From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR
is being written a week ahead of time. As I write this, South
Carolina’s Gamecocks and the Hurricane of the University of Miami
haven’t even left Columbia and Florida for Shreveport and their
scheduled football game yet.
But by the time you read this, their Duck Commander Independence Bowl is in the books.
I’m supposed to have helped cover it, report on it for the newspaper. Lord willing, I did. Wonder what happened?
all know now. Hopefully it was a clean game and fun crowd and one of
the better Independence Bowls. Whether the game rewarded us or not, is
it wrong to admit now that, secretly — and no offense to Miami — I was
rooting for the Gamecocks? Does that make me a bad person?
here’s the problem: I’m not too proud to be Chicken, which is what we
called the Gamecocks when I grew up in South Carolina and what they are
called by the rural football fan back home today: the Chickens. (”Rural”
in that previous sentence is redundant.)
It’s no secret that I
love Louisiana Tech. I went to school there, flunked out there, was
given another chance there and work both there and for the newspapers
today. I was lucky to have been dropped off at Tech against my will one
August day back in 1978, and I’ve become convinced since that it’s a
place where you will not get lost unless you want to get lost. You won’t
get overlooked at Tech; I’ve seen it play out time and time again.
You’ll get an opportunity. Someone, or several people, will help you. If
I can graduate, you can.
But for reasons sentimental, a spark for
the love of my youth remains. Carolina and the Chickens are my first
football girlfriend, and although things didn’t work out between us, I
don’t like to hear people talk a badly about her. I don’t like to see
her lose. And I sure don’t like to see her go 6-6 in a season when
they/we were supposed to win the East Division of the Southeastern
Conference. Losing to KENTUCKY?! In football? And to Tennessee?
Tennessee’s AWFUL! Oh, the humanity!
In Carolina you are either a
Chicken or a Clemson Tiger, Clemson being one of six teams who beat us
this year. (Wasn’t close.) I am not as radical about this because I like
Clemson and have friends from Clemson and B.B. Elvington, who grew up
down the street from me and was idolized by all us boys in town, started
three years for Clemson. But, the die was cast early and my family is a
bunch of Chicken People. One of my uncles graduated from there and had
season tickets. Another flunked out there and eventually graduated.
(Flunking out is sort of another theme in our family.)
As a boy I
saw the Chickens beat Wake Forest in Columbia and I saw the Chickens
beat Clemson in Death Valley. I didn’t know there were that many people
in the world, or that they could be that loud, or that there were that
many colors. I can still see Tommy Suggs, the Chicken quarterback of the
late 1960s and, for the past 40 years, the team’s radio color analyst,
throwing a deep crossing route. I can see plainly the football on that
clear fall day spiraling, the color of old shoe leather, a dusty tan.
you, Tommy. Thank you, Chickens. We were good for a Peach Bowl every 20
years back then, but the loyal Chicken faithful hung in there. This
longsuffering program, flashing that striking garnet and black, started
in me a love of autumn Saturday afternoons. Chickens, in the coop and in
the pan and on the field, have been a big part of my life. Lucky me.
Go Chickens — and it’s not my fault I feel that way, or always will. If
you walk through the Carolina barnyard as a boy, you’re gonna get some
Chicken poop on your little shoe. Take the word of someone who knows:
that stuff’s really hard to get off.