The hold music at the Shreveport, La., offices of the Independence Bowl is not music at all.
Instead, it’s the voice of Willie Robertson, a star of the popular “Duck Dynasty” television program and the CEO of Duck Commander, the bowl’s first-year sponsor.
“Hey, Willie Robertson here,” the message begins. “College football has always been important to the Robertson family. Some of us used to be players. All of us enjoy watching it. The Independence Bowl has always captured what college football is about. It’s about our country and about football.”
And for South Carolina, it’s about a long ride. The Gamecocks will play Miami on Dec. 27 in 49,000-seat Independence Stadium at 3:30 p.m. South Carolina’s 1,628-mile round trip is the second longest for an SEC team not in one of the sport’s College Football Playoff-controlled bowl games (Missouri’s 2,226 miles to the Citrus Bowl and back is the longest).
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South Carolina’s ticket sales are feeling the impact of the distance.
The Independence Bowl distributed 8,000 tickets to the Gamecocks and 6,000 to the Hurricanes (based on the bowl’s agreement with each conference). South Carolina had sold 784 of those as of the middle of the day Monday and will have to pay the bowl for all its unused tickets.
“It’s difficult for our fans,” athletics director Ray Tanner said. “We understand that.”
South Carolina is encouraging its fans to buy from the school’s allotment to donate to military members and children in the Boys and Girls Club in the Shreveport area.
“I know it’ll be a great challenge to have a large contingent follow us, but I hope that we have a lot of Gamecocks that will come,” Tanner said.
South Carolina’s football team and the school’s official traveling party will arrive in Shreveport on Dec. 23, which means the Gamecocks will spend Christmas Day away from home. The Independence Bowl is hosting a bowling event for each team on Dec. 25.
“That’s a little bit different scenario than many of us are used to,” Tanner said, “but I know that it is a very hospitable group that we are dealing with.”
Many of South Carolina’s fans were hoping for a spot in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte due to the proximity, and that slot remained a possibility into selection day, but the Outback Bowl’s decision to select 8-4 Auburn over a 9-3 Georgia team that beat the Tigers surprised some people in the conference and started a domino effect that saw the Bulldogs knock the Gamecocks out of Charlotte.
“There was a conversation (with the Belk Bowl), but they ended up with a nine-win team in Georgia,” Tanner said. “There wasn’t a lot of horse trading,” Tanner said. “There are other years coming, and we’ll probably play closer. I am not disappointed in the selection. I am excited about the opportunity to go to Shreveport.”
Belk Bowl executive director Will Webb did not return a phone call from The State seeking information on his game’s selection process. Independence Bowl executive director Missy Setters said her game would have been happy with any of the SEC’s four, six-win teams – South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas.
“I think you can find something good in every one of those possibilities,” she said.
The Gamecocks-Hurricanes matchup works for her, she said.
“You’ve got tradition in both programs,” she said. “You’ve got two programs that are nationally recognized. I think that’ll go a long ways toward viewership and hopefully interest locally, too.”
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier’s presence should be a local draw as well, Setters said.
“Absolutely,” she said, “There is a familiarity there because we are in the middle of SEC country.”