Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: South Carolina Gamecocks

South Carolina vs Florida – New Englanders invade the heart of Dixie…

Shortly after an epic weekend in Morgantown, West Virginia last year (story here), my friend Tyler immediately set his sights on one of the premier destinations in the SEC for a 2013 college football excursion.  During our epic run through the Mountain State, we sampled jarfuls of moonshine, slammed beers out of giant fishbowls, and waded through the near riotous tailgating of the infamous “Blue Lot” before witnessing an incredible shootout in Milan Puskar Stadium.  Clearly, the expectations were set high for 2013.  And, perhaps even more inexplicably, his wife Kristi even allowed him to come along for another adventure this year.

With only a narrow weekend open in November, the South Carolina versus Florida matchup looked to be the most compelling SEC tilt we could find as we poured over the conference schedule early in the year.  At least it was the most compelling when we first picked the game about nine months ago, as it would likely have implications in the SEC East Division race.  While the Gamecocks held up their end of the bargain through the first few months of the 2013 season, Florida had floundered.  Fresh off a 34-17 drubbing at the hands of Vanderbilt, the Commodores first win in Gainesville since 1945, the Gators were sporting an unsightly 4-5 record.  What was supposed to be a marquee matchup in Columbia, might now turn into a lopsided affair.

As Tyler, a nuclear engineer by day, shared the upcoming football exploits with his Connecticut co-workers, a few eyebrows were raised.  College Football in the Deep South has a shadowy, mysterious intrigue to native New Englanders – a barren college football landscape dominated by professional sports.  As legends of raucous 80,000+ seat stadiums, tailgating lots filled with inebriated, unruly southerners and stunning, sun dress draped coeds were told; so to did interest grow in Tylers adventure.  Before long, six of his pencil necked engineer coworkers had signed up for this excursion, and planning reached new heights of detail.  Spreadsheets were created, as well as timelines, stress tests and contingency planning.  Hell, there was probably even a regression analysis and some six sigma witchcraft thrown in there for sport too.  In one particular stroke of genius, they even rented a thirty foot RV for the pilgrimage, and the full blown excursion was on.    As a true marketer by trade, I booked a plane ticket and a rental car, and left the rest of the meticulous planning to the experts…

I meet up with the merry band on Friday afternoon at our hotel, after they had driven the RV through the night from Connecticut and played an early round of golf at the Oak Hills Golf Club.   The round of golf was mostly obligation I presume.  You see, for native New Englanders, there’s no such thing as a trip to South Carolina that doesn’t involve golf or fireworks (or both).  They arrive at the hotel in the afternoon already sporting a handful of rosy, sun burnt faces, and shoehorn the RV into a dedicated lot out back.     

In the hotel Tyler first introduces me to the other 6 members of the crew (and I’ll use nicknames and/or aliases here because frankly I don’t even know their real names): Kirby, Stack, Meat, Dave, Thibs, and, predictably, Murph – because in any group of guys from New England there always has to be at least one token “Murph” or “Sully”….it’s the rules.  We swap a few beers and stories, while a few of them gingerly sample the apple pie moonshine I had bought at Palmetto Distillery in Anderson, South Carolina earlier that afternoon.

After a quick break, time enough for Tyler to put his face on, we hit the town on Friday night.  Strategically located only a few blocks from our hotel, many of Columbia’s finer watering holes line the streets in the shadow of the state capitol building.  We start the night with dinner and house microbrew at the Hunter Gatherer Brewery & Alehouse on Main Street, crowding around a few creaky wooden tables in the rustic reclaimed warehouse building.  From there we move to Flying Saucer, one of a small chain of pubs famed for having hundreds of beers on their menu.  For those brave (and wealthy) enough to try 200 of them, your name and accomplishment can be forever enshrined on a golden saucer tacked up on the walls.  We take country tours of the offerings from Germany, Belgium and the good ole USA, all of which flow continuously while we bounce a few quarters off the wooden tables.  After the Saucer, we bounce to a handful of pubs until the revelry ends in a fog in the early hours of morning.

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The wakeup on Saturday morning is a bit groggy for Tyler and I, but we’re pleased when a few early rising go-getters have already loaded the RV down with provisions for the afternoon ahead.  The rest of us soon pile in for the short 1.5 mile ride to Williams Brice Stadium, making a quick stop at a campus book store on the way for some black and garnet South Carolina garb.  Having northern accents is bad enough, but the last thing we’d want is for anyone to mistake us as infiltrating, jort wearing Gator fans…

We park in the fairground lots across the street from Williams Brice, one of the few lots accessible to RV’s.   Forking over a jaw dropping $150 for an RV parking hang tag, the attendant waves our lumbering fiberglass palace into the grassy field.  As the orange vested attendant guides us in, he notes the young (and inexperienced) looking Dave nervously gripping the wheel.  Peering through his mirrored aviator shades, the attendant sizes him up…

“Can you back this thing up?” he chides…

“Yessir” Dave responds. 

