Weather: Warm; Ticket: $65 Face Value via Craigslist
“Southern Hospitality” by Tree
University of South Carolina is located in Columbia, South Carolina which in the middle of the state. The campus is located downtown, but Columbia feels more like a big town rather than a small city. They run shuttles from the edge campus to the stadium but it is walkable if you are staying in town. The campus is classically designed and worth the walk if you have the time. There are private lots in the fairgrounds surrounding the stadium filled with tailgaters, but that is just the start. South Carolina caters to their alumni with a great set up. There’s a large lot with grass and electric hook ups. In addition to that there are Cockbooses. These are retro-fitted cabooses that add a unique twist to the traditional college football scene. From the tailgating to the stadiums, the fans are boisterous yet friendly. I got to sample some great barbecue and had a sort of celebrity sighting. It turns out that Hootie and Blowfish are South Carolina alums and at least one of the Hootie offspring was tailgating next to me.
While this game lost some of its luster when Missouri got upset by Indiana the week before, it was still big enough to warrant a visit from ESPN Game Day. I was a bit worried about getting a ticket, but had a good experience buying tickets from scalpers at another big SEC venue, Tennessee. On a whim, I checked Craigslist late Friday night. There I found several folks selling tickets at or near face value. I sent out several texts in hopes that Saturday morning would bring me a reasonably priced ticket. I got my confirmation while holding a SoManyStadiums sign with about 5,000 other fans at Game Day. Fortunately, the seller was willing to sell the ticket at face value, $65, and we made the exchange as the show ended. My supplier couldn’t have been nicer and he said they were great seats, lower level, corner end zone with a cushioned seat back. When I got to stadium, I didn’t see any scalpers at first, but as I got closer there were plenty of entrepreneurs hawking tickets. It seemed to me that tickets were not selling much above face value. With the exception of games with cross-state rival Clemson, tickets can probably be easily had on game day.
Williams-Bryce stadium is like the middle bear, not too small and not too big, but just right. The sight lines for the stadium looked reasonable, but there were also a number of folks watching the game from the corner ramps. They don’t sell S.R.O. seats so perhaps the seats up in peanut heaven weren’t as good as I thought they were. The game was kicked off with an invocation, confirming that I was definitely in the South. There was a stellar video scoreboard accompanied by multiple smaller boards showing down and distance. It made it very easy to track the game. They would also occasionally show the LSU game live on the board during TV timeouts. That was something I hadn’t seen elsewhere and was much appreciated. There was heavy security but with such polite fans, it didn’t feel like it was needed. The concessions were standard fare as best I could tell, with nothing noteworthy. They did sell the souvenir cup, but with no free or reduced refills. I also got a free towel to waive during the game. Evidently that’s a tradition at USC, but being a ‘Burgher, I know nobody waves a towel like Steeler fans. The restrooms were the classic trough design.
There are a number of traditions at the stadium, with a trademark cheer that starts with the circular waving of a hooked hand and finishes with “Go Cocks”. They also have an alternating cheer of “Game” on side of the stadium and “Cocks” on the other side. I have been at other stadiums with similar activities but like any set of great stadium fans, the cheers kept going throughout the game. In fact, the fans were so into it, I had to stand most of the game. The majority of the fans around me were knowledgeable if not slightly jaded. USC, as a program, is middle of the road with no national champions. The football passion runs deep despite a cumulative win loss record hovering around 500. The exception was a group a few seats down from us who seemed to make us stand up every time we managed to sit down for a time out. To his credit, one guy kept apologizing and admitted to me on one of their final runs that such good seats were wasted on them. Even better was the young lady who had clearly over-enjoyed her tailgating and wandered into our section just before half-time. She had the trademark black cocktail dress and cowboy boots on, but was certainly a bit worse for the wear. She was looking for her seat in Section 9 but couldn’t understand why someone was in her seat. We took a closer look at her ticket and saw her seat was in section 903. With her head hung low, she wobbled her way onward and upward. I expect a prayer session with the porcelain god was in the cards for her down the road.
I drove down from Virginia on Friday for the game. Once I cleared the snarl of DC traffic, the drive was pleasant enough. I had booked a room in the city center for Saturday night but when Game Day announced they were going to the Horseshoe, I altered my plans and came in Friday night. Hotel rooms in Columbia were prohibitive at that point so I settled in Charlotte, NC about hour and half away where I snagged a room for about $80, which about 60% cheaper than Columbia. I made the short drive, easy drive to Columbia in the morning arriving on campus early, 7:45am. I checked into my hotel later and it turned out the Tigers were staying there as well. I felt bad for the cheerleaders who it appeared were required to stay in their uniforms from the early start for Game Day through the evening game. My guess is they were pretty ripe by the time the game ended at 10:30pm. It is perhaps the only time I hoped not to be surrounded by a bunch of pretty cheerleaders in an elevator. I took a shuttle to the field for $5 but it wasn’t particularly well publicized probably because it isn’t much easier then walking. It also put me on the other side of the stadium but it was easy to follow the stream of fans. My guess is that driving to the stadium is likewise easy. My guess is you’ll pay somewhere between $5 and $30 based on parking proximity.
Mizzou and USC are building a nice little rivalry with the Tigers recent entry to the SEC. This game was a defensive struggle for the first three quarters and then things took off. The game started with the ‘ol Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, going for a fourth and one early around his fifty yard line. It backfired and Missouri drove down and scored. The teams battled back and forth with Carolina slowly working up to a 13 to 7 lead. When they scored mid-way through fourth quarter on a great catch by the USC receiver, Pharoh Cooper, to make it 20 to 7, I and the majority of the USC fans thought Missouri was cooked. In fact, a number of fans made their way to the exits. Unfortunately, the Tigers weren’t quite dead yet. A quick four play drive highlighted by a long bomb got them right back in it. That made it 20 to 14 and things got tight. After a three and out by the Gamecocks, Missouri put together another quick drive. It ended with a dramatic end of the game 4th and goal touchdown and a Tiger upset. The stadium went eerily silent as everyone was in shock that Carolina lost a game that they had dominated for three and a half quarters.
The ending cast a pall over the post-game festivities. Nonetheless, this was one of the best experiences I have had at a game. The environment was stirring and classic college football. Some things came off flat like the entrance of the team into the stadium. Traditionally, the Gamecocks enter the field to “Also Sprach Zarathustra” – the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey and I was told it was quite a sight. Unfortunately, technical malfunctions resulted in a couple of restarts and the whole thing fell flat. The line for the shuttles was so long after the game that I bailed and walked all the way back to the hotel. Nor was my attendance “Life Changing”, as one young sorority described the Williams-Brice experience to me. These, however, are minor complaints. I saw a great game with some great fans. In particular, the son of the man I bought the tickets from was exceptional. He was well informed, enthusiastic and friendly – traits which are not always apparent in teenage boys. So, I strongly endorse hitting a game in Columbia to see the Gamecocks play. While I am sure a Clemson game would be fantastic, any SEC game would do. You might not see the home team win, but it probably won’t matter either.