Monday, December 31, 2012
The Wolverines close their 133rd season on New Year’s Day when they take on South Carolina in the
Hall Of Fame corporate-steakhouse-chain bowl. This will be only the third meeting between
the schools - each team has beaten the other on their opponent’s turf so it’s
only appropriate that this rubber match is on neutral grounds. Michigan hasn’t
played the Gamecocks since 1985 which was before the MZone, before many MZone
readers were fans, hell, before many MZone readers were born. So you may be
wondering, who are these South Carolinians and what should we know about them?
To answer these and many other questions, the MZone is proud to present this
year's special bowl edition of KNOW YOUR FOE.
History – The University of South Carolina (also known as USC or SC - no not that USC or SC – or Carolina – no, not that Carolina), was founded in late 1801 as South Carolina College to “promote harmony between the Lowcountry and the Backcountry.” For those not familiar, the lowcountry is the southeastern part of the state, along the Atlantic while the backcountry is the northwest portion, now known as Upstate. The first classes were held in 1805 with an enrollment of nine students.
But like every other school in the South, USC’s history was abruptly altered by the Civil War. Enrollment had grown to 72 in 1862, but all of those students volunteered for the Confederate army in March. The college temporarily closed and then opened to those under 18 which brought the enrollment to, again, nine. At that point the college was closed down and converted into a hospital. The campus was likely spared destruction because of its status as a hospital, preserving the historic Horseshoe which serves as the center of campus.
The college re-opened in 1866 and was converted to the University of South Carolina in 1865. Unlike so many schools in the South, USC had a measure of racial equity as racial discrimination was prevented in admissions, and two black trustees were part of the governing board in 1869. The first black student was admitted in 1873, decades ahead of most other Southern schools.
Location – Columbia, South Carolina. Columbia is the state capital and with a population around 130,000, the largest city in South Carolina. Located smack dab in the middle of the Palmetto State, Columbia enjoys a diversified economy highlighted by the state government, healthcare, and the university. It also hosts a diversified list of famous natives, from actors Aziz Ansari and Kristin Davis to musical acts Hootie and the Blowfish, and Toro Y Moi, to NBAers Tyrone Corbin and Alex English.
Amazingly, this isn’t the only Columbia to host a major university, and it’s not even unique in the conference. The most amazing feature of Columbia, however, is how freaking hot and humid it gets in the summer. KYF found ourselves in Columbia a few Junes ago when the mercury topped out near 110 and the humidity was almost as high. Wearing the dark colors of the university is a death wish under those conditions.
Nickname – Gamecocks. One of the most unique nicknames, not just in college athletics but all of sports, its origins for USC are somewhat obscure. Some sources claim it was borne as an honor to Thomas Sumter, a South Carolina native and Revolutionary War hero. A British general commented that Sumter “fought like a gamecock.” Whether that’s the case, the university’s teams had several nicknames until 100 years ago. In 1902, USC upset rival Clemson and students and fans paraded through the streets of Columbia holding a transparency drawn by a math professor by the name of – we kid you not – Horton Colcock. Two weeks later, newspaper reports began referring to the team as the “Game Cocks”. The two words were joined a couple of years later and the nickname has stuck since. KYF longs for the day when a man named Horton Colcock would be considered a hero and a man of letters, rather than the subject of relentless and horrendous ridicule.
A gamecock, of course, is a type of rooster that was often used for cockfighting in which the roosters fought to the death. Though cockfighting is legal throughout many regions of the world, it’s been illegal in the United States since Louisiana became the last state to outlaw it in 2008. Cockfighting was a central plot point of The Little Jerry episode of Seinfeld as well as the Chicken George character in Roots. The South Carolina Gamecocks have entered pop culture most predominantly on baseball caps worn by many a frat boy with the shortened ‘Cocks adorning the front.
Mascot – Cocky. The costumed version of a cartoon gamecock made his official debut for the university in 1980. For the previous two years USC had a costumed mascot named Big Spur, but it was considered too big and unwieldy so Cocky was created as Big Spur’s son. Cocky was met with immediate derision and not considered dignified enough for the university. Look at him – I guess the measure of dignified has changed over time. Cocky started small after the ridicule, becoming the mascot for the women’s teams and the baseball team and slowly took over for Big Spur. Hear that Dave Brandon? Just introduce some abomination of a mascot and plow through. Eventually everyone will accept and even love it, no matter how undignified.
He’s won a mascot “National Championship” four times and has had two of his portrayers move on to professional sports – one as Billy the (Florida) Marlin and one as Sir Purr, the Carolina Panthers' mascot. So South Carolina could be considered “Mascot U.” Cocky has become such a strong representative of the university that one of the most active on-line message boards is Cockytalk.com. Just be careful that you type that into your browser correctly.
Colors – Garnet and Black. KYF has gone over the whole red/scarlet/cardinal/crimson thing many times before. But South Carolina doesn’t really fall into that group of red teams. Garnet is clearly a much darker shade of red and is more maroon than red. Only one other team uses garnet as an official color (Florida State) and so South Carolina’s colors, though a little dark together, are quite unique. And when combined with the bright white of the helmets, this is an excellent combination. The combo of Garnet and Black is used by the school and its fans as a rallying cry, much the same way Maize and Blue is used for Michigan.
The school’s teams have always used the color combination as they date back to 1895 when a banner was presented to the football team that contained the colors.
Logo/Helmet – The South Carolina helmet has seen many changes over the years, but it’s had a gamecock on the side since 1969 and that’s been paired with a block C since 1975. The colors have changed since then, including an unfortunate use of camouflage in 2011, but the current crisp, white helmet with the unique logo is the best in the school’s history, and among the best in college football.