“Yeah, but can you back it straight?” The attendant fires back in a thick southern drawl, as a sarcastic smile flashes across his face. 

After some final fidgeting, we maneuver the whale into position between the white lines painted carefully onto the grass.  While in the hotel parking lot our thirty footer looked like a luxury palace, once flanked by some of the opulent land yachts that lumber in beside us, it suddenly looks like a toy.  We’re immediately struck with a case of RV envy, as the garish, coach bus sized, mobile estates unfurl carpets, outdoor kitchens and satellite connected flat screen TV’s.  Inside, they’re luxuriously appointed with marble floors, granite countertops, leather upholstery and every posh modern convenience you could possibly imagine.  From what I’m told, the American Coach behemoth next to us retails for nearly $500,000 alone. 

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While our crew may be newcomers to the nuances of RV ownership (or rental), they certainly aren’t rubes when it comes to tailgating.  They unload an impressive spread from the various storage compartments of the RV, with every detail considered.  After setting up the requisite tent, tables and chairs, we set to work tossing bean bags into a custom ordered “Gamecock” cornhole game.  Dave puts together an impressive four course feast for the day – burgers, home made chili, pulled pork and grilled chicken – an aromatic lineup which got him accosted by hungry admirers as he scurried it out of the hotel elevator.  The coolers brim with refreshing domestic light beer, and a few intellectual bon vivants exchange a riveting squabble over the merits of Miller Lite versus Bud Light.  75 degrees and sunny, a crystal blue sky sets in for the afternoon, and with a 7:00pm kickoff time scheduled, we have plenty of time to put in a solid shift of tailgating.    

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Despite a big time SEC conference adversary in Florida, the parking lots are surprisingly quiet on this pristine afternoon.  We take a stroll close to stadium, along some of the prime tailgating real estate lining George Rogers Blvd only to find the lots half vacant, the entire atmosphere noticeably subdued.  Even the infamous “Cockaboose Railroad”, a collection of old cabooses converted to extravagant tailgating rigs, is nearly deserted.  The sun decks and patios on them are vacant, and the entire area surrounding the East side of Williams Brice Stadium is uninhabited.  It’s inexplicable.   

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As the afternoon winds on, consumption accelerates and details become foggy.  The few hours leading up to the game devolve into aggressive bouts of beer pong, flip cup, shot gunning beers, and daring, outlandish physical challenges – like who can climb onto the roof of the RV without a ladder.  Before long, the jar of Palmetto Distillery moonshine is produced, and we swap pulls straight from the jar like a band of misfit hillbillies.  What started as a clean cut band of genteel engineers has now deteriorated into a disheveled   rabble of drunken degenerates.  In other words – fun.

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As often happens with great tailgates, the time passes in an instant.  Before long, the sun dips below the horizon and our beer supply dwindles.  We ransack the RV, searching every last crevice for a few remaining drops of alcohol.  The inside of the unit now resembles a meth house after all night rave.  Cushions and cans are strewn about, and the bathroom door lies defeated on the floor – ripped off at the hinges.  I swish my hands through the icy slush remaining in the final plastic cooler, and, after coming up empty, decide it’s time to head towards the beckoning lights of Williams Brice Stadium.  Fortunately, one member of the group had procured 8 consecutive seats ahead of time, so I could bypass the impossible task of trying to scalp 8 tickets off the street.    

The inevitable downside to finding 8 consecutive seats, however, is that those seats will be nosebleeds – a far cry from the front row 50 yard line seats I swindled during my last visit to Columbia in 2010 (Story Here).  In the towering concrete grandstands of Williams Brice stadium, sitting in the third deck would be like watching the game from the moon.  Upon entering the gates we begin our ascent, winding up the dizzying corkscrew ramp into the high night air.  I’ve hiked to Macchu Picchu before, and that was childs play compared to this….

Panting and lathered in sweat, we find our seats just in time for “Cocky” the South Carolina mascot, to make his signature entrance to the theme song of “2001 Space Odyssey”.  As tension builds and the symphony reaches its crescendo, Cocky bursts out of his cage while red fireworks explode skyward, 83,853 thousands fans maniacally erupting.  Shortly after, as kickoff looms, the entire crowd bounces and waves white towels to the pumping beat of the jock rock anthem “Sandstorm” while rhythmically chanting “U…S…C…U…S…C”.  While it may seem contrived, South Carolina simply has one of the most energetic entrances in the sport.             

