Great to Be a Gamecock

Photos Capture Spirit of Columbia’s Gameday Culture
By Sean Rayford
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 |
Intro by Dan Cook

A few years ago, Free Times published a story called “Triumph of the Nerd,” which explored how what was once considered nerd culture — computers, video games and technology in general — has not only become cool, but has come to dominate the broader cultural landscape.

In Columbia, at least, there’s been a countervailing trend, too — the triumph of football culture over virtually every corner of resistance.

Some might say, “Columbia has always been a football town.” And that’s true — mostly.

It’s certainly nothing new that the city basically shuts down for home games as thousands of residents descend upon Williams-Brice Stadium and tailgate for hours upon hours before kickoff time. Twenty or 25 years ago, though, it wasn’t cool to worship Gamecock football. Artists, musicians and writers defined themselves in opposition to Columbia’s football culture — not as participants in it.

That’s all changed. When Free Times indie-nerd news editor Eva Moore can correct a football score dating a couple of seasons back and Dre Lopez, one of the coolest illustrators in town, deploys his talents toward creating gameday posters (which he does for The Side Line publication), then you know the culture has shifted.

These days, everybody loves Gamecock football.

And why not? Rather than the mediocre Gamecocks of years past — teams that drew crowds in spite of their playing ability, not because of it — Columbia now has a program it can truly take pride in.

This week, Free Times explores the culture of Gamecock football — especially the pre-game tailgating — with photos and accompanying captions by extraordinarily talented local photographer Sean Rayford. We hope it gets you fired up for Thursday’s opening game against Texas A&M — and that you’ll hang onto it well into the season. — Dan Cook

The photos in this week’s package are from Rayford’s book Great to be a Gamecock, available at seanrayford.com and at Sid & Nancy. He’ll be hosting a book launch and print show at Café Strudel on Oct. 3.




Thirty-nine minutes before kickoff vs. Vanderbilt University — September 14, 2013
The South Carolina Gamecocks are currently the most dominant team in Division One college football when playing on their home turf. Last season, 576,805 fans attended seven games at Williams-Brice, as the Gamecocks extended their nation leading home winning streak to 18 games. When the band plays “Louie Louie” the East Upper Deck is said to sway and ripple, an activity the university says is safe — for everyone except the visiting team.




Fifty-four minutes before kickoff vs. Coastal Carolina University — November 23, 2013
It’s a two-mile walk from the university to Williams-Brice, and even though the preferred mode of transportation to a college football game in the South might be in the bed of a Ford pickup, there are other options. Bus services drop off hordes of fans near the Rosewood Drive fairgrounds entrance, including the university shuttles where the latest in boot fashions are most apparent.




Thirty-three minutes before kickoff vs. the University of Kentucky — October 5, 2013
Darius Rucker doesn’t remember much from the day of his first USC game as a college freshman in 1984, he told USA Today in a recent interview. Two years before Hootie and the Blowfish found their name and 10 years before Cracked Rear View went platinum 16 times over, the wide-eyed 18-year-old found himself in a large party in a parking lot near Williams-Brice. Outside of his school being victorious, he doesn’t recall who they played, or much at all after the tailgating.




Two hours and 11 minutes before kickoff vs. Mississippi State University — November 2, 2013
The Olympia neighborhood sits to the south of Williams-Brice Stadium on the edge of the fairgrounds and is the most scenic route to the playing field. The normally sleepy blue-collar village is overrun by fans on gamedays, and some residents grab front row seats for the parade of college students and a chance to make an extra buck.




Nineteen hours and forty-seven minutes before kickoff vs. the University of Wisconsin — December 31, 2013
By defeating the Wisconsin Badgers in the Capital One Bowl game, the Gamecocks collected their third straight New Year’s Day victory and 11-win season. Here, the marching band dance team gets instructions from a coach on New Year’s Eve at the USC pep rally in Orlando, Florida.




Ten minutes after kickoff vs. Coastal Carolina University — November 23, 2013
In 2004 Bernie’s on Bluff Road was staked out not by police, but by WIS investigating a story connecting shortcomings on the playing field with players consuming too much of their famous fried chicken. Frequented by a steady stream of blue-collar workers when not slammed on gamedays, Bernie’s is quintessential tailgating cuisine at the University of South Carolina — a perfect snack between trips to Krispy Kreme.




Three hours and 20 minutes before kickoff vs. Clemson University — November 30, 2013
Like most good rivalries, the battle of the Palmetto State pits friends and families against one another on gameday along with the other 364 days of the year. In the modern era of the rivalry, Gamecock fans don’t give their archrivals the middle finger; they give them all five.




Nineteen hours before kickoff vs. the University of Wisconsin – December 31, 2013
Darth Visor, Dabo Destroyer or The HBC — whatever you wish to call him — Steve Spurrier is the savior of the University of South Carolina football program. The 69-year-old former Heisman Trophy winner was told he could not win at South Carolina and maybe that’s all it took. He’s engineered three straight 11-win seasons and led the team to three straight Top 10 finishes in the Associated Press Poll, a feat currently replicated only by Alabama and Oregon.




Three hours and two minutes before kickoff vs. Clemson University – November 30, 2013
It’s important to pace yourself while tailgating for the big rivalry game or you might end up napping in the parking lot of the state fairgrounds surrounded by red Solo cups, Cheez-Its and cans of Busch Light. Once a barren field of hot dust, brown grass and asphalt, tailgating at “Carolina Fair Park” now features manicured lawns and shade-giving trees that are rapidly transforming the tailgating experience at USC.




One hour and 20 minutes before kickoff vs. Mississippi State University — November 2, 2013
“I ceased to exist for a moment and it was just Cocky,” explains Jamie Ballentine about what happened when he suited up as the beloved mascot of the University of South Carolina from 2002-2006. “I gave every ounce of energy and drop of sweat I had in me to make Cocky come to life. Call me a dork, but after events I watched tape so I could improve the character the next time out. It didn’t matter if the next time was to 2001 with 80,000 screaming fans or a birthday party with eight young kids.”




One hour and 20 minutes before kickoff vs. Mississippi State University — November 2, 2013
“I ceased to exist for a moment and it was just Cocky,” explains Jamie Ballentine about what happened when he suited up as the beloved mascot of the University of South Carolina from 2002-2006. “I gave every ounce of energy and drop of sweat I had in me to make Cocky come to life. Call me a dork, but after events I watched tape so I could improve the character the next time out. It didn’t matter if the next time was to 2001 with 80,000 screaming fans or a birthday party with eight young kids.”




One hour and 20 minutes before kickoff vs. Mississippi State University — November 2, 2013
“Carolina fans are the best fans in the SEC and probably just in college football in general. I’ve been to Clemson, Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia with the band and there is no comparison,” says university feature twirler Catherine Ramirez (2010-2014). With the completion of Gamecock Park, a 50-acre tailgating facility on the former site of the farmer’s market in 2012, the university has created one of the finest gameday atmospheres in the nation. The area provides a gorgeous area for the pre-game pep rally, open spaces for concerts, permanent restrooms (no porta-potties), fields to play ball, tree-lined walkways and a promenade that erupts with electricity as the team and band make their official entrance to the stadium.

Let us know what you think: Email editor@free-times.com.

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