Steve Spurrier scanned the gathering of 47 current and former NFL players and USC alumni on Monday afternoon at Seawells and immediately saw two familiar faces.
Spurrier had faced Bobby Bryant and Alex Hawkins in the NFL. It was good to see the two returning to their college roots to support the program.
Then Spurrier, standing at the podium, saw a third.
Spurrier told the gathering that when it appeared offensive line coach Shawn Elliott might be headed to Alabama, he planned to call Travelle Wharton about possibly replacing him.
Wharton quietly noted he wasn’t yet retired, despite missing most of the 2012 season with an injury as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.
The humorous hiccup was about the only hitch in another very successful event put together by Clyde Wrenn on behalf of the Gamecock Club and the Lettermen’s Association.
Athletics director Ray Tanner said the first person he bumped into walking into the luncheon was Johnathan Joseph, a first-round draft pick of the Bengals in 2006 and a Pro Bowl invitee this past season for Houston.
“What has it been, six, seven years in the NFL for him? Time flies,” Tanner said. “Of course, to walk in and see our Heisman Trophy winner George (Rogers), too. There’s so many special athletes here.
“This is just part of our mission to get our former athletes involved on an annual basis,” Tanner added. “We’re just working extremely hard to tell these guys this is your school. We’re going to embrace you as much as we can and as often as we can.”
Lettermen’s Association president Gary Gregor, a former USC basketball player who went on to the NBA, said the school’s association likely is the weakest of the SEC schools and needs help.
“Yeah, I would have to say that would be correct,” said Rick Sanford, who became the first player in school history to be drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. “But I do think, in the long run, things are going to turn around under coach Tanner.”
Spurrier said one of his primary hopes for his players following their time at USC is to support the school and for the school to continue to build bridges to its alumni.
“I have always tried to preach that the scenario and the play for our players is to play well here, graduate, go get a good job and come back and support your old school and hang around your former team,” Spurrier said.
The consensus among the former players was that the Dodie Anderson Academic Enrichment Center and the Rice Athletics Center have been the most crucial improvements to the overall athletics program at USC.
“The Dodie. That’s unreal,” said Sheldon Brown, a 2002 second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles. “When you go in and see The Dodie compared to what we had, it’s just unreal.”
Willie Scott was a first-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, taken 14th overall in the same 1981 draft that saw Rogers go to New Orleans with the top pick. He said Wrenn had invited him to stop by last month’s quarterbacks reunion but made the mistake of thinking it was taking place at the old Roundhouse.
“I didn’t realize the Roundhouse was gone,” Scott said with a laugh. “I had seen The Dodie, but now I’ve been to the (Rice) building, and I’ll tell you, boy, that is a big-time place.”
Scott said all the improvements that have taken place over the years have been necessary endeavors.
“Everything from the Fairgrounds to the Farmer’s Market, we have to keep up with the Joneses, and that’s the sad thing about college athletics,” he said. “You have to keep up with the Joneses so kids don’t go other places where they have weight rooms as big or bigger and all those types of things. It’s the haves and have-nots, and we got to make sure we have everything everyone needs.”
Tanner said more alumni-related events are in the planning stages.