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Despite the Gators injury riddled, lackluster season thus far, the game proves a lot closer than anticipated.  With starting quarterback Tyler Murphy injured, Florida pounds the ball on the ground in the first half, piling up 169 yards of rushing.  Gator running back Kelvin Taylor streaks through great gashes in the Gamecock defensive line for a pair of touchdowns, while standout Defensive End Jadaveon Clowney is nowhere to be seen.  The South Carolina offense is stymied for the entire first half.  Quarterback Connor Shaw sails the pigskin over open receivers, and the Gamecocks manage a measly pair of field goals.  At the half, they trail 14-6.

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In the second half, the “Ole Ball Coach”, former Heisman winner and Gamecock head coach Steve Spurrier makes a few defensive adjustments.  While usually known for his offensive schematics, in the second half the South Carolina defense takes charge.  They hold the Florida ground attack to only 31 yards in the second half.  Quarterback Connor Shaw finds a bit of rhythm for the garnet and black, connecting for a 32 yard score – the only touchdown of the day for the Cocks.  Kicker Elliot Fry is the true hero for South Carolina, however.  He continues his field goal onslaught, booting another pair of them in the 4th quarter, one of them from 43 yards, to give the Gamecocks the lead.  Ultimately, South Carolina squeaks out a 19-14 win over the reeling Gator squad, good enough to keep them in contention in the SEC East Division.

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In the end, this was one of the best weekends on the season.  A primetime tilt in the heart of SEC country is one of the great experiences in the sport, and this game proved far more competitive than expected.  But ultimately, it’s the people that made the weekend such a memorable one, and a reminder that college football is best experienced in large groups.  To a man, the entire Connecticut crew was a welcoming, raucous, fun loving bunch that put on a helluva show.  For most of them, this was their first experience in the SEC. Witnessing the sheer delight and joy spread across their faces under the lights in Williams Brice harkened back memories of my own first SEC experience, a misty Saturday night in Baton Rouge that’s had me hooked ever since.  Welcome to the SEC gents, can’t wait to hit another one with you next year…    

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Thanks to the Connecticut crew for making the weekend such a memorable one, and hope to share another one with you next year!

Special thanks to my friend Tyler and his ever patient wife Kristi for connecting for another year of adventure.  It’s not often you get to spend weekends with best friends, and I’m glad we can make this an annual tradition.  Can’t wait to see you again on the road next year man!

Williams Brice Wide

Full Clickthrough gallery below:

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South Carolina: Gamecocks vs. Crimson Tide!

Some times things just have a way of working out….

 

And turning into something amazing.

 

 

I had to cancel my Notre Dame trip originally planned for last weekend because flight costs had risen egregiously high, and I couldn’t justify the spend for a trip to South Bend. As luck would have it, a work trip brought me to Charlotte, North Carolina on Friday and I ended up falling into an offer for tickets to the South Carolina vs. Alabama game. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, especially when your tickets end up being in the second row on the 40 yard line (not so subtle brag). Needless to say, watching the #18 Gamecocks hosting the #1 Crimson Tide was an opportunity not to be missed, and I gladly made the quick ninety mile jaunt down to Columbia on Saturday morning.

 

 

After finishing up tailgating (posted below), I hustled into Williams Brice stadium a bit early. Given that this was shaping up to be an epic tilt inside the “Cockpit” it was clearly going to be a mob scene getting in and I didn’t want to miss a minute of their fabled “2001 Space Odyssey” entrance. Considered one of the most unique entrances in all of college football, “Cocky” the mascot and the rest of the Gamecocks take the field to the tune of Stanley Kubricks famous score from “2001 Space Odyssey” accompanied by the thunderous roar of over 82,000 fans. It was a unique, energizing, intimidating and deafening experience, all the things a great entrance should be.


As for the game itself, unless you spent last weekend under a rock, you already know that I witnessed one of the most spectacular upsets all season, and certainly the biggest victory in Gamecock history. I guess I know how to pick em’. To put it in perspective, South Carolina had never upset a #1 ranked team, and had only beaten a top five team twice before in history. Alabama had looked nearly invincible for the last two years, yet the Gamecocks absolutely dominated them on both sides of the ball, strutting away with a convincing 35-21 victory.

Remarkable about the win, however, was the way the Gamecocks won. They completely shut down the Alabama rushing duo of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. They also pierced the massive Alabama offensive line, which, from my perspective, looked like a herd of mastodons on the field. On offense, they took it right up the gut on the Crimson Tide, amassing 110 yards rushing on the day behind phenom freshman running back Marcus Lattimore (I guess he gets a “seat at the table” for that performance – kudos if you get that reference). One such rushing series included a spirit crushing eight minute touchdown drive to grind out the third quarter. I guess the Ol’ Ball Coach still has a few tricks up his sleeve.

