've always, often to the ridicule of their rivals' fans, believed that it was fated that God would smile on the Gamecocks one day.
The ancient Greeks believed that fate was something that man couldn't control, but these days, most of us believe that we make our own good luck. This isn't the place to answer that age-old question, but it is worth observing here than when it comes to Gamecocks football, we've made our own luck as of late. Holtz and, later, Steve Spurrier wouldn't have come here if they didn't believe that this school and state have the resources and support available to provide the foundation for a championship contender. And, ever since that 0-11 record the Gamecocks fell to in 1999, things have been getting a bit better for us. 2000 and 2001 would be banner years for Carolina; the Gamecocks would go 8-4 and 9-3, respectively, and would punctuate both seasons with Outback Bowl victories over the storied Ohio St. Buckeyes.
Those two years inaugurated the most successful decade in Carolina football history. It hasn't all been perfect, of course. The Holtz era ended on a prolonged down note, while the early promise of the Spurrier era hit some significant roadblocks in 2007 and 2008. However, the program has remained competitive, never quite returning to the depths of mediocrity it plunged too back in 1999. This is a different program. It's one that's grown over the past 10 years into a significant player in the SEC.
Earlier this year, when South Carolina achieved what I think we'll one day look back on as a milestone victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide, Steve Spurrier told us that before the game, he had told his team that if they gave fate a chance, good things might work out for them. To hear him talk, you'd think that he thought that football is nothing but a game of chance. And maybe there is some chance involved in the path we've followed to get to what's going to go down tomorrow. However, we all know that Steve Spurrier is no mystic. This is a guy who believes in his ability to make a difference. And when he came to Carolina, he saw an opportunity. "Why not us?" was not idle speculation; it was a reasonable statement of fact. Why shouldn't Carolina do something that it's always had the potential to do? I hate to put words into the guy's mouth, but I think that when Spurrier told his team to "give fate a chance," he just meant to go ought and finally make good on the investment that's been put into Carolina football since the beginning. It took Spurrier to put the finishing touches on the team that would finally put itself in a position to do that, and for that reason I think we'll remember him as the program's greatest coach. But the potential has always been here; Spurrier knows that as well as anyone. That's why he's here.
Tomorrow afternoon, we play the Auburn Tigers for the SEC Championship. No one is giving us a chance to win. The Tigers are a consensus pick to play for the BCS Title and field the unanimous favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Carolina, on the other hand, should just be happy to be here, right? The Gamecocks don't really stand any chance of knocking off the mighty Tigers, do they?
Wrong. I not only think we stand a chance in this game; I think we're going to win. Over the past few weeks, the light has come on for this team. The weight of history was lifted against the Florida Gators three weeks ago, and this team now realizes that it's good enough to finish what it's started over the course of the season. We're confident and playing better than we ever have. Auburn won't know what hit them.
How do I know this? Sometimes you just have to give fate a chance.