Van Newman might be one of the most consistent South Carolina football traditions of all, having attended more than half of the 113 games played between the University of South Carolina and Clemson.
Four generations of Newman’s family surrounded the 88-year-old at the family tailgate Saturday before Newman’s 70th consecutive USC-Clemson game.
“He’s a bit of a role model,” said Newman’s 16-year-old great-grandson, Patrick Aitchison.
“He’s just the best Gamecock fan I know,” Newman’s daughter Linda Rodarte said. “He takes it very seriously.”
His family isn’t sure, but they believe their patriarch might hold the record for attending the most consecutive Palmetto Bowl rivalry games.
But that doesn’t matter to Newman.
“It’s not to set a record. It’s what I enjoy,” the Columbia resident said. “I’ve always found Carolina home games to be a fun atmosphere.”
Newman raves about Rex Enright, USC’s athletic director and head football coach through most of the 1940s and early ’50s. He praises Steve Wadiak, a Gamecock from 1948-51 as “as good a running back as Carolina’s had” – different from George Rogers, Newman said.
And as for all those longsuffering losing seasons as a Gamecock fan, Newman figures he “might as well” take them in stride.
“Van, you don’t take it well – quit lyin’!” family friend Steve Russell interjected at Saturday’s tailgate. “He’s worse than I am, and I take it terrible!”
It’s not just USC football that has Newman’s heart. He’s also a season ticket holder for USC baseball and basketball and big fan of Duke basketball, too.
The man just loves sports.
The YMCA helped instill in him a love of sports as a boy growing up in Sumter. He played on a basketball team that won the Carolinas championship three straight years, he said.
Newman would go on to be a sports writer and sports editor for the Columbia Record newspaper after graduating from South Carolina in 1949. Later, he became president of one of the state’s most successful advertising agencies, Newman, Saylor & Gregory, which became Chernoff Newman in 2002.
As a father, he passed on his love of USC sports to his three children – Van, Bobbie and Linda – who remember times when they’d watch Carolina basketball games at the old Carolina Fieldhouse and later the Carolina Coliseum, while their father kept game stats down on the floor.
“We follow his lead,” Newman’s son, Van Newman III, said.
Even so, Newman said, “They aren’t sports nuts as much as I am.”
“They’re normal. They take after their mother,” he said jokingly.
Newman had married into a family of Clemson fans and was successful in converting only his wife to the garnet side.
He wrinkles with a comic cringe when he remembers facing Thanksgiving dinners and Christmases with the Clemson fans.
The first time he attended the USC-Clemson game at Clemson, once the annual contest began alternating between the rivals’ home fields, he thought, “What am I doing here?”
And after his most recent trip to Clemson, for a 35-17 Gamecock loss, Newman said he wonders if he’ll bother going back to Death Valley.
But chances are, he will. He’d have to be tied to the bed to be kept from a Carolina-Clemson football game, Newman said.
And he plans to be there for better days in the Gamecocks’ future.
“We’ll show Clemson who’s boss again pretty soon,” he said with a grin.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.