The in stadium atmosphere on the day was expectedly spectacular. This is SEC football after all, and yes, it is different. As you can imagine, fans were in a frenzy during the beginning of the game, but the energy level was sustained for nearly the entire contest given how close it was. At one point, the concrete floor was discernibly vibrating beneath me and aluminum benches sure make for incredible noise makers. This was a standing only affair, and the entire stadium only reposed for the half time show.

 

 

In fact, on the way out of the stadium, fans were singing and cheering inside the tunnel, still euphoric from the win. I had an interesting exchange with a random older South Carolina fan while shuffling out with the crowd.

 

 

Random Fan in deep southern drawl: “I’ve been coming here for twenty eight years and I ain’t never seen nothing like this…”

 

 

Me: “This is my first ever game at South Carolina”.

 

 

Random Fan in complete shock: “Boy, you sure picked one helluva game for your first time”

 

 

Me: “Yeah, maybe you’d like me to come back here more often if this kinda thing will happen?”

 

 

Random Fan: “Son, I will PAY you to come back here again for this.”

 

 

 

The only bone I have to pick on the day lies more with the SEC than it does with South Carolina in particular. Evidently the SEC has the foolish rule of preventing students from rushing the field after a win. Should the school allow the students onto the field, students will be arrested and the school fined $100,000. As such, there was an armada of security personnel and SC State Troopers lining the field during the final few minutes, to prevent any “unruly” fans from leaving the stands to celebrate with their team. Personally, I think rushing the field is one of the more unique and appealing aspects of College Football. If you’re team just knocked off the #1 team in the country, there is no compelling reason why those fans, and especially students, shouldn’t be allowed onto the field in celebration with their team. Do better SEC.

Despite the arcane SEC rule, this was simply an unforgettable experience that happened to fall right into my lap. South Carolina fans are noted for their passion and dedication to the team, and it was evident throughout my entire raucous gameday experience in Columbia.

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South Carolina Tailgating & The Infamous “Cockaboose Railroad”

After braving the logjam of traffic getting off highway 77 (this was easily the largest game in Columbia in recent history) I slid into a parking space in one of the many warehouse parking lots in this industrial part of town, and began hoofing it over to the stadium area to check out another ballyhooed SEC tailgating scene.

The first stop to be made was over to the fabled South Carolina “Cockaboose Railroad” to have a glimpse at one of the most unique tailgating attractions in all of College Football. A mere fifty yards from Williams Brice stadium, you will find twenty two Gamecock garnet colored Cabooses occupying an abandoned stretch of railroad track. The “Cockabooses” have been completely renovated, and come complete with power, sewer, running water, roof decks, and a host of lavish interior appointments. Forget about your pop out RV, this is how tailgating is done in style.

In keeping with the gracious SEC hospitality I have encountered thus far, a very kind woman noticed my gaping jaw and invited me to have a look inside Cockaboose #10. Once inside, I was greeted by Hank, the owner, a dentist from Gaffney and proud South Carolina alum. After introducing me to his family, we exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes and talked about the upcoming game before I had to leave. On my way out, Hank offered his handshake and business card, telling me if I ever found myself in the area again, to stop on by for a visit. It’s this kind of genuine hospitality, to complete strangers, that make folks like Hank such a pleasant part of my College Football travels.

 

Following my tour of the Cockaboose railroad, I headed over to meet up with some of our favorite folks from the College Football tour in 2009 for a remarkable reunion tale. We met Lloyd and Cameron last season during our trip to Arkansas while hoisting a few beers in the Hog Haus Brewery in Fayetteville. Loyal South Carolina followers, they had made the trip out to watch the Gamecocks play the Hogs that day. After exchanging stories for a couple of hours, Lloyd told us that if we ever found ourselves in Columbia, we had a tailgate waiting for us. I bet he never thought I would actually take him up on that…

 

 

Reference last years post here:

 

http://www.pigskinpursuit.com/2009/11/aq-chicken-sham-hog-haus-brewery.html

 

 

After learning I was going to Columbia, Lloyd and I exchanged a few emails including directions to his tailgate spot and the promise of a beer only a stones throw from the stadium. True to form, I was greeted warmly by Lloyd along with an ice cold Yuengling and some sliders he painstakingly handmade that morning. We spent the next hour and half hoisting a few more Yuenglings, chatting about my travel schedule for the year, meeting various new friends at the tailgate, and postulating on the Gamecocks chances. Finally, I got a chance to meet the rest of Lloyds family that we had heard so much about, and they were all equally pleasant.

Pictured below: Lloyd, Grace (Cam’s GF), Cameron, Barbara and Peter

My only regret was not being able to hang around the tailgate longer, all the folks (Alabama fans included) were incredibly nice and welcoming. Lloyd himself has the rare gift of being a remarkable storyteller, so an afternoon can pass rather quickly around him, and I was almost sorry to head into the stadium.

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