There are many moments, big and small, that contribute to the experience of being a sports fan. One that often stands out is the first time that you actually go to a game to cheer your team on. So, today's question: What is the first Gamecock athletic event that you can remember attending? What was your experience like and what kind of influence did it have on you as a fan?
I'm really hoping that someone else has a positive experience to share here, because my first game was about as unpleasant as they come. I was 11 and my grandpa had football season tickets. I was several years from understanding or caring about football and a few more years from loving and obsessing over it, but going to a game with my family still sounded like a lot of fun. So on November 22, 2003 I climbed into the car with my grandparents and two of my aunts and we headed for Columbia to watch the South Carolina Gamecocks take on the Clemson Tigers.
I still remember the excitement and wonder of everything that happened before the actual game. Driving in down Bluff Road with hordes of people decked out in school colors was amazing. We tailgated with fried chicken and delicious homemade treats! My grandpa bought me a hoodie! I walked into Williams-Brice for the first time and heard 2001 and cheered as the team ran on to the field! And then the game started. I didn't need to understand football to understand how awful that game was. Half the people around us were absolutely miserable. The other half were Clemson fans and they were worse than all the miserable Gamecock fans. Fights broke out. People said ugly things. I think I learned a few cuss words.
That first game is where I was taught to stay until the end of a game, no matter what the score is. Even if it's 63-17. When the clock finally hit zero and I had been drilled repeatedly on what to do if there was a problem on the way out (I really can't emphasize enough how ugly the atmosphere in our section was), my aunts each grabbed a hand and we headed back to the car. We hate-listened to the postgame coverage on the radio and drove the hour and half home barely speaking. Fortunately my memory of the fun and excitement leading up the game kept me from writing off football completely, and by the time I got to USC as a freshman I thought that one of the best things about starting college was being able to go to every home game.
I grew up in North Carolina and I was a kid that cheered for the schools my parents went to: Vanderbilt and North Carolina. Football growing up was rough, I loved it, but each fall was as disappointing as the last. I didn't really pay attention to South Carolina until I decided to go here and then I immediately switched all my allegiances. My first South Carolina sporting event wasn't until the fall of my freshman year, 2010. Troy came to town and that Noon football game was my first Gamecock experience. Marcus Lattimore ran all over them and the game was basically a blowout by the end of the first quarter. This is embarrassing but I left my first South Carolina sporting event early. My friends and I didn't last until halftime of the game and we went back to our tailgate to partake in some festivities. Freshman me was everything wrong with a college student fan. I am embarrassed. I had fun, it was cool being in WB, but the game was lagging and I was lazy and impatient. Over time I "matured," if we want to call it that, and I don't think I left another USC sporting event early for the rest of college fan career.
I didn't grow up a college sports fan, so my first live exposure to Carolina athletics was my freshman year, fall of 2003, when South Carolina upset a ranked Virginia team. Haha, Virginia used to be ranked in football-the aughts were weird! At that stage I was a fledgling fan, and felt little more loyalty to Carolina sports than I did my high school's programs, which is to say very little because I'm not one of those hardcore high school pride people who frighten and confuse me. Hell, I hardly remember where I went to high school. I was going to the Virginia game because everyone else was, and knew not what to expect. I distinctly remember getting chills during the 2001 fanfare and Cocky's emergence. I remember Troy Williamson's 99 yard touchdown reception. I remember racing to the bottom of the student section and celebrating with whatever players were there. Then I remember traffic, so much traffic. Anyway as I've fessed to in the past, I almost always prioritize televised sports over live intake so my fandom has largely been cultivated via glowing rectangle, but that UVA game was certainly a special experience and a gateway experience to a life of full blown Gamecocklery.
I grew up around Columbia and my parents have had season tickets since I was born - hell, they left Baby ‘Hoops in the hospital to attend the Gator Bowl in 1984 - so my memory is far earlier and far hazier than those above. Which is to say, all I really remember about being in Atlanta for our 1990 loss to Georgia Tech is that there was a very large bumble bee in the end zone, and I was engrossed.
I'm sure things happened on the field that day that were memorable for those in attendance, but for a 6 year-old child, the only thing that mattered was that huge freaking bumble bee, and whether I was going to be allowed to try to go up close to it. My parents took me around to that side of the stadium to look at it, most likely because that's what you do when you have kids, and certainly when your team is trailing 27-6.
Obviously I have a million memories of attending games between then and now, but the first one was marked by a simple distraction - why is there a large insect in this stadium, and is it going to try to kill me?
My first game was the 2007 football season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette. Being a freshman from out of state, I didn't really know too many people yet, but I didn't want to be lame and stay in my dorm, so I went to the game with a few other girls from my floor. I didn't really care about sports at the time, and for some reason, I distinctly remember not even being all that impressed by 2001/Cocky/the band at the beginning of the game. I blame the fact that I just felt awkward being with people I didn't know. Anyway, I think I had an okay time, and I know we won, but I also remember thinking the games had been overhyped (freshman me was so wrong).
By the time the next home game rolled around, I had made some actual friends and went with them. I started to enjoy the games, and realized how wrong I had been during that first one. Fortunately, I had a much better time at (almost) every game from then on (looking at you, 2007 Parent's Weekend loss to Vandy).