Byron Bowers of Fort Mill for years has gone to every University of South Carolina home game. Normally, he said, he waits for at least an hour in traffic before parking.
But Sunday, Bowers drove straight to his spot near Williams-Brice Stadium, barely slowing down.
“Traffic was non-existent,” said Bowers, who was trying to sell two extra tickets. “These are $80 tickets. They’re going for $30 or $40.”
The annual showdown between the Gamecocks and rival Georgia Bulldogs is usually a raucous affair. But rescheduling the game to Sunday from Saturday, combined with destruction along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts, put a damper on Sunday’s crowd.
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On most Saturdays there are 80,000-plus fans inside the stadium and thousands more who remain outside tailgating.
Williams-Brice, which normally would have fans hanging off the scoreboard for a USC-Georgia game, wasn’t nearly full. There were several pockets of empty bleachers in the upper decks and the student section in the north end zone was nearly bare in the upper corners.
USC had 70,018 in Williams-Brice two days after Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Official attendance was announced as 77,221 for the 80,250-seat stadium.
“The crowd’s a little bit lighter,” said Bryan Spencer, who, along with his wife, Stephany, have been tailgating in their “Cockaboat” – a small cabin cruiser they pull in for games – for 18 years. (They even have a Facebook page called The Cockaboat.)
“Let’s hope it’s the hurricane,” he said. “Not the record.”
In the S.C. State Fairgrounds across the street from the stadium, a popular parking and tailgating destination, there were large gaps of empty spaces.
James Craft of Aiken, had plenty of room to spread out in the six or so spaces that were empty around his normal spot.
“The folks that are usually here live in Dillon,” he said. “I don’t know if they had trouble (with the hurricane) or it’s just too far a drive for a Sunday.”
While Gov. Nikki Haley kept state troopers on hurricane duty and away from their usual game day traffic duties, travel around the stadium seemed to go smoothly. Deputies from Richland, Lexington, Kershaw, Calhoun and Newberry counties filled in on traffic and security, augmenting the Columbia Police Department.
“We’re not having any issues at all,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said.
Many Georgia fans didn’t make the trip because of uncertainty about game day and time prior to the storm. There were lots of room cancellations that were quickly snapped up by evacuees.
John Douglas, a Bulldog fan from Covington, Ga., said he’s come to Columbia for the game each time the two teams have played.
Usually Interstate 20 is full of cars with Georgia flags and stickers, he said, but added, “I didn’t see a single one today.”
Two Georgia fans who did make the trip, Andy Haygood of Jonesboro, Ga., and his son, David, said they thought moving the game was the right thing to do because of Saturday’s storms.
“But we knew there would be some no-shows,” he said of Sunday’s game. “The people down on the coast have other things to worry about besides a football game.”
Staff writer David Cloninger contributed.