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Black Magic memories are a knee-slapper

The Gamecocks’ 1969 team celebrates the 40th anniversary of their ACC championship in a ceremony Saturday before the USC-Vanderbilt game. From left are former safety Andy Chavous (29) of Aiken, former defensive end Jimmy Pope (86) of Irmo, and Al Usher (33).
The Gamecocks’ 1969 team celebrates the 40th anniversary of their ACC championship in a ceremony Saturday before the USC-Vanderbilt game. From left are former safety Andy Chavous (29) of Aiken, former defensive end Jimmy Pope (86) of Irmo, and Al Usher (33).

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS later, the truth can be told: Raynard Brown's knee was down.

"Yeah," the former South Carolina kick-return specialist said with a laugh, "but the ref signaled (the play to continue), so I just went with it."

If you don't know what that means, you're too young to recall South Carolina's 1984 "Black Magic" team - the only 10-win season in school history - and perhaps the most memorable moment in a year chock-full of them.

Judging by the pregame reaction from Saturday's announced crowd of 75,624 at Williams-Brice Stadium - which roared loudly for members of that 1984 team and players from USC's 1969 ACC champions - most do remember.

If you were there that chilly Nov. 10 evening - indeed, throughout that season - how could you forget?

USC led 17-7 over 11th-ranked Florida State when the diminutive but lightning-fast Brown fielded the second-half kickoff, stooping to get the ball, then burst 99 yards for the touchdown that sparked the fifth-ranked Gamecocks' 38-26 win.

Five years ago, when the '84 team celebrated its 20th anniversary, Brown still wouldn't admit his knee touched the turf. "The statute of limitations has run out now," he said Saturday; being a safety security officer for Fairfax County, Va., schools, he should know.

Earlier in the day, at the National Guard Armory on Bluff Road, stories such as that flowed like fine wine. Players from USC's two most storied teams - the 1969 team wearing garnet replica jerseys; the 1984 team wearing black, of course - gathered, hugged, laughed and reminisced, lifetime friends bonded by unforgettable moments.

Tom Garner, then a 236-pound center, now a real estate developer in Atlanta, fondly recalled USC beating storied Notre Dame on his 22nd birthday. Carl Hill, a 185-pound linebacker in 1984, an aspiring architect now, talked about covering Irish tight end Mark Bavaro, later an All-Pro with the New York Giants.

"He outweighed me by 89 pounds, and (teammates) reminded me of that every day in practice," Hill said.

Hill also smiled as he remembered the day after the season when defensive coordinator Tom Gadd (now deceased) called Hill to his office - and presented him with his Freshman All-American certificate.

Former tackle Carl Womble talked about the day coach Joe Morrison kept the offensive line after practice - then took them to the visitors' locker room at Williams-Brice to meet then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

"We got to watch him running laps - and outrunning his Secret Service agents," Womble said, laughing.

The Savannah native had one of 1984's memorable game moments, too. At Notre Dame, quarterback Mike Hold "fumbled" the ball to the 268-pound Womble, who rumbled for a 17-yard gain, then complained loudly in the huddle (as his teammates broke up) that "if you guys had blocked for me, I could've scored."

The quarter-century since has taken different tolls on players. A few - Hold, Hill, Garner - look as if they could still play ("but we couldn't," said former defensive tackle Glenn Woodley, with UPS in Charlotte). Others sport gray heads and bloated bodies.

For a day, though, they were again what they were then: young and strong and most of all a team; a band of brothers, forged by brutal practices and demanding coaches, greater than the sum of their parts.

Thomas Dendy led the '84 Gamecocks in rushing with 634 yards - but five players had at least 192. The defense allowed 258 points, 21.5 a game. So? The offense scored 371 points, second only to USC's 1995 team (401), which gave up 393.

"We were a team - a bunch of average guys who played above our ability," said former guard Jim Walsh, a high school coach for 22 years.

"We had no superstars," said Harry South, a 1984 co-captain and special-teams player, "but we all played together as a team. And we had fun."

Fun? At N.C. State, Hill said, "everything (the Wolfpack) did, it was like I saw it before it happened. Like the game was in slow motion." The season-defining 17-10 victory against Georgia "was the pinnacle for us guys from Georgia," Walsh said.

Fun on the sideline, too; at Clemson, USC trailed 21-3 and faced fourth-and-goal 42 seconds before halftime. Tailback Quinton Lewis - whose 40-yard pass to Chris Wade had beaten The Citadel in the season opener - prepared to run into the teeth of the Tigers' defense.

"Coach Morrison asked (offensive coordinator Frank) Sadler, 'What play did you call?'" Lewis said. "When Sadler told him, '31-Trap,' (Morrison) said, 'If we don't get the touchdown, I'll fire your (butt).'" Lewis scored; USC won, 22-21; Sadler kept his job.

They were crazy, loose and irreverent. "At Notre Dame, we walked through their stadium, looking at Touchdown Jesus and all that sacred stuff," Woodley said. "We said, 'WE want to win one for the Gipper.'"

Instead, they created a season that inspired South Carolina. Still does, in fact.

Ex-linebacker Paul Vogel is a financial advisor in Tampa. Last year, he opened a letter and found two football cards with his likeness on one side, his 1984 statistics on the other.

"The guy wanted me to sign the cards," Vogel said, shaking his head. "Twenty-four years later. Unbelievable."

For those who remember that time, 25 years later?

No, not so unbelievable, not at all.

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