I have always been impressed with Tommy Suggs' 40 years without missing a USC game as the color analyst for the Gamecock Radio Network. I also have my own streak of having attended 344 consecutive USC games.
But when it comes to home games, Carolina fan John Horne puts us both to shame.
He started attending games before Carolina Stadium was renamed Williams-Brice, before there were upper decks and 80,000 seats. His home-game streak stands at a remarkable 52 years and counting.
“My father (John Sr.) was an attorney at Ocean Drive Beach, and he was retained by the University, so if a player came to the beach and had an issue, he was available to assist them. He was big in the Gamecock Club, and he helped recruit people in Horry County when there weren't maybe more than 15 members.
“We started coming up to football games, and it became a way of life with us. We would drive up for the weekend and stay in the old Jefferson Hotel and the Wade Hampton Hotel. We would go to the Market Restaurant or Mary's Supper Club to have dinner. I came to games when I was six or seven, but the streak began in 1962.”
As Horne neared the time to make a decision on where he would attend college, there were those who were influencing him in the direction of the “other Carolina.”
“Growing up at the beach, North Carolina was really a big rival,” Horne said. “Everybody and his brother came from North Carolina to vacation at the beach. My girlfriend and my best friend were from North Carolina, but I grew up hating the Tar Heels.”
His dad helped make the decision a little easier.
“He said, ‘Son, if you want to go to Chapel Hill, I'll pack your suitcase and take you to the bus station. If you want to South Carolina, I'll help you pay for your education. That settled that.”
Horne graduated from USC in 1973, joined the Gamecock Club that year and has been a member ever since.
What's even more remarkable, is that during his streak there has been only one occasion when he has come close to missing a game. That was when his family was in the midst of a crisis.
“My mom (Martha) passed away on Oct. 21 in 2001. We were at the beach, and we had made all the arraignments and were just sitting at the house that Saturday morning. My wife, Vicky, looked at me and said, 'You want to go to the game don't you?' I was afraid of what people might say, but she said, 'John you have done everything that needs to be done, let's get in the car and go to the game.' And we did. Looking back I think it's what my parents would have wanted me to do. They were great Gamecock fans.”
With over five decades of Carolina games under his belt, it's hard for Horne to pick out two or three favorites.
“Some of my earliest memories were playing Georgia, because several of the games were around my birthday, which is October 3. In '62 and again in '64 we tied them 7-7. That was big time. To us, Georgia was like Notre Dame.
“I think about Houston coming in here with their white shoes (1974). One of my favorites, as I'm sure it is with many Gamecock fans, is the 1975 Clemson game. You can't be a Carolina fan and not remember the beat down Jeff Grantz and the guys put on the Tigers (52-20) that day.”
Horne remembers the coldest and wettest games during his streak.
“No question the coldest was the Clemson game in 1987. That was the 'Rodney' ( for Clemson quarterback Rodney Williams) game. The fans started chanting 'Rodney, Rodney,' and as they did, you could see their frozen breath coming out in unison. It was the first game that was played at night, and the temperature got down in the low 40s.
“The wettest game in history, of course, was N.C. State, up there in 1999, when hurricane Dennis just about blew us away. I don't know why they didn't postpone that game (the Wolf Pack won 10-0). The wettest game here was, I think, Virginia Tech in 1970. The rain was coming down sideways.”
While he was very disappointed in the outcome of the Georgia game, Horne, who works for the Gibson and Associates Insurance Agency, has always taken a “one game at a time” attitude.
“My dad said, 'Son if you're going to be Gamecock, hope springs eternal.' You have to look at one Saturday at a time. You have to go out, block and tackle and play smart football. I hope we get back on track this Saturday against Vanderbilt.”
“When I got married, I made the decision that no matter how busy we were during the week, that we would get together on Saturdays. Saturdays would be that special family day, and we would come and watch Gamecock football. Vickie and our sons (John III and Brent) enjoy getting together and spending time with friends. There have been up times and down times, but Carolina fans have never lost a tailgate. If the Lord is willing and the creek doesn’t rise, my streak will continue.”