I'll be very honest: my fandom has a lot to do with embracing South Carolina's perpetual underdog status.
Before explaining what I mean by this, a little background is in order. I should start by saying that I'm neither a lifelong Gamecocks fan or a native of the state of South Carolina. I didn't even attend South Carolina as an undergraduate. Rather, after finishing my undergraduate work at the University of South Alabama, I moved to South Carolina in 2005 to attend graduate school at USC. My first real experiences with Gamecocks football came soon afterward, as I spent my years in Columbia going to and watching game and generally becoming addicted to USC football.
This isn't to say that they were, per se, my first experiences with USC or, certainly, with college football in general. I grew up watching college football fairly regularly in Alabama, a state well known for its obsession with the sport, and cheered, along with my dad and most of the rest of my family, for Auburn. I knew who South Carolina was and what its history consisted of from that context.
I was open to the idea of cheering for South Carolina when I got there. I did, after all, choose to earn a graduate degree there, and having attended South Alabama, a school without a football program, didn't preclude me from being a South Carolina fan. It didn't hurt that I admired the school's well-regarded fan culture. I was surprised, though, at the extent and depth of that culture: after all, as many rival fans wonder, how do South Carolina fans get so excited for a team that is perpetually finishing fourth in the SEC's Eastern Division? At first, I thought a lot of the excitment owed to Steve Spurrier's arival in Columbia, which understandably provoked a lot of hope. Spurrier, at the time, was admittedly exciting to me; having watched a lot of football in the 90s, Spurrier's accomplishments were well known to me. I arrived that summer about the same time that pre-season practice began, and I eagerly went to the Proving Grounds to check out Spurrier leading practices before the season kicked off.
As I know now, though, Spurrier wasn't all there was to the fan culture that surrounds this team. This is a group of fans that that have been selling out one of the country's larger stadiums for years. That includes the 1998 and 1999 seasons, when the Gamecocks lost all but a single game. Yes, Williams-Brice stadium sold out during an 0-11 season. That takes dedication on the fanbase's part. A lot of dedication.
In addition to dedication, though, I think one of the things that defines USC's fans is their collective belief that their fandom will pay off one day. Indeed, there's usually a moment or two each season when it pays off, and these moments keep USC fans coming back for more in hopes that next season, there will be many more payoff than dejection moments.
That 2005 season, of course, had some great moments, and the excitment they produced proved infectious for me. I caught the feeling that drives USC fans. Of course, I've also had to learn about the pain USC fans suffer in the subsequent years. But that's part of the deal here, and it won't stop up us from coming back to support the Gamecocks.
Rival fans mock this attitude, but it's something that USC fans embrace. And you better bet we're going to party when we finally do win that SEC Title that Spurrier is always talking about. And yes, we really do all believe it will happen one day.