Memorable Trip, Forgotten Game

Nowadays the goalposts come down on the home field for a victory on the road for some schools (see Appalachian State and Duke), so consequently, stadiums are locked up tight. Not so in 1982, the year of the "forgotten" season and "almost upset" of LSU in Baton Rogue. Jim Corbett takes a fun look back at another road trip to Baton Rouge by the Gamecocks.

It was a typical college trip. You'd jump in the car with two guys you knew and two strangers for a 16-hour ride in a rental car to places you had only heard about and wondered if what was said was true, i.e., Baton Rogue and New Orleans. The former destination was to watch the Gamecocks play 14th ranked LSU, the latter was to see what all the fuss was about.

USC's football program was in a state of flux in 1982, which turned out to be a transition year. Coach Jim Carlen had been fired amid controversy, and popular and affable defensive co-coordinator Richard Bell was hired to placate the team and quickly move on. The Gamecocks avenged their 1981 loss to Pacific with a 41-6 win, ripped Richmond 30-10, somehow lost to Duke 30-17, got beat by Georgia 34-18, rolled over Cincinnati 37-10, and then were upset by Furman 28-23. Next came 14th ranked LSU in Baton Rogue.

It was Homecoming in Baton Rouge, scheduled as a "sure win" for the Tigers, and USC looked like a sure win to Bayou Bengal fans after losing to the Paladins. The campus was decorated in purple and gold with huge paper mache' figures depicting the slaughter of the Gamecocks, and were proudly displayed in front of every fraternity house. This was big time football in the big time SEC in the wild party city of Baton Rogue. We rode through campus after a long drive and then headed to the stadium to see it for ourselves.

Not only was their stadium huge, but it shook before Williams Brice Stadium swayed. It had dorms built into the structure for efficiency, and we were told no one could stand to stay in their rooms on a Saturday night during a football game because of the noise. A local swore up and down that one football roar had actually registered on the Richter scale.

So here it was, the Friday before Homecoming in 1982, and we just walked inside the stadium, five college kids. A casual on-looker would have thought back then, "Just kids. They can't hurt anything." Death Valley was a huge bowl with gold painted concrete portals two and three rows high all the way around its huge circumference. There were two purple painted end zones with a huge "LSU" in gold blurring out most of the purple. In the end zones were old double-post goal posts, not the single support used today.

We couldn't resist . . .But first the game.

The Tigers intercepted three passes and recovered one USC fumble that night. LSU had touchdown scoring drives of 23 and 53 yards for a 14-0 halftime lead. But the Gamecock defense, led by future NFL linebacker James Seawright, was all over the field and all over the Bayou Bengals. The crowd never got very nervous, but it never got comfortable, because the game was never put away. Thomas Dendy's 6 yard TD run in the third quarter made it 14-6, but in typical USC road fashion, the extra point was blocked. Two scores were just too much to ask of these Gamecocks in the days without the two point conversion.

A 3-3 independent played the SEC and #14 Tigers off its feet – except for turnovers. "LSU was lucky to get two touchdowns, and then they got nothing else," Seawright told the Columbia Record's Bob Gillespie.

That night, the Gamecocks gained 100 yards on the ground for the first time all season, with more than double (145 yards) what LSU gave up per game (64 yards). USC had more plays, more total yards and more first downs – but lost.

LSU only got about half the yards (129) its 16th ranked ground attack normally averaged per game (251). The game, despite the effort and the opponent, became forgettable after awhile. USC finished 4-7, and Bell was fired at the end of the year, his only season as Head Coach, and Carolina hired Joe Morrison.

Back to the stadium. We have pictures of us posing with the fraternity and sorority displays 25 feet high and as big as a small theatre showing the death of the Gamecocks in several ways. But we have memories of the goal posts.

One by one, our crew commemorated our visit to Death Valley by taking turns getting our pictures taken hanging from the cross bar. three of the crew of Wayne, Scott, Hub, me and the guy who I think was named John helped balance a fourth, while the fifth person took the picture to commemorate our visit to Death Valley –. Not pulling it down, of course, but just remembering a moment of our own, and a memento of our trip to one of college football's most storied venues.

New Orleans? We scampered there right after the game and arrived at prime time - midnight. We walked and sampled and saw for 6 hours, crossed the Mississippi River by car just to say we did it, and then drove home to Columbia.

Most USC fans remember the 1994 game in Baton Rogue and for good reason – an 18-17 win during a bowl season under Brad Scott. Never mind that it was a "down" LSU team at that time; it was an SEC road win and helped USC get into the Car Quest Bowl and earn its first Bowl victory ever.

The outcome of this Saturday's game will determine if the 2007 trip to Baton Rogue will be remembered for the game and the result, or if the trip itself will be worth more to write home about.

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