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A museum of memories now lost

WE WALKED OUT of the Colonial Center together the other night after the South Carolina-Florida game, and the conversation drifted from the just-completed contest to thoughts on the Gamecocks’ basketball future.

“That game reminds me of one probably 25 or 30 years ago,” Tom Price said as he embarked on a journey down memory lane that included names and specifics.

He often did that, holding court by weaving stories from yesterday that connect with today, and I suspect I will not be alone in missing those sessions.

Price, the Gamecocks’ long-time sports information chief and, since retirement, the school’s athletic historian, died Friday and his passing at age 81 leaves a void that can not be filled.

He ranks among the pioneers in the sports information field, and his service to Carolina dated to the days that one person — not an army — took care of all teams. In a world of egotistical coaches, juggling their demands presented a daunting challenge before changing ways provided more staffing.

Price handled those responsibilities well, and the posse of students he guided into the SID field speaks volumes. Some who worked with him hold lofty positions in stock-car racing, Major League Baseball, professional golf and collegiate athletics, and what a wonderful legacy they create.

Their work always will be a testament to the person affectionately called T.P., but what cannot be replaced is his knowledge. That will be lost forever.

One person department. T.P. came along before computers stored information and details, before Google or Yahoo became household words, before searches required no more than maybe a password and a few key strokes.

Lists with names, scores and statistics only begin to tell the story of teams and their accomplishments, and T.P. could complete the picture for Carolina.

A USC graduate, he worked 11 years for a wire service before signing on with the Gamecocks in 1962. Although he theoretically retired in 1993, he never really left.

On that night a few days ago, he looked forward to another season with the Carolina baseball team.

Starting with his wire-service days, his association with the Gamecocks included 11 head football coaches, 12 head basketball coaches and more than a dozen directors of athletics.

Games? He saw thousands, and the number of athletes could never be counted accurately.

Maybe he did not remember them all, but he could recall more than most — generally with unerring accuracy. Even if a name escaped him in his later years, the person did not. “The left-handed pitcher from Greenville ...” or “the quarterback from Florence ..., ” he might say in matching an athlete with a performance.

He loved all sports, and he would not pick a favorite. “Whatever is in season,” he often said.

Still, baseball topped his list. Official scorer at USC home games from the days before Sarge Frye Field had a name and the press area consisted of a table and folding chairs behind the backstop, he probably worked more than 2,000. I expect every meticulous scorebook has been saved for future reference.

He never needed a scorebook to remember what he has called his favorite moment in Carolina sports — Chuck McLean’s inside-the-park home run to win a College World Series game.

“I will never forget that,” T.P. said.

Neither should Carolina forget him.

Remembering the title. On this night not long ago, after Florida edged the Gamecocks 73-71, we left the arena together for what would be the last time.

We dodged mud puddles in the unpaved parking lot, and he talked about his perceived pluses and minuses of the current team. He pulled a game from the museum of his mind and supplied context in referring to another Carolina squad that struggled in close games.

He thought about the good, the bad and the ugly he had seen through the years at USC. He did not dodge the latter two categories, but he clearly preferred to remember the best moments.

In that vein, we stood beside his Cadillac and went back in time to 1971 and the Gamecocks’ winning the ACC tournament.

Any mention of Kevin Joyce winning a jump and tipping the ball to Tom Owens for the winning points against North Carolina earns a celebratory toast among Gamecocks, and T.P. relished the moment.

I told Price about a wide-ranging interview with Joyce earlier that day and shared some of the answers.

The player’s recollection from 37 year ago received T.P.’s nod of approval.

“Not the best-played game, but very competitive,” T.P. confirmed. “(Carolina) did not shoot well and (the Tar Heels) missed a bunch of free throws.”

The jump?

“Unbelievable,” T.P. said.

The description fits — both Joyce’s jump and Tom Price’s contributions to Carolina athletics.