Connor Shaw walked down the hallway to greet his parents after South Carolina’s 19-14 win against Florida last week. Todd Ellis saw him coming and decided to educate the lad.
“Don’t be walking in this hallway like you’re the winningest quarterback in South Carolina history!” Ellis announced. “You got another week to go!”
Shaw grinned. Both laughed.
There hasn’t been a ceremonial passing-of-the-torch yet, but it could be on the horizon.
The win last week gave Shaw his 24th as a starting QB at USC, which tied Ellis’ record. Ellis, the most prolific quarterback the Gamecocks have had, holds several USC records, and will most likely always hold the career passing yards record, but one of his others might be about to fall.
Ellis won 24 games from 1986-89, but Shaw tied him last week and has at least three games remaining. With Coastal Carolina and No. 7 Clemson remaining on the regular-season schedule, both at home where Shaw has yet to lose, it looks good that Shaw will soon get win No. 25 and stand alone as the winningest quarterback in USC history.
That’s fine, Ellis said. He couldn’t be prouder of Shaw, and has no qualms about watching his record be broken.
“I certainly look forward to calling that at the end of the game,” said Ellis, USC’s radio play-by-play announcer. “I hope to call that, I want to call that and be excited about that. I respect him so much as a player, as a Gamecock, as a quarterback. He’s everything you want in a quarterback. I’m pleased to share it, and I look forward to him breaking it.”
The record is subjective. Whoever starts the game at QB gets credit for the win. Shaw is credited as the winner for USC’s 56-37 victory against East Carolina in the 2011 season-opener, yet played only the first quarter. The Gamecocks trailed 17-0 before Stephen Garcia entered and engineered a comeback.
Then again, Shaw doesn’t get credit for USC’s win at Missouri earlier this season, although he was the sole reason the Gamecocks won after trailing 17-0 in the fourth quarter. Dylan Thompson started the game, so he gets the win.
But, a record is a record, and Shaw deserves to leave USC with something after sacrificing his body for the good of the team. Playing hurt, on painkillers, earning the respect of his teammates and being the field general for most of the 30 wins over the past three seasons, Shaw will leave a lasting mark.
Plus, Ellis pointed out that the subjectivity of the wins record masks the durability it takes to start that many games.
“I played 43 games at South Carolina and started those games,” he said. “I knew it would take a monumental effort to play that long without getting hurt.”
True to form, Shaw didn’t pat himself on the back too hard after tying the record last week.
“Obviously, it’s something special,” he said. “I got plenty of time after I’m done to look back on what I accomplished.”
Ellis is glad to see Shaw get his due, even if it comes at the expense of one of his records.
“I have no reluctance whatsoever for any of those records to fall,” Ellis said. “Now, it might be embarrassing to take my name off the stadium if somebody ever beat my passing yards record (9,953: no QB has gotten within 1,000 yards of it). But I would like to see that fall as well. I’m much more aligned in Carolina now as a former player and an announcer and a supporter, than a record that’s 25 years old.”
Since taking over the announcing duties, Ellis has had to keep an eye on records while the games are going on. He might get fair warning that one is close to being broken — think Kenny McKinley’s pursuit of the catches record — but many just happen.
In 2003, Dondrial Pinkins threw a pass to Troy Williamson that Williamson turned into a 99-yard touchdown catch. It was the longest pass completion in USC history.
Ellis was calling it from the booth, and just as Williamson crossed the goal line, a thought flashed across the back of his brain.
“That dude just broke my record.”
Ellis connected with Robert Brooks for 97 yards against East Carolina in 1988, and that record had stood for 15 years. He worked that into the broadcast and congratulated Pinkins later — Pinkins also had a 98-yard touchdown to Matthew Thomas against Ole Miss that season.
For the wins record, Ellis didn’t think much of it until Garcia entered the 2011 season sitting on 17 wins. He moved to 20 with wins against Georgia, Navy and Vanderbilt, and Ellis began wondering what the record was. He knew he had it, but didn’t know the number.
“I think it’s in my bio, ‘the winningest quarterback.’ I know I have certainly been introduced that way for many years, and I do take pride in that,” Ellis said. “I had, frankly, forgotten it was 24.”
Garcia lost to Auburn the next week and Shaw started against Kentucky the week after. After that game, Garcia was dismissed from the team, and Shaw took over and led the Gamecocks to their greatest season (by win total). In 2012, he matched those 11 wins, and now has a chance to match it, or possibly do it one better.
Ellis will welcome it. Like many of the former record-holders at USC, he never thought it would take this long to break the records or match previous success. He’s glad it’s here, even if a personal record falls.
“I can tell you, (Shaw’s) not losing any sleep over it,” Ellis said. “He’s just trying to get to his next play and make sure G.A. and the Ball Coach don’t yell at him.”