“I am leaving, I am leaving,
But the fighter still remains.”
---------- SIMON & GARFUNKEL
So this day came, as we all knew it would. Some didn’t want to admit it, some didn’t want to think about it, because to do so would be to realize just how valuable he has been and how much he has meant.
Today’s Capital One Bowl is the last time that Connor Shaw will quarterback South Carolina.
I’m sure that he will approach it as he always has – low-key, no big deal, emotion seemingly surgically removed when he was a small boy. He can get rah-rah on the field, but leading up to it, or at least the part that he reveals to the public, Shaw can talk about the biggest games of the season in the same voice that he would use for a looming history final.
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I’m also sure that he will again lead the Gamecocks to a win today, as he has done 26 other times, and he’ll do it by refusing to bow when any situation seems its bleakest. If USC needs a big play, Shaw will be the one to supply it, because that’s what he does best.
It’s no coincidence that of the nine quarterbacks that Steve Spurrier signed to a scholarship at USC, Shaw is the only one to finish his eligibility. He was hardened enough to take the avalanche of criticism Spurrier directs toward all of his QBs, wise enough to use some of the criticism to further his game and passionate enough to bring something more from himself when USC absolutely had to win.
Look no further than the Missouri game to see Shaw’s value to the program. Trailing 17-0 and knowing that Shaw was hobbled, the Gamecocks figured they couldn’t look much worse. In came Shaw, flinging fourth-down passes with abandon, and engineered one of the most incredible comebacks you’ll ever see.
As USC has turned from a perennial oh-so-close program into a juggernaut, it’s been Shaw at the helm. It was he who really entered two years ago, in that week where he led the Gamecocks to a rout at Kentucky and his predecessor was mercifully dismissed before he could give the program yet another black eye, and truly took over. He seemed to know that it wouldn’t be easy, taking over for a troubled soul who despite his numerous transgressions, remained adored by Gamecock Nation, but never being one to shrink from a challenge, he stood in.
When the dust settled that season, USC had won more games than it ever had, and then matched it, and now has a chance to match it for the third straight season. It is true that Shaw never matched Stephen Garcia in taking USC to the SEC Championship Game, but it wasn’t for lack of trying – the Gamecocks were always better than that 5-3 record that clinched the SEC East in 2010, but couldn’t overcome those other teams.
Shaw leaves as the winningest quarterback in USC history, a warrior who never lost at home and one of the focal points of the Gamecocks’ best stretch in their history. While it’s always difficult to replace personality, USC has to hope that the quarterback(s) next year will retain Shaw’s intense approach to the game, his drive, his passion, his heart.
For today, it’s about recognizing and appreciating what USC has been privileged to watch for four years. Not the most talented, not the most pro potential, not the one with the biggest arm or all the records.
Just the best.
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState