The Richardson family will be traveling in garnet and black to Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Bowl today.
It’s been almost four weeks since they were in the city for the SEC Championship.
This family goes everywhere the USC football team goes.
There may be no bigger Gamecock fan than Bob Richardson, the 83-year-old patriarch who instilled a travel-the-country-for-your-Gamecocks mentality in his five children.
For the SEC Championship against Auburn, Bob’s sons — Lee, Rhett and Charles — were joined by their sisters — LuAnne and Trudy — and 20 or so other people.
The Richardsons will be well represented again at the Georgia Dome today. But Bob is missing today’s game.
Bob will be watching from his wood-paneled living room, sitting in a maroon leather recliner with the flat screen TV pulled tight against the left side of the armchair. Bob, who leans into the screen with his good eye, the left one, was going to the conference title game until he suffered a stroke Nov. 28, the morning after Carolina beat Clemson.
His wife, Lu, 80, remembers that she fell asleep in her recliner during the Clemson game and asked about the score when she woke up.
“He told me Clemson had won, and I was so distressed. And about three hours later, he straightened me out.”
The next morning she called the paramedics, who rushed Bob to Augusta.
“I told him, ‘You know why you had that stroke? Because you lied to me,’” she said.
There’s a gleam in her eye when she laughs.
It’s in the garnet-colored blood
The welcome sign on S.C. 3. tells a first-time visitor that Barnwell, home of the Warhorses, is the gateway to the Lowcountry. James Brown was born in this city of about 5,000, a city where the town square is actually a circle. The local pronunciation is Barnwool.
The Richardsons know everybody here. There are three Richardson streets in town, property once owned by Bob’s brothers. Lu was a librarian at Barnwell High School for 33 years.
The Barnwool townsfolk were looking to name the high school’s mascot. Clemson fans suggested the Tigers. You know what USC fans petitioned for. Then someone suggested Warhorses.
“A champion fighting rooster is called an ‘Old Warhorse,’” Lee said, tickled anew by what could be the greatest upset ever by a Gamecock.
The three boys still live in town, close enough that the heater doesn’t have time to do its job before the car gets to their parents’ driveway.
Bob, the youngest of five children, grew up determined not to follow his three brothers to Clemson. The story is that he had no choice. It was during World War II and — with the country rationing everything from milk to fuel — his father told him he had only enough gas to get him to Columbia.
Gamecock football, simply put, is now what this family does.
Lu is a collector of gamecock — well, rooster — figures. She has them in glass, porcelain, brass and wood on kitchen shelves and around the fireplace. There’s a gamecock with a clothespin head and a wine bottle with a chicken head and long, felt feathering.
She said Bob married her because she was louder than his Clemson-loving siblings.
Bob, who retired from the Savannah River Site, ensured his children would be Gamecock fans with a well-intentioned bribe: They could go to USC for free, or they could pay for college elsewhere.
You can’t miss their tailgate spot at the former Farmers Market, the banner “Roostin’ With the Richardsons, Barnwell SC” announcing their presence. George Rogers has shared collard greens with them under the tent that Lee sets up early in the morning, regardless of kickoff time.
The last regular-season game Lee, 57, missed was Thanksgiving weekend 1989, soon after he started working at SRS. He’s only been absent from a few bowl games.
Rhett, 52, an optometrist, missed Lou Holtz’s first game in 1999, a 10-0 loss at N.C. State, because his sister-in-law was getting married in Kansas City, Kan.
“I was asked to be in the wedding,” he said. “My mother-in-law would’ve not talked to me anymore had I not been at that wedding.”
The game he missed is referred to as the Hurricane Dennis Game by the Richardsons, whose collective football knowledge is encyclopedic. Dennis went through Raleigh and then turned around, as Lee tells it. It was so bad in the stands that Bob had to repeatedly dump water out of his shoes.
Charles, at 40, has seen every USC game since 1987, his senior year at Barnwell High School. He almost missed Steve Spurrier’s first trip to Athens to play Georgia as USC’s coach in 2005 because of the birth of his daughter, Anna Kate.
“Obviously, she wasn’t planned because she was born in September,” said Charles, who got his wish of having a Tuesday-morning, in-season baby. The family thinks his 3-year-old son, Bradley, is a future Gamecock.
LuAnne and her husband, George, go to many of the games. Trudy, who married a Frierson from Orangeburg — Lu’s way of saying she married into a Clemson family — is still welcome. She has a $100 bet on every Clemson-USC game with her husband, and the Richardsons enjoyed the exchange, done in front of the whole family, this year.
The Richardsons know the SEC towns well, recommending restaurants like Doe’s Eat Place in Bentonville, Ark., an establishment that sells a 40-ounce steak. And they have their own travel agent. That’s what Lee calls Rhett’s wife, Cheryl, who books the flights, rental cars and hotels for all the away games.
‘The eternal pessimist’
As the Richardsons discuss past games, heads turn when they hear Bob’s slippered feet shuffling down the hallway. They call him Pop, and he was supposed to be resting, having recently returned home from the hospital.
“I heard all this racket down here. Goodnight,” Bob says, before pointing toward Lu. “I knew it was her. She’s the loudest one. We outnumbered them, didn’t we?”
The boys bring up The Citadel Prediction Story.
“That was the time we — I don’t even want to talk about it,” Bob says, throwing his hands in the air.
“If you know our daddy, he’s the eternal pessimist,” Charles, the youngest of the Richardson children, says during a visit to his parents’ house earlier this month. “My friends have always come to tailgates and said, ‘Mr. Richardson, how are we going to do today?’ It didn’t matter who we were playing, he always said we were going to lose.”
It was October 1990, before USC joined the SEC.
“This is one game that I’m confident we’re going to win,” Lee, the oldest, recalls his father saying before USC’s No. 4-ranked defense was torched for almost 400 yards by The Citadel’s wishbone offense in a 38-35 upset at Williams-Brice Stadium.
After the game, the sons went looking for Bob.
He couldn’t be found. They asked their mother, who said she didn’t know anything more than Bob had said he would call when he got somewhere.
Somewhere turned out to be Portland, Ore. That’s what happens when you walk into an airport without luggage and ask for a ticket to “the farthest place away from here.” Bob rented a car and stayed on the West Coast until the following Saturday.
“I had to pick him up at the airport,” Lee said.
Father and son then drove straight to Raleigh to watch N.C. State roll up 38 points and another 400 yards on the Gamecocks.
Bob doesn’t want to talk about Oregon, but Lu does.
“He took me to Portland the next year because he enjoyed it so much,” she said.
This summer Cheryl booked a spur-of-the-moment trip to Omaha, Neb., for Bob, Lee, and her 12-year-old son, Boldt, after USC beat Clemson to advance in the College World Series. Lee has a picture with the championship trophy before it left Omaha to be paraded around Columbia.
What makes the Richardsons’ road trips particularly special for Lee is the battlefields, courthouses and other historical sites they visit along the way. Before flying home from the College World Series, for example, they drove to Winterset, Iowa, the birthplace of John Wayne.
On the road, the Richardsons always party the night before a football game so they can celebrate no matter the outcome even. (Lu, who served coconut pie and Coke to a guest, would later clarify that it’s the kind of partying church-going, hard-working people do.)
“We’ve seen a lot of losses,” Charles, who works at Mixson Oil Co. in Allendale, said. “For a Carolina fan, obviously, it’s never about the wins and losses. It’s about the family and fellowship and all the friends and stuff like that.
“But it’s a lot better when we win.”