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The Making of a South Carolina Fan

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Folks, all I’m asking for is a little empathy.

Tennessee v South Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

This “hate” article is always hard for me to write, in fact, I’ve skipped it a few times. It’s not that I don’t hate SCAR, no...no,no,no,no,no, I hate them like I hate stubbing my toe on a dresser corner in the middle of the night, I hate them like I hate someone trying to pass off mashed cauliflower as mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, I hate them like my dog hates people walking by our house. It’s mainly a timing issue: I’m usually on the road over Thanksgiving and I know you guys don’t need any extra motivation to hate USCe.

This year, however, we decided to stay home, and I’ve been thinking about this article for the last few days. It’s too easy to just “hate” on USCe. They’re a pathetic team bolstered only by their self-delusion. The conference they are so proud of treats them like a snot nosed little brother who desperately wants to hang with the big boys but lacks the requisite social skills and maturity. They are, and always have been, completely irrelevant in the landscape of college football.

What interests me more than hate is understanding. How does someone become a USCe fan, and once they make that mistake, how do they convince themselves that being a South Carolina fan is a worthwhile endeavor? How do you see stunning and consistent futility and say, “That’s what I want to be a part of for the rest of my life”?

I’ve done some research and I’ve got a few ideas.

Making the Mistake

Based on my extensive research into USCe fandom that is comprised of thousands of interviews mostly conducted at gas station counters and detention facilities, I’ve found three primary ways that an otherwise “good” and “normal” person falls into the SCAR fandom trap.

The K-Mart Sale Mistake

Approximately 30% of all South Carolina fans are first introduced to the Gamecocks through the clearance rack at K-Mart (this is a little dated, but my research demographics are skewed towards incorrigible Gamecock fans over 30).

If you’ve ever been inside a K-Mart in South Carolina, you know that their clearance section is stocked with cheap SCAR gear. Innocent young kids walk into K-Mart with their parents and walk out with a lifetime of college football pain and frustration. Sometimes it starts with something as innocuous as a hat or a tee-shirt, but in almost all cases, it ends up with a 30-year-old man walking around in public wearing sweat pants with COCKS prominently displayed across his posterior.

When you’re 5-years-old, you tend to cheer for whatever team is embossed on your clothes. This is something I think about all the time, because I live in Manhattan, Kansas, and my daughter is surrounded by K-State paraphernalia . The general rule we have in our house is 2 pieces of Clemson gear for every piece of K-State gear. We allow our daughter to support the home team, but as good parents, we understand the importance of having her college sports fandom anchored firmly in the bedrock of Clemson University. I also understand that many children don’t have such strong college sports role models in their lives.

As Clemson fans, we need to have empathy for the K-Mart SCAR fans that litter our beautiful state. They didn’t start off life with an abysmal taste in college sports programs, they just lacked a responsible adult in their life to point them in the right direction and had to turn to the K-Mart clearance rack to make their college sports fandom decision. My friends, life is often cruel and capricious, we should all appreciate our advantages as Clemson fans and as difficult as it may be, we need to try and understand that most SCAR fans are coming from a place of ignorance and not from a place of hate.

The Family Mistake

30% of South Carolina fans are born with the Gamecock curse. They were expelled out of their mother’s womb and directly into dismal world of Gamecock athletics.

These “Forever to Thee” fans are a sad case of nurture over nature. I contend that our natural predilection as homo-sapiens is to avoid pain and suffering. If left to our own devices, we are like water; we look for the path of least resistance, and that’s not USCe athletics unless you’re really into horse dancing.

These poor “Forever to Thee” fans are truly sad cases. At some point, someone in their family made a terrible decision and then passed that decision down as a generational curse. They suffer because their grandfather or grandmother made an unfortunate choice two or three generations ago and decided to drag their progeny into the SCAR fandom muck. I can only imagine this occurs out of pure spite and a deep seated desire to watch others suffer as you have suffered.

Clemson legacy fans need to appreciate that in the Texas Hold ‘Em game of life, they drew pocket aces, while their neighbor with the the tricked out SCAR riding mower and 3 mortgages drew an off-suit 3 and 7. Sometimes things just break your way, and when they do, you should count your blessings. “Forever to Thee” fans were born into life of empty 3rd quarter stadiums and a “next year is our year” mentality. I can’t think of anything more depressing.

The Personal Mistake (But for the Grace of God)

The final 40% of Gamecocks come to SCAR through a personal mistake. Look, I’m the first to admit that I made some poor choices in my younger days and am blessed that I didn’t pay for those mistakes by having to go USCe.

