The countdown clock hurdles quickly towards zero to a new college football season. With only a week standing between the hungry college football masses and fresh, appetite taming football, the glorious game is reborn with the new season, rising from the ashes of summer. The first flames of the season from tailgating grills will be lit in Columbia, SC, as the South Carolina Gamecocks are set to host college football’s season opener.
A new season naturally breeds new aspirations, and in the capital city of South Carolina, expectations have never been higher. Tenth year head man Steve Spurrier has elevated the Gamecock program to heights never seen before in the Palmetto State. Before Spurrier graced the South Carolina sideline, the program was in a self imposed stupor. Jailed by their own hand, in a time where “proper funding” was a dirty word, the program lacked enough big boosters, identity, and leadership. Facilities were constantly behind the head of the SEC pack. A below .500 record all-time haunted the Gamecocks like a jealous ex-girlfriend.The depths of Gamecocks despair hit rock bottom in 1999, during an 0-11 season behind their first year head coach, the legendary Lou Holtz. Holtz soon righted the garnet flagship, reaching back-to-back wins vs Ohio State in the Outback Bowl, sending a rush of hope for a better tomorrow throughout Columbia.
Entering 2002, the Gamecocks were finally navigating the brutal SEC schedule successfully. Two bowl wins the past two years, over traditional power Ohio State, had lit the fire inside all Gamecocks to become a significant force in college football. Starting the season 5-2, Gamecock fans were quickly and harshly slapped back down into mediocrity, losing their last five games. The next two years the Gamecocks went 11-12, falling to arch-rival Clemson, 63-17, in 2003 to close the year. All hope for gridiron glory extinguished in a struggle for relevancy. The night was never darker.
November 23rd, 2004, the day everything changed.
The ground quaked as Steve Spurrier was introduced as the new head football coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks. Spurrier kicked down the doors to the ruins of Williams-Brice Stadium, with a broom in one hand and a whistle in the other, and got to work. He infected the program with the virus of success and quickly began sculpting a masterpiece. From the dust of the clean up rose an 11-win season, followed by another, and another. The record book pages were set on fire, new records being set every year. Pride abounding, Gamecock fans believed again. Constantly beating teams that once bullied the palmetto poultry, Spurrier forged a program to envy.
Next week, Spurrier leads his squad into another year of battle. The view of the summit has never been clearer. Every other challenge lies under his feet but one, the SEC Championship. The year 2014 brings a Gamecock team competent and ready to challenge for the honor. The final climb to the top starts in seven days.
Seven days separate us from another year of first downs, touchdowns, and hail marys. Williams-Brice will soon turn on the flood lights, slowly illuminating the field. The grass eagerly awaits the first snap of the ball. Gatorade coolers filled with neon liquid patiently waits on the sidelines as the video board flickers to life. The marching band stands at the ready, cheerleaders roaming. The stars are aligned, the summer fades. Faintly, the cheer of “Game!” “Cocks!” approach. All leading to Thursday night, when Steve Spurrier materializes from a cloud of smoke as “2001” fades into the night. 84,000 fans camped in their seats as the band marches off the field, and the best football team ever assembled at South Carolina kicks off the 2014 college football season.