An hour before Monday afternoon’s rally for injured USC tailback Marcus Lattimore started on the Horseshoe, Bruce Balfour’s family had already set up chairs near the front steps of the McKissick Museum.
Balfour, his wife, Tamara, and their three daughters, Laura, Rachel and Ashley — all decked out in their South Carolina gear — wanted to pay tribute to their favorite Gamecock, who suffered a season-ending knee injury for the second consecutive year.
“He has handled adversity with dignity and class,” Bruce Balfour said.
Laura, a student at Columbia College, bought a No. 21 Lattimore replica jersey just for the occasion. And her friend, Julieanna Kerchusky, a junior at USC, brought balloons and a sign that read, “Happy 21st Birthday, We Love You, Marcus # 21.”
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“He’s a special person, he’s a Christian and he’s loved by everybody,” Kerchusky said.
The 30-minute event, an opportunity for fans and students to send Lattimore both birthday and get-well wishes, featured USC coach Steve Spurrier, tailback Kenny Miles, quarterback Dylan Thompson, team chaplain Adrian Despres, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, USC president Harris Pastides and USC student body president Kenny Tracy.
The speakers referenced the outpouring of support from prominent figures across the nation in and out of the sports world. Graham brought a letter from the S.C. congressional delegation. Pastides read a message from Fran Person, a former USC football player and current aide to Vice President Joe Biden. It passed along the vice president’s wishes of support.
But when Spurrier relayed sympathetic remarks from Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney, he couldn’t resist taking a shot at the rival school, which he said “doesn’t beat us much anymore.” He also classified what Swinney normally says as “garbage” and “BS” but did agree with his counterpart on his praise of Lattimore, who was released from a hospital Sunday night and was watching the event as it was live-streamed on the Internet.
The speakers all had a common theme: Lattimore, a junior from Duncan, is both a quality player and person. Miles, who will take over his friend’s role in the starting lineup, talked about how he learned to be a true team leader from Lattimore. “I’ll always be close to him, no matter what,” Miles said.
Both Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and Gov. Nikki Haley sent along proclamations celebrating “Marcus Lattimore Day” in the city and the state. Despres and Thompson led prayers for Lattimore’s recovery.
The crowd, which took up much the front quarter of the Horseshoe, was led in a loud version of “Happy Birthday” by the assembled players at the podium. Garnet-clad fans of all ages gathered around several large tables with poster cards for them to sign for their football hero.
USC senior Kaitlyn Torrence even had her little Yorkshire terrier named Rylie decked out in a tiny Lattimore jersey. “We’re big Gamecock fans and Rylie wanted to get out. It’s a reason to wear her jersey,” Torrence said.
Former quarterback and current play-by-play broadcaster Todd Ellis, who suffered a season-ending knee injury as a senior in 1989, understands the pain and disappointment Lattimore is feeling once again. As he stood in the crowd watching the event, he recounted the Lattimore that he has come to know on and off the field.
“He’s the greatest Gamecock I’ve ever seen when it comes to giving of himself to fans and being able to balance his life,” Ellis said.