You see folks, I too was once young and unfocused (as opposed to my current state of middle aged and unfocused). I was smart, but unmotivated to work at anything that didn’t come naturally to me. I made A’s and B’s in English and History and C’s (and occasional D’s) in Math and Science. It’s not that I couldn’t do math and science, it’s just that I had no intrinsic motivation to do math and science. I was way more interested in my athletic career than my academic career.

Athletics, and specifically soccer (what can I say, I went to South Aiken, we weren’t known for our football) looked like it might pay off, but as injuries mounted, the idea of hurting all the time became less palatable. I decided to retire my athletics career, but that left me with a bit of an issue. My grades were sufficient for an athletic scholarship, but not anywhere close to academic scholarship levels. My SAT scores were great, but my transcript was lacking. I was going to have to roll the dice. I sent off my applications to Clemson and South Carolina and crossed my fingers.

I got an acceptance letter from USCe and a wait list letter from Clemson. I wanted Clemson, but found myself in the same situation as most Clemson students. I wanted greatness, but was somewhat comfortable knowing that at the very least I had a mediocrity in the bag. I filled out my SCAR registration information, put it in the envelope, and held on to it while I checked the mail every day for news from Clemson. I had given up hope, but two days before the deadline, the Clemson letter came in the mail. They decided to let me in.

I look back at the time, and count all my blessings. If I applied to Clemson today with my high school grades, they would cash my check, laugh, maybe pass my transcript around the office a few times, and move on. I can empathize with USCe fans, because but for the grace of God, I would have ended up one.

I can only imagine being a high school student in South Carolina today. The Clemson bar must be intimidating. It’s set at the Olympic High Jump Finals level. You have to have a perfect run up, impeccable form, a little luck and large dose of natural ability to get over the bar and into Clemson. It requires an early life of blood, sweat, dedication, and tears and even that might not be enough.

The SCAR bar, on the other hand, isn’t really a bar at all. It’s more like a 20-year-old, weathered, speed bump. It doesn’t require any dedication to make it over the South Carolina bar. You just show up to most of your classes in high school, fill out the name section on your S.A.T., avoid major felonies, and you’ll at least get a shot of failing out of USCe.

I can see how striving for greatness in order to get into Clemson may not be as palatable as having your ability to fog a mirror get you into SCAR. When you’re young, it’s difficult to gauge the long term ramifications of your short term decisions. There is actually science behind this, as the teenage brain is still developing and impulse control is one of the last cognitive skills to develop. It’s easy for a teenager to say, “meh, I’m not going to study for this, I can always get into USCe,” even when someone with a fully developed brain would see the grave long term ramifications of that short term decision.

When you see a South Carolina fan, you’ve got to look past the COCKS hat and their brash, and nonsensical trash talk and see that these people are in pain. At some point in every SCAR fan’s life, they look have to look in the mirror and say, “How did I get here?” Can you imagine the emotional devastation when the answer to that question is, “I did it to myself. This is all my fault.” Imagine having to sit through five straight losses to Kentucky in football, knowing full well that you brought it upon yourself because you didn’t want to study Geometry in 10th grade. That’s got to be a crippling albatross to wear around your neck, an untenable burden that corrupts your very soul.

In Conclusion

My fine Clemson folks, if my journey to the end of the South Carolina fan night has taught me anything, it’s that they don’t act out of malice, but rather deep insecurity. When you listen to them talking about South Carolina football, or read some crazy hot take on the internet, know that in their hearts, they don’t actually believe what they’re saying either.

When they say things like “we’re closing the gap” or “South Carolina has better wide receivers than Clemson” it’s a front they use to cover a deep and all consuming shame. They are externalizing their internal pain. If it seems like they are constantly talking, even as the embarrassing losses continue to mount, it’s because talking blocks out the voice that lives in the soul of every USCe fan.

The voice that lives in the heart of every USCe fan is a bitter voice of disappointment and self loathing. A voice that says, “this is terrible, it brings me nothing but pain and frustration, but it’s what I deserve.”

I live every day appreciating the fact that I don’t have to live with that demon, and I truly have pity for anyone who does.

With That Said

I am thoroughly looking forward to the beating we are about to administer to our in-state “rivals” and the smack talk I will deliver to their gaggle of damaged and demented fans over the next year.

While I can empathize with their plight, and understand that most became SCAR fans through no fault of their own, I have no sympathy. Just because I understand why they are the way they are doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy rubbing it in with every fiber of my being.

Maybe I’m a bad person, but that’s my reality.