Much like most of you, I grew up falling in love with Carolina football. The first game I ever went was when I was 8 years old. It was September 2, 2000. The South Carolina Gamecocks faced the New Mexico State Lobos in their season opener. The year before, South Carolina went 0-11. The year before that, 1-10.
The Gamecocks won 31-0, and while I couldn't recall any specific play from that game today, it's a day I'll never forget. I wasn't old enough to remember the struggle the Gamecocks had been through the two years before, much less call myself a fan, but after witnessing the goal posts come crashing down - and a 21 game losing streak with it - I knew this must be the place. I was back for more the next week to watch the Georgia Bulldogs go down with more goal posts.
The next two seasons, fans witnessed the team post a combined record of 17-7 with victories over the likes of Georgia, Alabama and Clemson, en route to beating the eventual national champion Ohio State Buckeyes in back-to-back Outback Bowls. It was a feeling of pure elation most hadn't felt since the 80's, and some, like myself, were feeling it for the first time. After those two seasons, I, like any other innocent and easily persuaded boy, was hooked.
For the next three years, we watched a weathered Lou Holtz fight to get the most out of marginal recruits en route to barely .500 football. And he eventually vacated the position on November 22, 2004, a few short days after the melee in Clemson, and made way for a new era in Carolina football - one that had to ride a wave of momentum left by its predecessor.
In one of the the most fortunate days in University of South Carolina athletics history, on November 23rd, 2004, Steve Spurrier was named the head football coach for the Gamecocks. The good word had arrived in Columbia. And all hope broke loose.
A near 11 years has now past, and, well, we all know how the story goes.
Steve Spurrier dared to go where no one had ever been with Carolina football. He expected to win and hated to lose. And he wouldn't let the Gamecocks tolerate losing with him. As small as the steps have been, as long as the journey was, Steve Spurrier created a winning program in South Carolina. He made a fan base believe winning was not only possible, but expected. And in the end, he couldn't tolerate himself as a loser.
The man never known for an unrelenting work ethic had worked too hard over his ten-and-a-half seasons in Columbia to let a two-month farewell tour ruin it. We all knew it was time. Spurrier was just the only one smart enough to do something about it. My immediate reaction to the news of Spurrier's departure came with harsh words for a man that set milestones in Columbia. But, after his press conference today, it's clear there was no better way this could've happened, because Steve Spurrier won't let you blame him if the Gamecocks falter. Steve Spurrier is not a loser.
Where we go from here remains a mystery. Gamecocks nation is now forced to balance the uncertainty of winning another game in 2015 with hiring a bulls-eye head coach. There's no better man for the job right now than Shawn Elliott. But that may not be the case in December.
Ray Tanner faces the biggest decision in his time as AD with a small perception of his legacy at stake. Who he hires could very well define the next ten years of South Carolina football, and if it's like any of the past 15, it's sure to come with unique experiences, for better or for worse.