South Carolina began playing football in 1892. Richard Strauss composed “Also Sprach Zarathustra” in 1896.
But it took the confluence of Tommy Suggs and Elvis Presley in the early 1970s to bring the two things together and create one of the most iconic entrances in college football. The music, which rises higher and higher into a dramatic crescendo, is better known as “2001” because it was used in the 1968 movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Elvis used the piece as his introduction music for concerts during the 1970s when Suggs twice saw him live — once in Columbia at the Carolina Coliseum and once in Louisiana while Suggs attended banking school at LSU. During the show in Louisiana, Suggs told friend Alex Miller, “I am going to take that back to Coach (Jim) Carlen because that is going to be our new entry song at Carolina Stadium.”
So Suggs, a former South Carolina quarterback who has gone on to a 40-year career in the Gamecocks’ radio booth, found a tape of the music and played it for Carlen, who was immediately on board except for one key detail. Carlen wanted the school’s marching band to perform it. Suggs explained it needed to be played over the stadium’s loudspeakers, but Carlen insisted on the band. So in 1981, the South Carolina marching band played “2001” before two games. Few people in the crowd heard it, and it looked like the idea might die there.
Suggs stuck with it, though. When Carlen left after the 1981 season, Suggs took the music to Athletics Director Bob Marcum, who also loved it. But once again, there was a problem. Marcum didn’t think the football stadium’s antiquated sound system could play the music loud enough to inspire much of anything in the crowd. Marcum suggested they hold off one more year because a $120,000 sound system was being installed the following year, which turned out to be the only season in which Richard Bell served as head coach.
In 1983, the Gamecocks had a new coach and, at long last, a new theme song.
“Joe Morrison came and his first game at home we played the real ‘2001’ as we know it now,” Suggs said. “That’s where the confusion came in that Joe Morrison started it. He did start it the way it is played now, but it wasn’t his idea. It just happened to come on the first game he was here. The rest is history.”
The music became synonymous with South Carolina football and remains so today.
“I travel all over the country and if people hear South Carolina football, two things come out of their mouth. They say, ‘Steve Spurrier,’ and they say, ‘Man, that entrance to ‘2001’ is unbelievable,’ ” said Todd Ellis, the team’s play-by-play voice and a former South Carolina quarterback. “It’s iconic. It still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up when we play it. It’s truly one of the trademarks of the University of South Carolina.”
As the music peaks and the Gamecocks pour through a cloud of smoke onto the playing field, the crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium erupts.
“Clearly that’s a wonderful call to arms for all the Gamecocks,” former athletics director Mike McGee said. “I was at Southern Cal for nine years, and we had the Trojan band. It was supposedly one of the best in the country, and it was, and I often thought about how the Southern Cal fight song was well known, obviously. But there is a uniqueness about ‘2001.’ ”
The man who championed the song through many roadblocks knew it could be a point of pride for his school, but he never imagined it would grow to be what it has become today.
“I know there is an emotional pitch before a game starts, and I just felt like if we could do something to get the crowd up and get everybody emotional about the running on the field that it could eventually be one of the tops in the country. But I probably didn’t realize (how) much national play it would get,” Suggs said.
When Suggs watched a television replay of the 2012 South Carolina–Georgia game that matched the No. 5 and No. 6 teams in the country, he appreciated again the significance of the song when television announcers Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit remained silent while it played.
“For about a minute and a half, two minutes, they said nothing,” Suggs said. “They just said, ‘Sit back and enjoy.’ ”