In Search of the "Lost" Gamecock Fan

To boo or not to boo... to clap or not to clap... Lately, these are the questions that have been driving Gamecock fans crazy. The topics have also become the point of heated discussion around watercolors and on fan message boards. Is there a new code of behavior for fans? Should anything change? You may be surprised at the responses I received from a panel of diehard USC fans.

In the olden days of 0-11, it was relatively easy being a Gamecock fan. All we had to do was show up on game day, tailgate ‘til we dropped and fill our stadium with love and enthusiasm week after week, to the astonishment of the college football world. During difficult times in our program, winning a football game against a strong opponent was synonymous with searching for the lost chord. In other words it was improbable, if not downright impossible.

A Sweet (and Sweat) Breeze…

But that was then and this is now.

In case you haven't noticed, a breath of fresh air blew into Columbia. His name is Steve Spurrier and he has other plans for both the football team and the fans.

Former football Coach Lou Holtz might have talked about a culture change, but Spurrier is more action oriented and went to work immediately implementing the necessary adjustments needed to improve the USC football program. In the midst of changes, the fans have remained loyal to their beloved team with all the ups and downs, frustrations and questions. Through it all, Spurrier expects the fans to work just as hard as the team during his tenure here.

Credit must go to Holtz, for raising the expectation level of the Gamecock faithful. After winning two Outback Bowls and becoming more of a recruiting magnet, USC was no longer in the abyss of the NCAA Div. 1 teams.

The Fan Wagon

However, along with the good comes the bad.

The dreaded "bandwagon" fans started arriving as soon as the Gamecocks were prominently displayed on the national radar screen. USC was now expected to win bigger games, after defeating SEC arch rival Georgia two years in a row. If they did not produce, some fans were more prone to show their displeasure by booing at games, shocking some of the more garnet colored loyalists among us.

And now Coach Spurrier is encouraging fans to temper their excitement during the close games, by asking them to refrain from clapping after losses.

What's a fan to do?

I decided to pose that very question, along with others, to some longtime followers of all things Garnet and Black.

Here's a health, Carolina...

All of the following folks are deeply connected to the University of South Carolina. Their sense of loyalty and love for their university and teams are deeply rooted in Carolina traditions. All attend as many games as the yearly calendar will permit.

Jeff Burkhaler attended USC Aiken. Both of his parents attended USC, so Jeff was born a Gamecock, with garnet and black running through his veins.

Keith Shurett resides in Columbia, SC. He attended USC and played on the rugby team, which went to the nationals for the four years he was a student at Carolina. He is a member of the Gamecock Club and posts on GamecockAnthem as oger.

Richard McCabe lives in Florence, SC. He attended USC Sumter. He considers himself a "through thick and thin fan" since the early 1980s. He posts on GamecockAnthem as peedeecock.

Cathie Lynn hails from Barnwell, SC and is president of the local Gamecock Club. Allendale radio station personality Carl Gooding gave her the moniker "superchickengal," which is the same name she uses to this day on the GamecockAnthem message boards.

The first question:

How important is it that USC become a nationally ranked football team and one to contend with in the SEC every year?

Burkhaler: "Very important. It's time. The fans and school deserve it. In the past, it was not as important. At this point, it seems to have become a priority to both the university and fans. A lot of money is being spent and a lot of exciting changes are being made. It would be great to capitalize on that with a winning tradition."

Shurett: "Having played on the nationally ranked USC rugby team, I understand how important athletic success is to both a program and the university. It doesn't necessarily define someone as a person, but as a team it opens a lot of doors and recruits a lot of quality players. That being said, it must be done with honesty and integrity, unlike some other programs."

McCabe: "I became a fan during the successful (Coach Joe) Morrison era. It was easy becoming a Gamecock fan back then. But I was just as much of a fan during 0-11. That will never change for me. But from a big picture perspective, it is very important that our team is able to compete and be recognized as a national threat. I believe that Coach Spurrier can make that happen."

Lynn: "It really doesn't bother me if we do not become a national powerhouse. It will never change my level of involvement, my love for the Gamecocks, my loyalty to the team. Of course, it would be wonderful to get to that level, don't get me wrong. It's about never giving up. It's about being supportive through hard times as well as the more successful. That is what is great about being a Gamecock fan."

Next I asked about what is unique about Gamecock fans as opposed to other teams' fans, especially in the competitive SEC Conference.

The responses?

Burkhaler: "In true Southern football tradition, the belief is that the bigger the program; the more successful your team. I think some fans are getting impatient waiting for the magic to happen, to become the next Georgia, since the university and athletic programs have grown. But Gamecock fans are different in that we recognize that the product on the field may not be quite as finished or polished as others', and yet we are still as supportive and loyal. Gamecock fans really earned the name ‘Iron fans of college football' for that reason."

Shurett: "Unique about Gamecock fans? In a word: Hope. Actually, two words. Hope and schizophrenia. We think we have a legitimate chance to make it big and sometimes we become irrational due to our excitement and loyalty. Think about it. How close have we come to winning enormous games? Scary close; on many occasions. We know how good we can be. It is hope. It is what continues to fuel the fans, and what makes being a Gamecock fan so much fun."

McCabe: "I don't believe we are quite like any other fans. Carolina fans stand above others due to our loyalty and good nature. I have encountered many other fans in both Williams-Brice and at away games. Let's just say that I have seen more unsportsmanlike behavior from opposing fans than from Gamecocks. Personally, I have never been mistreated by opposing fans, so I am not an authority on it."

Lynn: "I can only speak for myself, but I have only missed one game since 1975, due to the death of a family member. I planned the birth of my children around Gamecock football season. Can anybody top that?"

Boo birds

The next question had to do with the ever-present negative energizers peppered throughout the stands referred to as "boo birds." Here's what the panel had to say about fans who boo at games.

Burkhaler: "Within reason, it is fine. I have never seen it to the point of bothering me. That being said, I prefer that players not be booed, but coaches and refs are fair game. After all, they are the paid professionals making decisions and sometimes there are bad decisions being made."

Shurett: "Booing is a sign of emotion and hope. When we were 0-11, we didn't boo. Booing is a byproduct of frustration. Once a team has reached the modest heights we have reached, and shows the potential we have, there is a legitimate reason to expect it at games. It's not necessarily a bad thing. I find that the cousin of the boo bird, the negative heckler, is far more annoying."

McCabe: "I have coached youth soccer for 14 years. In my opinion it is bad sportsmanship to boo anyone for any reason."

Lynn: "I prefer it not be done. I have talked to some Gamecock team members and they have said that it negatively impacts them. Boo the refs in a heartbeat….but not the players under any circumstances."

Clap hands, here come the Gamecocks!

In closing, I asked these Gamecock fans about Coach Spurrier's controversial proclamation asking fans to refrain from applauding the Gamecocks' moral victories.

Here is what they had to say.

Burkhaler: "I understand it. The Auburn game was deserving of applause, in my opinion. But Spurrier wants our team to be able to close each game with a win. He just won't settle for less. As a fan, I might not always agree with that, but he is the coach being paid to close those games in the win column."

Shurett: "I partially agree. Don't celebrate a loss. However, the Auburn game was worthy of applause. In my opinion, special games should be applauded. Both teams played great football. But again, Spurrier is creating a culture of warriors. If I were him, I would not have been happy with that loss. And isn't that what we are paying him for?"

McCabe: "I have mixed feelings about it. I know where he is coming from as a coach. We grew up a lot during that Auburn game and suddenly became a real contender for our rival team to deal with. However, we still lost the game. And as the coach, that's got to hurt, so I understand that."

Lynn: "I understand where he is coming from. Let's face it. Nobody expected us to play as well as we did. But Coach Spurrier expects his team to win every single game. From what I understand, many players took the loss very hard, calling it ‘unacceptable.'"

Based on their responses, it is clear to me that those interviewed speak for a majority of Gamecock fans. Many support the culture change that is in the works during this wind of change at Carolina.

Identity Crisis

There is still a bit of unfinished business to contend with.

Does USC really suffer from an identity crisis, due to its elusive search for a winning tradition?

Let me put a bit of perspective on that. It might make the more paranoid Gamecocks among us sleep easier at night.

There is a prominent university, which costs a great deal of money to attend.

This university is a recent member of a new, more competitive NCAA conference and, as a school, has always prided itself for being a cut above all others. A recent mandate from the powers-that-be have stated that alumni must cut short their tailgates and attend all football games on time, with the desire to show the college football world that they are as rabid as their conference brethren, along with being sober.

When I was made aware of this, I decided to jump on the college's message boards and see what was going on there.

Gamecocks, rest easy. We fill our stadium to near capacity at every game. We wear our garnet and black, cheer loudly and tailgate to our heart's content.

This college, on the other hand, not only has apparent problems filling their stadium (with a lot of ticked off, yet sober alumni), but they cannot even get fans to wear the school colors.

I pulled this off the message board:

"Having a great environment at home comes from playing exciting football and getting your fan base legitimately fired up about watching the team play...not from having everyone wear the same scarf. Not that it doesn't help to get the students on board with coordinating colors, etc. But there are larger issues at play."

University of Southern California does absolutely nothing at their games, and the place is a madhouse because the team is worth caring about. If our football team was doing anything exciting, people would be fired up and (our stadium) would be a tougher place for opponents to play. Until that happens, you're putting lipstick on a pig. Good luck with that."

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'll take our USC football team and fans over the left coast version any day.

As for the pricey college, now THAT is a school in search of a tradition.

Even with all changes on board in Columbia, including an exciting new coach and program in place; one thing has been made very clear to me.

Wherever you find a USC fan, win or lose, we are 100% supportive and love our team.

That is a tradition that will never die.

Go Gamecocks!

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