Skip to content

"South Carolina comes to Chapel Hill this weekend, and the Gamecocks will descend on us like a plague."

October 12, 2007

Hardin: Gamecocks to bring their own brand of football
Thursday, Oct. 11, 2007

NO. 7 SOUTH
CAROLINA AT
NORTH CAROLINA

The memories will wash over some of us. Others will be in denial. But there was a time in this state when football was still on a level with basketball and we could dream of 80,000-seat stadiums and national television, a time when the football scores would scroll across the screen of the “Prudential College Scoreboard” and chills would roll across your body as you anticipated the outcome from far-flung places.

They all seem close now, the places that seemed so distant then. Clemson and Athens, Oxford and College Station, Gainesville and Norman. They evoked something that’s gone now, replaced by cable and wireless and flat-screen reality. The whole world was flat then, football was king and Columbia, S.C., was hell on earth.

That’s all gone now. South Carolina comes to Chapel Hill this weekend, and the Gamecocks will descend on us like a plague. Some of us will see the waves of garnet and black and remember how it could have been. Most of us will have no idea what we’re seeing.

Say what you will about South Carolinians and their strange affinity with a game we still struggle to comprehend here north of the border, but the truth is plain and painful to all those who would make this an argument. The uppity Gamecocks are ranked seventh in the nation and will bring a slew of people to Saturday’s game, people who understand college football the way we understand basketball, people who back the Gamecocks win or lose, people who hate Clemson more than is healthy and once hated North Carolina the same way.

Well, not quite the same way. The rivalry between Clemson and South Carolina is something we don’t have in this state. Take our greatest basketball rivalry, Duke vs. Carolina, and multiply to an unhealthy level and you’ll understand the Clemson-USC enmity. Maybe.

After 1971, when South Carolina bolted the ACC in indignation over SAT scores and the perceived bias toward the Big Four schools, a wall was built between Columbia and the state line. Friendships were strained. Longtime relationships ended. Traditions were tossed aside.

Things were never the same again. South Carolina turned its full attention to football, built dorms and decks and shrines to a game that brought attention and expectations and a Heisman Trophy to the Gamecocks. North Carolina lost Bill Dooley, then lost its zeal, eventually paving over prime tailgating areas and building things like hospital wings and classrooms and a big basketball arena.

And then Mike Jordan came to town and football all but died.

Now we watch South Carolina on the flat screen, watch the Gamecocks playing on national television before 80,000 screaming zealots, playing games of national significance in another conference, in another realm. Some of us roll our eyes and mock the energy of a program that wants so badly to win a national title, wants it more than any other program in America.

Now we see them rolling across the highways, flags flapping from black and garnet cars, a devotion to football that we understand only because of our devotion to basketball.

They used to drive up here and complain the whole way. There was no good way to get from Columbia to Chapel Hill.

The kids would come in on Friday night, and Franklin Street would be raucous as student bodies from North and South Carolina partied the way football rivals used to party in this state. Then on Saturday morning, the multitudes would walk through the pines to a beautiful football stadium and renew a rivalry that dated to 1903.

This weekend, the rivalry will resume after pausing for the better part of a generation. The schools haven’t met since 1991, the year South Carolina joined the Southeastern Conference and ended any dream that the Gamecocks could return to the ACC and rejoin the league it so naturally fit.

That can never happen now. Too much has happened in the interim, too many friendships strained, too many relationships ended, too many walls built. North and South Carolina parted ways in 1971, the Tar Heels chasing basketball dreams and the Gamecocks chasing a football dream that has brought them more pain than we can ever imagine.

But that’s what we always loved and hated them for. Even their basketball teams played tackle in those days.

In 2000, the Gamecocks played a home game against New Mexico State that attracted little attention outside Columbia. It was the first game of the season, so no one else in the nation noticed. They won 31-0. The kids tore down the goal posts that night. They had lost 21 straight games, and yet 81,000 people were inside Williams-Brice Stadium.

Big-time college football is coming back to Chapel Hill this weekend. South Carolina is coming to town.

Advertisements
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: