When Missouri women’s basketball visits South Carolina on Monday, Gamecock fans will get their last chance to boo one of their least favorite figures in the sport — Sophie Cunningham.
The senior guard has annoyed, exasperated and angered USC supporters for years now with her playmaking, her attitude and her extreme competitiveness that some feel have crossed the line into dirty play on several occasions.
Cunningham was heckled every time she touched the ball in last season’s game and is the face of a program that has developed a bitter rivalry with Carolina over the past few years. Her last appearance in Colonial Life Arena is sure to be raucous and intense — South Carolina fans just seem to relish hating her more than they do other opposing players.
So who else compares to Cunningham? What players and coaches make USC fans especially furious, whose mere name is enough to make loyal Gamecocks cringe? Here are 13 of the biggest villains in South Carolina athletic history (not including Cunningham). This is by no means an exhaustive list, so feel free to let us know some of your picks on Twitter and social media.
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David Pollack (Georgia football) — One play can define someone’s career, and Pollack’s pick-six against the Gamecocks in 2002 was about as iconic as they come. His swat and reflexive grab of Corey Jenkins’ throw in the end zone remains etched in the history of the border rivalry. It was such an athletic move many USC fans can’t help but be impressed by it, even while hating the player and the 13-7 USC loss he produced.
“The cool thing is, South Carolina fans have always been, ‘I hate you, but I respect you,’” Pollack told The State in 2013.
Rod Gardner (Clemson football) — The 2000 Palmetto Bowl rivalry game will forever be known as the Push-Off Game in Gamecock fans’ minds. With less than 10 seconds to go, Gardner hauled in a 50-yard bomb to set up a game-winning field goal — but USC remembers an offensive pass interference that wasn’t called.
Pervis Ellison (Louisville men’s basketball) — Back when South Carolina basketball played in the Metro Conference, the Louisville-USC rivalry exploded in 1988 when the Gamecocks led the Cardinals by 14 points with less than a minute and a half to play. As future NBA draft pick LaBradford Smith shot a 3, Ellison and South Carolina’s Darryl Martin got mixed up under the basket, sparking a massive brawl in which a USC fan came out from the stands to punch a Louisville player. Ten minutes later, four players and South Carolina coach George Felton were ejected, Louisville rallied to force overtime and Ellison scored 28 points in the eventual win.
Lefty Driesell (Maryland men’s basketball) — Back when South Carolina was in the ACC, coach Frank McGuire had some epic battles with Driesell’s teams, including a brawl in 1970 in which Driesell accused a South Carolina player of punching him in the face, only for McGuire to suggest he hit himself. The on-court action was pretty good too — Maryland beat Carolina in 1971 on a last-minute shot that led to the crowd storming the court before the clock hit zero. The game ended in the chaos.
Charlie Whitehurst (Clemson football) — The only quarterback ever to go 4-0 in the Palmetto Bowl, Whitehurst led the 63-17 blowout in 2003 that remains the most points scored in a single game in the rivalry. He was also Clemson’s signal caller for the infamous 2004 game that included “The Brawl” that marred the end of Lou Holtz’s career.
Jack Leggett (Clemson baseball) — A legend in college baseball, Leggett coached the Tigers for 22 years and faced off against the Gamecocks dozens of times, including twice in the College World Series. In 2011, however, Leggett cemented his place as one of Carolina’s most reviled after he suggested that Ray Tanner and the Gamecocks were warming their bats against Clemson to gain an unfair advantage.
Jojo Kemp (Kentucky football) — There’s disdain for quite a few Kentucky foes in recent memory (Benny Snell, Randall Cobb, Moe Williams come to mind), but it was Kemp who started the most recent run of misery for South Carolina. In 2014, he became the unlikely breakout star for the Wildcats, running wild for 131 yards and three scores for the first of five consecutive wins for UK (and counting) in the series. He never matched that performance again against USC, but it was enough to make him permanently infamous in Columbia.
Willie Underwood (Clemson football) — He’s not one to brag about it, but this former strong safety haunts the memories of many Gamecock fans thanks to his two-interception performance in Clemson’s upset win over Carolina in 1980. He returned one of those picks for a touchdown in the 27-6 victory and spoiled George Rogers’ final Palmetto Bowl — while sporting all-orange for the first time in program history.
Marquez North (Tennessee football) — The 2013 South Carolina football team remains the highest ranked team in program history, hitting No. 4 in the final AP poll. But the Gamecocks could have been in the national championship conversation, were it not for an embarrassing upset loss to Tennessee in Week 7. The iconic moment from that defeat was North’s incredible one-handed catch in the game’s final moments in which he trapped the ball against his facemask on third down for a 39-yard gain. It set up the game-winning field goal, and like the most frustrating of plays, there was simply nothing South Carolina could have done to stop it. Just an outstanding play that left 2013 the year of “What if?” for USC fans.
Bill Wilhelm (Clemson baseball) — During his early years, his teams whipped USC unmercifully, and he did not hesitate to let the Gamecocks know about that superiority. Later, after USC bolstered its program with the hiring of Bobby Richardson and his successors, Wilhelm remained outspoken. He became perhaps the favorite target of the so-called “Third base hecklers,” USC fans who sat behind the visiting team’s dugout at Sarge Frye Field.
Arden Key (LSU football) — Decommitting from schools isn’t unusual in the recruiting process, but decommitting twice, then sending out a confusing tweet implying you’re still sticking with the school, only to finally sign with another team in-conference, will get you hated. Such was the case for Key, whose recruitment tortured Gamecock fans for years. He then put up three tackles and half a sack on USC as a freshman at LSU and went on to become a freshman All-American and two-time All-SEC player.
Darren McFadden (Arkansas) — As a freshman in 2005, McFadden rushed for 187 yards on South Carolina, but the Gamecocks managed to hold on for a 14-10 win. That was the best USC would do against the Razorbacks while McFadden was there. The next two years, he posted the two highest rushing totals of his collegiate career, went for a combined 540 yards and three touchdowns and powered Arkansas to two wins. The Gamecocks simply had no answer for him.
Dabo Swinney (Clemson football) — No list of USC villains would seem right without the Clemson coach that’s still infuriating Carolina fans to this day. Clemson’s success in the Palmetto Bowl and on the national stage would be enough to make South Carolina fans hate him, but there also just seems to be something about his personality that rubs Gamecocks the wrong way. Tigers fans may call it sour grapes, but South Carolina’s hatred for Dabo seems to transcend football now.