Fight song – TheFighting Gamecocks Lead The Way. This is one of the fastest tempos for a fight song that KYF has heard and it sounds like a fight song that would be written for a Broadway musical. And for good reason – the original tune, Step to the Rear, was written for the musical How Now, Dow Jones. The song was adapted as the new SC fight song in the late 1960s by former football coach and athletic director Paul Dietzel. He wrote the lyrics to the new song, no doubt cashing in on royalties every time the song is played. The lyrics are generic at best and lame at worst.
Hey, Let's give a cheer, Carolina is here,
The Fighting Gamecocks lead the way.
Who gives a care, If the going gets tough,
And when it is rough, that's when the 'Cocks get going.
Hail to our colors of garnet and Black,
In Carolina pride have we.
So, Go Gamecocks Go - FIGHT!
Drive for the goal - FIGHT!
USC will win today - GO COCKS!
So, let's give a cheer, Carolina is here.
The Fighting Gamecocks All The Way!
It’s unclear why the original fight song, Carolina Let Your Voices Ring was changed by Dietzel. The song, though unspectacular, is clearly better than The Fighting Gamecocks Lead The Way. The natural inclination for an ol’ Yankee like KYF was to assume there were some politically incorrect lyrics in Carolina Let Your Voices Ring, but that’s not the case, and the song is still played as part of the band’s football pre-game show.
Carolina, Let your voices ring, to you we sing our praises high
Ring out! Sing out! On to victory! Forever fight we'll do or die
Carolina, Fight with all your might, let all unite in proud acclaim
Then battle on together, one and all forever
Fight, we've got to win the game, Rah! Rah! Rah!
Garnet & Black we raise, Gamecocks forever praise
So fight for Carolina, Cheer for Carolina, Hail to our U.S.C.
We cheer forever U.S.C.!
So here’s a song with a better tune and better lyrics and you change it for something from Broadway with lyrics written by your football coach? It doesn’t make sense. Besides, how successful can you expect your teams to be when your fight song is a Broadway tune? KYF has to wonder if some marketing guys thought it would create great synergy. We wouldn’t be surprised if Dave Brandon is in touch with Andrew Lloyd Weber right now about changing The Victors.
Academics – According to the most recent U. S. News rankingof America's Best Colleges, South Carolina languishes at 115th, which ties them with four schools, including Oregon. This ranking would put them at the bottom of the Big Ten well behind current cellar-dweller Nebraska (#101), and marks South Carolina as – by far – the worst academic institution to play Michigan this season. But the Gamecocks don’t care about that - they’re ranked 9th in the 14-team Southeast Conference, and well behind in-state rival Clemson (#68).
Athletics – South Carolina has been a bit of a nomad regarding conference affiliation. The football and basketball teams were part of the Southern Conference from 1922 until 1953 when the Gamecocks became a founding member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. But too many recruiting disputes led USC to leave the conference and play as an independent starting in 1971. Football remained independent while the rest of the teams joined the Metro Conference in 1983. Finally, in 1991 Carolina joined the Southeast Conference when it expanded to 12 schools.
No matter which conference they’re competing in, South Carolina has had surprisingly little success. The school offers 19 varsity sports (Michigan has 27), but the Gamecocks can only claim three national championships in any sport. The 2002 women’s track and field team was the first Gamecock championship team, followed by back to back national titles for the baseball team in 2010 and 2011. And, no, KYF doesn’t count national titles in women’s equestrian. Even conference titles are scarce. The football team has never won the SEC and has won just one conference title in its history (1969, ACC) though its years as an independent may have limited this number. The men’s basketball team has one SEC championship (1997) and has only made eight NCAA tournaments. The two NIT titles are no longer impressive to Michigan fans. Baseball is, by far, the most successful team at South Carolina, having won those national titles, along with three SEC titles in the past 12 years, to go along with 11 College World Series appearances which include four runner-up finishes.
The football team was under .500 for their history until a couple of years ago, and has only won as many as nine games five times (including the past three seasons). The Gamecocks play in 80,250 seat Williams-Brice stadium, which resembles one of those baseball cookie-cutter stadiums built in the early ‘70s, but displays one of the loudest crowds on Saturdays.
Despite all of the baseball success, there haven’t been that many major leaguers who wore the Garnet and Black. The most well-known is former Met Mookie Wilson. The basketball team has sent only 22 players to the NBA, with former Nugget Alex English being the most successful. The football team has had 11 first round picks, including the #1 overall, Heisman winner George Rogers in 1981. Sterling Sharpe is probably the most successful Gamecock in the NFL, along with current Falcon defensive end John Abraham.
Famous alums – For a school with such a long history, South Carolina’s list of famous alumni is disappointing. They did corner the market on blond newsreaders in the ‘90s, with Rita Cosby, Leeza Gibbons, and Van Earl Wright all being Gamecocks. All four members of the band Hootie and the Blowfish attended the university which might have been cool in 1994 but not so much today. Not only was that Hootie not the only Hootie to have attended SC, but he’s not even the only famous Hootie. William “Hootie” Johnson, the former chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club is an SC alum, as is Robert McNair, owner of the NFL’s Houston Texans.
The list also includes plenty of local politicians, including plenty of congressmen, senators, and governors, but, alas, no U.S.Presidents.
The Game – The end to this uneventful season takes place in a generic bowl against a solid, but bland team. No wonder there seems to be a lack of enthusiasm for this bowl game compared to last year. This year’s Michigan team is still hard to read, even after 12 games. They have little difficulty with teams that aren’t as good as they are. But they haven’t beaten a good team all year, and have shown a propensity to cough up the football – and the game – against those better teams. The poor coaching performance against Ohio still resonates, and is a concern going up against a much better squad.
SOUTH CAROLINA 16