USC players made a low-key return to Columbia late Friday where about a dozen fans waited to greet them at Williams-Brice stadium.
"I saw their faces on TV. They looked down," said Amanda Cobia of Lexington as she and her husband, Travis Cobia, waited for the buses to arrive. "We had to be here. We want them to know their fans still support them. And there's always next year."
Travis Cobia said the team had reason to keep its chin high.
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"It's been a great year. We made it this far," he said. "At least we scored in a championship game."
Tired players shook hands, accepted hugs and offered smiles as they exited the buses.
Abbi Barrett, 16, said she was happy she convinced her father to make the hour-drive from their Aiken home to greet the team following the 56-17 defeat to Auburn.
"It was a tough loss and they need the support of their fans," she said. "They worked really hard and we still love them."
-- Gina Smith
In Northeast Richland
At Icy's sports bistro on two notch road during the first half, the mood alternated between joyous bedlam and the depths of despair.
With 30 seconds to go in the first half, some 90 patrons began a deafening, table-pounding chant -"lets go Gamecocks!"- as Garcia dropped back and fired a touchdown pass to Jeffery.
A mind-numbing roar of triumph exploded from 90 pairs of lungs and only subsided when the gamecocks kicked a field goal seconds later.
But two plays later, with 16 seconds left on the clock, auburn's quarter back lobbed a Hail Mary to the end zone that was tipped into the hands of an auburn player for a touchdown.
Anguished shouts of disbelief and anger exploded this time from those ninety pairs of lungs. "We're just letting Auburn think they got a chance " said Gene Wymer , 41, a railroad engineer who was watching the game with girlfriend Sheila Rodden, also of Elgin.
"We're going to come back in the second half," Rodden said confidently.
At another table, another longtime Gamecock fan was not as convinced.
"I'm very concerned," said Thomas Marrone, 45, of Columbia and a medical device sales rep. "It's really tough to come back when you're down 14."
-- John Monk
In the Vista
The Vista was crowded but somber in the third quarter as the Gamecocks’ chances to win slipped away.
“It’s not looking too good right now,” said Juan McNeil of Columbia, who was nursing a beer at the Liberty Tap Room. “It’s the curse of the Gamecocks: They are good for a while, and then they disappoint you. But we’ve got some good recruits coming in next year. We’re only going to get better.”
Clemson fan Rick Addy, a former Furman University football player, said he had expected Auburn to win. “My prediction was 38 to 21, Auburn. I was kind of dead-on.”
-- Sammy Fretwell
At the Colonial Arena
More than 1,000 fans unable to attend Saturday’s SEC championship game in Atlanta watched the contest together at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, cheering and moaning with each play of USC’s battle with Auburn.
Loud pre-game cheers were muffled as soon as Auburn scored the first touchdown, but that didn’t last long.
When Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia threw for the Gamecocks first score, a thundering roar went up.
Among those cheering was 87-year-old Gene Turner, a USC graduate and fan since childhood. Turner and his wife Devon drove into Columbia from Lexington, dressed in Gamecock garb and full of enthusiasm.
"Turn it up, turn it up,’’ he said as play unfolded on the video screen ahead of him in Section 101. Turner said Carolina’s 2010 season was among the top five he remembers in 80 years of following the Gamecocks " and he wanted to be with other USC fans to enjoy the moment Saturday.
"We are so used to losing, this was a season to remember,’’ he said. "I’m just glad I lived to see it.’’
The Turners raised their arms and cheered enthusiastically when USC scored its second touchdown late in the first half.
Thomas Moore, a long time Gamecock fan who works at a local radio station, brought his 9-year-old daughter to the arena to soak up the atmosphere and cheer on Carolina. Auburn’s first score did not discourage him.
"I’m not worried about it. They started out the same way against Clemson last week, so I’m not sweating it,’’ Moore said after had Auburn forged ahead in the first half. "It’s nice to be able to look at a team that has been mired in mediocrity for 100 plus years to finally have a shot on the biggest stage.’’USC opened the doors for people who couldn’t go to the sold out game in Atlanta. The university opened four sections to the public to watch on huge video screens that hang above the basketball court. The official attendance at Saturday’s Colonial Life Arena event was 1,323.
David Preston said work kept him from going to the game in Atlanta, but he wouldn’t have missed being at the Colonial Life Arena. Preston has gone to USC football games for 16 years. He drove into Columbia from Orangeburg to see the game on the big video board.
"This was a chance to share history with the whole Gamecock nation,’’ he said, adding that USC football is important to him for many reasons, among them pride in his state.
"South Carolina has a lot of negativity when it comes to education and other things, so this is definitely a bright spot,’’ Preston said.
As the Gamecocks struggled through parts of the first half, fans such as Jennifer Chavis kept the faith. Chavis drove by herself from her home in North to the Colonial Life Arena.
Sporting a tattoo of the mascot Cocky on her left shoulder, she cheered lustily and shook garnet and black pompons at every positive USC moment. Chavis said she loves the Gamecocks so much that she has a closet filled with nothing but Carolina clothing.
Win or lose, "I will still love them. They’ve made a lot of fans proud,’’ she said.
Some of those watching the game from the basketball facility Saturday also were at the Colonial Life Arena last summer when Carolina’s national championship baseball team returned to Columbia to celebrate their success at the College World Series.
Some, including Margo Cook of Camden, said the baseball team’s success inspired the football team.
"This has been a year to remember,’’ she said.
-- Sammy Fretwell