Prior to South Carolina's 31-10 win over Missouri this past season, the two programs had met just twice before, and both were unpleasant experiences for the Gamecocks – The Hall of Fame Bowl in 1979 and the Independence Bowl in 2005.
I thought the Hall of Fame game was worth the trip, because it was to be played at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. What family didn't watch the Alabama-Auburn game every Thanksgiving weekend held at that historic venue? (It turned out, historic is just another word for old.)
The game started with a bang for Carolina. With George Rogers running, Gary Harper throwing and Zion McKinney catching, the Gamecocks scored on the opening drive of the game, but a bobbled snap and a missed extra point turned out to be an omen of how things would go.
Missouri scored the next 17 points of the first half. USC made a run, but the Tigers added another TD in the third quarter to just one TD for the Gamecocks and the final score was 24-14.
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What struck me most about the game was that Jim Carlen's team ran out of steam in the fourth quarter, a characteristic of the '79 squad that won or lost six games by seven or less points in the 8-4 year.
If you took a poll of Gamecock fans and asked them to rank their worst bowl game experience, I'd bet the farm that the 2005 Independence Bowl would be in their top two.
I was with a plane-load of fans on a one-day, down-and-back trip. Thank the Lord for small favors. The bus ride from the airport revealed there wasn't a whole lot going on in Shreveport, the day was nasty, and Independence Stadium was, well, very historic.
What made it a real downer is that the Gamecocks bolted to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, and gradually gave it all back. They wound up losing 38-31.
It was one of those “well, but,” games. Blake Mitchell was 20-of-38 passing for 266 yards, and two touchdowns, but he threw three interceptions, one of which was returned 99 yards for six points.
That year's running back named Mike Davis rushed for 125 yards and scored two touchdowns, but most of that yardage came in the first three quarters. Sidney Rice had 12 catches for 191 yards. The Tigers won every major statistical category except time of possession.
I would dare say this, if asked to rank the most embarrassing loses of his career, the HBC would have this one in his top three. He was furious after the game was over because he felt there was a complete collapse of focus, concentration and, at times, lack of effort by his team in the second half.
He denies it, but I have to believe at that time he had to be wondering if Lou Holtz had done much to change the culture of Carolina football after he'd spent five years saying it needed to be changed.
I am excited about visiting the “other” Columbia, but as for the game, I'm not so sure. It is a 7-0, No. 5-ranked Missouri team, playing at home, against a 5-2, 20th-ranked South Carolina team. So understandably, Missouri is the favorite.
That best game of the season is out there and I think the Gamecocks need to embrace the underdog role and play nearly-flawless football to win. They will have to play with over the top emotion, not dance steps, but real backslapping intensity.
It's a great time to be a Gamecock!