Rod Trafford had one catch for the Gamecocks in 2001, but it forever etched his named in school history.
On Sept. 29, 2001, the tight end caught the game-winning touchdown on a pass from Phil Petty as South Carolina beat Alabama 37-36. It was the Gamecocks’ first win ever over the Crimson Tide.
Originally from New Jersey, today he’s living in Boca Raton, Fla. Trafford works for Xenith, a company that developed a football helmet to improve protection for athletes against concussions.
He has fond memories of his time at Carolina, including going 1-21 in 1998-99 and following it up with an overall record of 17-7 in 2000-01. Trafford was part of the USC teams that beat Clemson in 2001 and won two straight Outback Bowls over Ohio State.
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Trafford had more catches during his five year in the NFL than he did as a Gamecock. But that catch against Alabama was huge.
Is this a game you had circled on the schedule?
Definitely. I’m still an avid supporter and follower. It’s always a special week when we’re on “GameDay” and we’re playing Bama. Whenever I see them on the schedule, there’s definitely a little asterisk next to that.
Talk about what you remember about the catch.
I can see the ball in the air right now. I can replay it in my head. It was neat to come out of the woodworks and be able to make that play. We practiced that play all week and nine times out of 10 it was designed for (Derek) Watson in the flat. But I ended up making a good move on the corner and Phil saw me and threw the pass and I ended up catching it. It was a great experience.
There were a lot of positives in that game. That catch ... I guess I get the credit because it was the last touchdown of the game. But that was one of many great things that happened. It was a total team effort to pull out the win.
How did the catch change things for you?
After that catch, things really clicked for me. It elevated my play. That was a turning point in my career. I ended up starting the rest of the year. It just clicked for me.
I came to South Carolina as a quarterback, so it took me about a year and a half to mentally and physically adapt. I had to put on 40 pounds. I ended up really learning how to block well, because if I didn’t I wasn’t going to be playing in that offense. And that really helped me in the NFL.
How special was it to be a part of the Lou Holtz era and the program’s turnaround?
It was great to be a part of, not only that game, to be able to get the opportunity to make that play and execute it, but also on that team. I was on that team that went 1-21. We turned it around my junior and senior year, but we really turned it around those “bad years” because we really only had each other and learned to persevere.
It’s neat to have that place in history and to be a part of the Gamecock Nation. I loved Columbia and still love it. There are no better fans.
Brian Scott caught the game-winning TD against Georgia in 2001. Do you and Scott joke about whose catch is "The Catch"?
Brian Scott and I are still good buds. He can have "The Catch." I was happy for Brian. He made the team better and was a great all-around guy. That happened in Athens and I still have a piece of the hedge that I kept.
Did you get to keep the ball from your catch?
Yeah I got the ball. It’s painted up. It says Rod Trafford, the score and the date. It was sweet. You’re caught in the moment and things go by so fast. It’s on YouTube and I’ve seen it again and I get the chills. But I’ve never heard the stadium that loud in my life. It was awesome.
Talk about not getting the ball any more than you did.
I look back and everyone wishes they got the ball more. It is what it is. At the same time I took so much pride in blocking, it really helped to propel me at the next level. I got really good at it because I had to. They only threw me the ball one time and I accepted it.
I played my role and contributed. It would have been great to have more passes. The Alabama catch, obviously it stands out. It was my one catch. If you say you got one catch, I’d rather it be something like that.
Prediction for Saturday's game?
Hopefully the guys take the energy and all the excitement and play hard and execute. I think they can do it. Carolina 28, Alabama 21.
Replay of the end of the 2001 game from YouTube: