If ever there was a football program whose history was prone to Recency Bias, it’s the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Recency Bias is a term that originated in finance to describe the tendency of people to judge an entire thing based on what it has done in the recent past, and Recency Bias came up this week for the Gamecocks when I asked for help coming up with the “Mount Rushmore” of South Carolina football. The idea piggybacked off a summer project by CBSSports.com, which is picking the four most important figures in several major football programs as a fun time killer for the summer months. Rather than wait to hear someone else’s opinion, I thought, “Let’s figure out what we think right now.”
That’s what I spent much of my Tuesday doing on Twitter, and despite my desire to avoid Recency Bias, there’s no question that one of the most special things about the past 10 years of Gamecocks football is that so many of the really wonderful things that it has produced, it has produced just now for all of us to see. After all, 8.8 percent of the program’s all-time wins have come in the most recent 4.8 percent of its history (52 wins in the last six years with a 586-562-44 record in 123 years of intercollegiate football).
So the responses were skewed toward the players and coach who are freshest in our minds. Here’s the public’s view based on the entertaining but unscientific social media polling – Steve Spurrier (winningest coach in school history), running back George Rogers (1980 Heisman Trophy), running back Marcus Lattimore (national freshman of the year and catalyst for most successful recruiting run in school history) and quarterback Connor Shaw (winningest quarterback in school history). Three of the four were wearing garnet and black in the past five years, and the fourth (Rogers) is a staple on campus.
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My personal list only deviates slightly from the collective opinion. It includes Spurrier, Rogers, Lattimore and quarterback Tommy Suggs.
Before I get to Suggs’ inclusion, let’s take a minute to discuss the toughest exclusion. Without question it was Shaw. He’s as beloved as any Gamecock in history and rightfully so. I gave serious thought to having him on the list instead of Lattimore.
Lattimore won that battle simply because what he did on the field allowed Shaw to step into a very quarterback-friendly environment when Shaw took over the starting job in 2011. Although they only started in the same game 12 times, Lattimore’s workhorse nature let Shaw ease into becoming a star rather than having to step in as a star.
As for Suggs, maybe it’s simply an overcorrection for Recency Bias, but it’s important that Gamecock fans don’t gloss over some of the really fun moments in the team’s distant past just because so many of those moments weren’t fun. For all the triumph of the 2010 SEC East title and all the glory in the 11-win seasons, Suggs remains the only person on the planet who has quarterbacked South Carolina to an overall conference crown (yes, smart-alecks, it still counts even though it was the ACC.)
On top of that, Suggs has spent more than 40 years as the radio color commentator for South Carolina football (he gets bonus points for being the person who got the ball rolling for “2001” to become the football team’s entrance music, and bonus points on top of those bonus points because he got the idea when he heard the music at an Elvis concert.)
There are more names from the school’s distant football past that shouldn’t be forgotten – like Steve “The Cadillac” Wadiak and “The Gaffney Ghost” Earl Clary and Bobby Bryant – but who don’t rise to the heights of our Mount Rushmore.
There’s also a name from the recent past that got almost no public votes for placement and got almost no consideration for my list, and that’s Jadeveon Clowney. That’s weird considering Clowney was the No. 1 high school recruit in the nation who would go on to be the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL Draft, and also was a huge factor on each of those 11-win teams.
Why wouldn’t a guy with that résumé get more traction in this debate? My guess is because he never displayed one of the most essential of Gamecockian traits – pluck. The school’s mascot evokes the image of a spirited fighter who plunges forward despite the odds, and the school’s fans have come to embrace that image, casting themselves and their team as the underdog whose grit will carry the day.
Clowney was and is a fantastic football player but you can never call him an underdog. He might as well have been created in a laboratory to play defensive end and thus was robbed by fate of the chance to overcome any great obstacle on the football field.
For that reason, Clowney didn’t earn a place on the Gamecocks’ Mount Rushmore. He does have a $22 million NFL contract to soothe his disappointment.