For most Gamecock fans, next week’s matchup with Texas A&M will be another fall Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium. But for 69-year-old Gloria Butler, a lifelong fan who was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer but has never attended a game, it’ll be a dream come true.
“Oh my god, no! Oh my god, no, Mandy!” Butler says, bursting into tears after being surprised with tickets in a Facebook video that’s been viewed more than 21,000 times. “Tell me it’s not so. Is it, Nate? Oh god, Nate. Is it gonna happen?”
Butler, a Laurens County resident, told The State she has been a fan of the Gamecocks for more than 50 years, ever since she watched a South Carolina-Clemson matchup as a teenager. The Gamecocks won not just that game, but Butler’s heart.
“I wouldn’t trade it for nothing,” she said of her years of supporting South Carolina. Even her bedroom is adorned with T-shirts, keychains and other garnet and black paraphernalia. But one thing has always been missing: Seeing the Gamecocks play in person.
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Being a single mother and often working two or three jobs at a time, going to a game was never possible financially for Butler.
“Anything my daughter needed, I took care of my daughter and my bills before I took care of anybody else,” she said.
Mandy Power said they learned in August that her mother had Stage III lung cancer and was given six months to a year to live. Maybe more, maybe less.
“I cried and cried. I questioned God. I did everything that a person would to find out something like that,” said Power, 31. “She’s my life. I’ve never had anybody my entire life stand by me the way she has, and the thought of her not being here when I need her — it’s unbearable at times.”
After learning the news, Power’s fiancee, Nate Henderson, asked her what all she wanted to do with her mother in the time they had left.
“I told him, ‘There’s a lot,’” Power said, including taking her mother fishing and to a USC football game.
He didn’t say a word after that, Power said — until last weekend, when he came home with four tickets to the USC-Texas A&M game.
“He handed me the tickets and told me that we were taking Mama to her first game for her birthday,” she said. “And I lost it.”
Power put the tickets in a birthday card and gave it to her mother, whose birthday is Oct. 10, three days before the game. She decided to record her reaction.
After bursting into tears, Butler stands and puts her arms around Henderson before turning and walking toward Power.
“I was crying,” Power said. “That’s why the video stopped when she came toward me.”
They didn’t have many activities planned beyond attending the game, Power said, but since she posted the video to Facebook, people have flooded her inbox with offers from paying for handicapped parking at the stadium to providing a golf cart to help Butler get around at the game. A friend of Butler’s set up a GoFundMe page to help cover other expenses like a hotel room and a limousine to get Butler to and from the game.
The video also caught the attention of former Gamecocks defensive lineman Ulric Jones, who was taking a break from a workout when he saw that someone tagged him in Power’s video on Facebook.
“Once I saw that, it kind of just broke me down,” he told The State. “I’ve kind of been going through a rough time myself, so I wanted to reach out to the family and do whatever possible to make this one of the best experiences she’s ever had.”
Jones, who played for the Gamecocks from 2015-2018, said he was reminded of the death of his grandmother last summer. After learning that his grandmother only had a couple of weeks to live, Jones said he left football camp to return home to Alabama.
“I came home and spent a little time with her” before she died, he said. “Anytime somebody’s guaranteed to lose their life, it’s nothing to play with.”
Jones plans to come to Columbia for the Texas A&M game and said he wants to meet Butler and her family.
“I’m gonna try any and everything in my power to make this woman’s weekend a blast,” he said. “I’m gonna take them around fans and try to get them to the Gamecock Walk. I know Coach Muschamp will probably be busy, but I’m gonna see if there’s a chance he could step aside and maybe take a picture.”
Power also has not been to a game in Williams-Brice. She and Henderson tailgated in Columbia before a South Carolina-Clemson game a few years ago, and she said Butler saw a picture of her outside the stadium that was posted on Facebook.
“She got so mad,” Power said of her mother, who does not allow anyone wearing orange into her home on game day. “When we came home, she blessed both of us out and told us how wrong we were for that.”
Since posting the Facebook video, Power said she’s also received messages from people who have lost parents or loved ones to cancer.
“They didn’t get a chance to make those memories,” she said. “It makes me feel more blessed that I’m able to cherish this.”
So next Saturday, Power and her mother will both experience “2001” and “Sandstorm” together when they cheer on the Gamecocks in person for the first time. But Butler said her daughter is keeping some details of their upcoming game day in Columbia quiet for now.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said, her voice cracking with tears. “This is my dream come true, and I’m still thinking it’s a fantasy. I still don’t believe it’s actually happening.”