In 1999, the University of South Carolina Gamecocks concluded an 0-11 season. This came on the heels of a 1-10 season, which meant we were dealing with the realities of a staggering 1-21 losing streak. Still, I did not feel as badly then as I do now at the conclusion of the 2004 season.
The 1999 final game saw a loss to our in-state rivals, Clemson University. But, we finally had some guys back who had been injured. It was a loss, but it was a competitive loss. The thing that made the loss less stinging, was the post-game, on-field activities.
Two years earlier Clemson had come in and defeated USC. Clemson's players went out and literally stomped on the Block C logo at midfield. USC's players, (under Brad Scott), absolutely lacked character. This was proven as the Gamecock squad allowed the Tigers the victory on the field and then let them show disrespect to the field itself.
Even players who had completed a 1-21 two-year stretch didn't do that.
Clemson's players also humiliated the people of USC. They chose to carry our former head
coach and current Clemson assistant coach, Brad Scott off the field at Williams-Brice on their shoulders. Clearly offering an affront to USC fans and to the USC players Scott himself had recruited.
The USC Gamecocks sent a resounding, collective "NO!" as they formed a circle at midfield and protected their logo. Some of the players held hands and denied the Clemson players.
I was not sure where this came from, but I said at the time, (and I still feel the same way), that I was awed. I clearly remember thinking, "They lost the game, but they have character, strength, and fight." It was this determination that I remember. Even though it was another loss to Clemson, the 21st loss in a row ... I still had hope. There was a fire smouldering and that was because of Lou Holtz.
Lou Holtz replaced Brad Scott as our head coach and assumed the reigns December 4th, 1998.
I never liked Scott. Despite the fact that he coached USC to its first bowl victory. I always considered that win attributable more to the cocky quarterback at USC's helm than to Scott himself. It seems I was right in my assessment, as the USC program quickly descended into a mire of apathy and failure on the field. It resulted in players disrespecting the fans and their coaches.
Lou changed all of that.
Somehow, in the middle of an atrocious losing streak, the character of Lou Holtz began to affect the players of the Gamecock squad. While he personally faced the prospect of a wife diagnosed with cancer, a son who had a sudden, unexpected illness, and the death of his mother ... Lou Holtz managed to teach strong character lessons to these young student athletes.
I knew we hadn't executed well in our 11 games, there was no doubt about that. But I also knew we had many injured players and the offensive line was makeshift every game of the year but the last. Things like that give you an excuse, perhaps, for the losses. They also reek havoc on your hopes for the future.
At the conclusion of the 1999 Clemson game, our boys could have justifiably slunk back into the locker room, licked their wounds, hung their heads and perhaps shed a tear or two after yet another crushing loss. Instead, they stood up, shoulder to shoulder at midfield, and told our rival, "No ... Not again."
They were hurt, but they had pride. They were beaten in battle but not in spirit. They had courage and they had fight. They gave me hope, and nothing that happened in the next two years surprised me in the slightest. USC went on to its best two-year stance in school history. The Gamecocks finished with 8-4 season including an Outback Bowl victory over Ohio State in 2000. They followed that with a 9-3 season with their second consecutive Outback Bowl victory over Ohio State in 2001.
I became a fan of USC during the last game of 1983. The Gamecocks lost a close one to Clemson. But the Gamecocks looked cool in their black uniforms and I was going to start at the University the following year.
1984 ... the best year in the history of the program. And that was my "first impression". What a year to become a Gamecock!
I don't expect my Gamecocks to win all the games. That seems very unlikely. But I want them to fight and have character. Character was the key element missing from the USC program under Brad Scott's leadership. Lou brought it back. Every year, before every game, from 2000 to the last game of 2004, I had hope that the Gamecocks on the field would be like the Gamecocks that represented me when I was a student. Lou Holtz continually gave me genuine hope over the past six years. After the 1999 Clemson game, it was a hope that I just KNEW would some day be realized.
We have a long way to go, but we owe Lou Holtz a lot.
I am absolutely disheartened by what happened on Saturday. The team forgot the lessons Lou taught. It was a hard year and it is always hard losing to Clemson. I will support the University's decision to bow out of bowl considerations. You cannot deny it. The fight does take away from what Lou Holtz accomplished at USC and tarnishes his coaching record. But it is a brief aberration.
To me, the Lou Holtz era at USC is a tale about hope. It always was and it always will be.
Hope of a championship, sure. But mostly, hope of the kind of fight you see in people willing to take a stand in the face of adversity. Hope of good times and victories. Hope of character and integrity.
Holtz was hope.
Thank you Coach. You will be missed.
A Fond farewell
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