For many years, they were just here. Every now and again they would raise up from near the bottom and grab for the ring, but mean old Mister Gravity would pull them back down to earth.
They were welcomed into the SEC in 1992 as part of the expansion that brought the SEC Championship Game into our collective memory. Once here, not only were they after the same athletes as the Georgia's, Tennessee's and Florida's, they were after the same wins, too.
Growing up in East Tennessee, I was taught that an Independent was a basketball school. Not one to get overly excited about in football. Sure, we would get the occasional Independent bite on our collective football tails. But overall, they just weren't the enemy like say, Alabama or Kentucky, Georgia or Vandy. In 1992 that all changed.
I remember sitting in Haywood Harris' (U.T. Sports Information Director) office with he and a good friend named Robert 'Rino' Rinearson in 1996. We were talking about UT recruiting (amongst other things).
During the discussion, Haywood mentioned that in his opinion, the day South Carolina really took off was going to be a day UT needed to find new recruiting ground to work. Not that this was its only fertile ground mind you, but it was certainly important ground at least in Haywood's mind back then.
There's one reason one SEC team doesn't love South Carolina. I believe the UT recruiting travel budget has been going up, up, up ever since Lou Holtz's second year at South Carolina.
Check out the next pages for the top six reasons the rest of the SEC hates South Carolina.
In the mid 1970s I was a teenager growing up in East Tennessee. I remember hearing about how the University of Tennessee Chattanooga had this hot coach who was making the Mocs special.
I recall getting his name mixed up with another guy named Morrison. One sung and the one named Joe in Chattanooga coached some good football. By 1980 though, that guy had gone off to New Mexico.
In 1983 I heard this Joe Morrison guy had been named head coach of that Independent team, South Carolina. Since I figured it would seldom if ever be playing the SEC teams I loved, I thought why not start looking in on South Carolina every now and again.
Let's see if this guy can build a team to be excited about over in Columbia like he did in Chattanooga. Man, it didn't take long!
Watching the video here, I recall at the time I was becoming a fan of this team. I wasn't a fan of Independents but I was definitely a fan of the Carolina Gamecocks. Also, there were a bunch of SEC folks who would not want to play this team and who were jealous of its success.
I like the Gamecocks nowadays, I really do. But there's just something about having a live chicken anywhere nearby during the excitement of a football game that causes me to look up nervously.
I know he's tied down. I know he shouldn't be able to get away. But I grew up on a farm and there was this incident back when I was only about five years old. It involved a hen, her nest, her eggs, a very nice little boy who was also very gullible and an uncle who had a sick sense of humor.
Even worse, after the ensuing flogging, instead of wringing my Uncle Clell's scrawny neck, mom wrung the hen's. I learned a life lesson but my snickering uncle got a chicken dinner and that's just not right.
Now I love Cocky. He's nice to the kids and I've never noticed him flog or crap on anyone's head. Ever. Cocky is a friend in my book.
How would Sir Big Spur make Carolina hated by the rest of the SEC? Well, it all started with some poet you guys had. It appears after Carolina would win an SEC game, lots of bumper stickers suddenly appeared, announcing that a Gamecock is an as- kickin' chickin'.
Remember my story about Tennessee and fertile Carolina recruiting grounds? Well, the same naturally applies for Georgia, except with this obvious double jeopardy issue in their and Florida's case.
While teams like Tennessee love mining North and South Carolina for gems like Jadaveon Clowney of Rock Hill and Marcus Lattimore of Duncan, the Volunteer state doesn't have nearly as many stars to lose to other teams recruiting efforts as say, Georgia or Florida.
Not only has the door been much more difficult for the slick talking recruiter to open in South Carolina lately, South Carolina has been sending out slick talking recruiters to mine talent rich states like Georgia and Florida.
Note to all the wonderful, hard working, dedicated, frequent flying, salt of the earth recruiters—I'm just using the "slick talking" description for effect in the article, I'm not really implying that you guys are like used car salesmen or anything like that. So, please talk to me when I call trying to set up an interview. I do love and respect each one of you! PS- Expect the steak house coupons in your mail soon...
On the serious side, before South Carolina became a serious contender in the SEC, Tennessee and Georgia had a very strong recruiting base in both South and North Carolina. Though they still work both, along with all the other SEC teams, Carolina is doing a much better job keeping this top talent at home.
Of course the more they win, the more they will seek out top talent from these other states as well. And the dislike meter ticks up yet another notch.
Hey, are you sure the I is right in Carolina in that picture? Perhaps we should examine it more closely?
Anyway, South Carolina has a rowdy fanbase that can get its 80,250 seat stadium really rocking in Columbia. The fans can be especially intimidating when they wear black jerseys to a night game, a tradition that dates back to Joe Morrison and the Black Magic season of 1984.
In 1991, the Cockaboose Railroad was introduced to fans, At the time, they could buy a refurbished railroad caboose, purchased from Illinois Central Railroad. The cost per caboose was $45,000. Each unit had electricity, water, phone and satellite hook ups and could accommodate up to 70 people. Today, similar cabooses located near are selling for $225,000 and more.
Permanently parked on the CSX railroad spur over looking the stadium, they are the Gamecocks answer to million dollar luxury suites in some other venues. Take a full tour, courtesy of ESPN.com.
I don't know about the rest of the SEC but I am personally pissed that I didn't buy three of these things in 1991 when they were begging folks to get them for $45,000 each.
Nothing will get you hated in the SEC more quickly than winning football games. Everybody in the league still loves Vandy and Kentucky (well, maybe not the Vols right this minute but they normally do).
But Carolina has made a commitment to winning. I think that commitment started as far back as when they were an Independent team and they hired Joe Morrison.
Morrison came to Carolina in 1983 and his first team went 5-6. In 1984, he was 10-2 and came close to winning game No.11 in the bowl but lost to Oklahoma State 21-14 in the Gator Bowl. That year featured a 17-10 win against No.12 Georgia and a 38-26 win against No.11 Florida State.
Morrison's '85 and '86 teams finished a combined 8-12 but he got Carolina started back in the bowl game business in '87 and '88, finishing 8-5 in both years. Then came his untimely death of a heart attack in 1989. That set the Gamecocks back for years.
After Morrison came the forgettable reigns of Sparky Woods and Bradd Scott. During this time (1992), South Carolina left the Independents and joined the SEC. Finally, in 1999, South Carolina brought in a man in Lou Holtz, who would turn around its record misfortunes and get the program on track for success.
An 0-11 record in '99 was followed up by 8-4 in 2000 and 9-3 in 2001. Holtz went 16-19 during his last three years and retired from coaching. But the bar had been set.
Enter Steve Spurrier...
The smirk, The Jerk, Steve Superior, etc., etc.
I overheard a Tennessee fan talking with a Florida fan once back in about 1994, just before Spurrier started his streak of dominance over UT and Phil Fulmer. The Tennessee fan said "I don't think I like Spurrier much, he seems like a braggart and a rub your nose in it, kind." To which the Florida fan cooly replied "Yeah, but you would love him if you were a Gator."
I believe that. For all he is hated around the SEC, and the country, according to ESPN's Mark Schlabach in his article of May 25, 2011, you would love him if you were a Gamecock.
The guy is a winner, pure and simple. He is also a competitor, as is obvious by his Heisman Trophy and numerous other awards. Heck, he had winning football teams at Duke. Enough said right there.
Back in 2004, between Spurrier's job with the Redskins and coming to Carolina, my son and I were walking along a beach in St. Augustine, Florida, when we came upon Steve Spurrier and his grandson tossing a football as they walked.
As my son and his grandson talked and tossed a minute, Coach Spurrier and I talked. When he inquired and I revealed we were from Augusta, he naturally asked about Augusta National (which I had to admit, I had only been on as a spectator.)
I then mentioned to him there were some rumblings in Knoxville that Fulmer was on short time unless things changed soon. I said, "coach you grew up around there, why not put your name in the hat for that job. He laughed and said "Nah, they don't want me in Knoxville." He never said if it was the fans (due to the Florida whippins) or powers that be. But my guess is it was the powers that were.
My point here is even with the enormous success coach Spurrier had in the SEC, he was of the impression he would not be wanted by a team like Tennessee. Now, if his words were how they actually felt, that's disliking a coach.
Good for you, Gamecock fans! Steve Spurrier may be the most disliked coach in America. He may be a big reason why the rest of the SEC dislikes you, but my guess is you guys sure love him.
PS—I sure like your Ole Ball Coach, too.