05 October 2012

Recollections of Columbia

Well, our boys in red and black head to Columbia to take on their boys in garnet and black on Saturday, and as I'm wont to do, I've been thinking about past trips there a good bit lately. Actually, I'm not going this year. My brother is, and I think maybe he wanted me to go, but I just don't have the time, money, or inclination.

I've made the trip there 6 times in my life, and honestly, I feel like that's enough. That's not to say I won't ever make it back there. I'm just not going this year. For the record, I very much feel like we will win, and I'm usually right about these things.

My last trip was 2008. We won. Our trip was a disaster. That's another story for another time. My brother and I were there for the magic of 2002. We were actually in the corner of the end zone that gave us a great vantage point for Pollack's now-infamous fumble/interception/touchdown play...man, that was so awesome. Of course, we were also there for the 2000 dumpster fire that I still think about rather often. I can still see Donnan sitting on the bench to next to QC during the 4th quarter, putting his arm around him and talkin' to him....oh, the horror!

I've been to others but none have had the impact as my first trip there in 1984.

One of my Dad's best buddies at the time, Mr. Joe, who was also a licensed pilot, joined my Dad, brother and I on that trip. I think the old man wanted Mr. Joe to go so he could take care of the flying of the co-op Cessna so that he might concentrate on the game and us crazy kids (and maybe a few cocktails). We left out from the Covington airport with dreams of a Bulldog victory...

Things started to fall apart right from the get-go. I seem to remember a near-miss in the sky, and something else happened as well...I think maybe a light came on the console that kinda freaked out the adults. Things didn't get much better in Columbia. It took us forever to get the plane parked and by the time we got on the shuttle that the airport was offering, it was almost time for kick-off. Then, we got dropped off almost a mile away from the stadium. Things were unraveling badly. Finally, my Dad offered a black man in an old Ford pick-up truck $10 if we could jump on the back and get a ride to the stadium. The man accepted and we finally got to our seats late in the 1st quarter.

Even as a 9-year old boy, I could tell that things just weren't right during the game. That magic I had come to know and love the previous 4 years was dissipating. The Cocks seemed to have our number. I remember my Dad telling Mr. Joe at one point that we were "going to mess around and lose this thing." Well, he was right. 17-10. It was an ugly game that started the downward spiral of an ugly season. It was a clear defining of eras. Tennessee, 1980 - Clemson, 1984 = good times; S. Carolina, 1984 started the not-so-good times that culminated in very embarrassing losses to Florida and Tech later in the season and basic mediocrity for the next 18 years. 

But what sticks out more than anything about that night was this: the stadium swayed. It swayed. Like swayed in the wind, I guess. Seriously, it swayed. At least the upper-deck did. I've talked to several people who can attest to this fact. I think that maybe they've fixed it now, but back then, the damn thing swayed. The other thing I remember, as we left Williams-Brice, was the large number of Gamecock fans who cursed us with just about every foul word known to man even though there were two children with our group. Total class. That impression has only been reinforced over the years...

But the best part came once we got back to the airport. The "nice lady" that was working the terminal was so sweet to us when we got back. Basically saying that South Carolina got lucky, and that it was a good game. After Dad and Mr. Joe did the pre-flight stuff and we taxied, took off and reached altitude, my Dad radioed in to inform the tower that we were about make the turn to head west back to Georgia. The sweet lady we had earlier spoken to told us we were good to go and wished us a very safe flight. Then she screamed, "GO COCKS!!!," and giggled. My Dad turned to Mr. Joe with a stern look on his face and simply said, "that [expletive deleted] bitch!" I knew right then and there that there were times to say the F-word and the B-word, and this was obviously one of those times.

I'm 3-3 in my trips to Columbia and I'd like to eventually get a winning record, but it will have to wait. As I mentioned earlier, I do feel good about Saturday. I'm not going, but I know we're going to pull it out. I hope my brother has a great time. And if he were to somehow run into that airport lady, I hope he tells her exactly what my Dad said that night 28 years ago.

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. How 'Bout Them Dawgs!!!