South Carolina football: remembering the first college football game after 9/11

The South Carolina football program played the first division I game following the tragic event.

It was a moment that cannot be unseen by those who were here to witness it. A moment in which everyone can remember where they were and what they were doing at the time of the tragedy. A moment marked forever in our country’s history.

Today marks the 19th anniversary of September 11th, as those around the nation pay respect to the lives lost on that late summer day. (Small) crowds will gather at memorial sites and moments of silence will take place, as the US continues to navigate through the current Coronavirus pandemic.

Tragedy, though, has a way of uniting, which is exactly what happened following the terrorist attacks. The response from America was one of strength, patriotism, and togetherness as the nation looked to move forward.

The South Carolina football team played a role in the recovery process of those in the state, the region, and the country.

On September 20, 2001, the Gamecocks took on the Mississippi State Bulldogs in what was the first major college football game to be played following the attacks. The program, at that time, was led by legendary head coach Lou Holtz. He had South Carolina ranked 20th in the country following a 2-0 start. The Bulldogs were also undefeated, ranking a few spots ahead of the Gamecocks at 16th.

This game was important for many reasons, none of which had to do with SEC standings, wins and losses, or the names on the front of each team’s jersey. Instead, it showed that the nation was forging ahead following a time of mourning.

The game itself was, for the most part, uneventful, ending with a 16-14 Carolina win. Most viewers probably can’t even recall a particular play from the defensive battle. But everyone watching remembers the powerful pre-game lead up that saw members from both teams, alongside servicemen and women, unveil the American Flag. It was unity in every sense of the word.

Moments like this show the true impact that sports can have on players, coaches, and fans, alike. Sports can heal in times of sorrow, they can unite in times of division, and they can inspire in times of doubt. This still holds true in our current climate, nearly two decades later.

On this day, the 19th anniversary of September 11th, let us not forget those lost, and let us take heed of the power of sports.