All too often, people don’t have an appreciation for the history of Carolina athletics. They have a cultish devotion to Gamecock sports while they’re here on campus, but don’t really know much about anything before their time as a student. That’s something we intend to change. Each week, we’ll post a column that helps people understand the good, the bad, and the ugly of the history of USC sports.
Party like it’s 1999
The last few years of the 1990′s were dark times for everyone that loves the Gamecocks. Brad Scott was a hotshot offensive coordinator that had just led Florida State to the 1993 national championship when he was hired to take the head coaching job at South Carolina. In his first season at the helm, the Gamecocks finished the regular season at 6-5 and went on to defeat West Virginia in the Carquest Bowl. It was the first ever bowl victory in nine tries for South Carolina. Things were certainly looking up for the Gamecocks. But Scott was only able to manage one winning season after the 1994 campaign.
Quite simply, things got ugly in 1998. South Carolina defeated Ball State 38-20 in the first game of the season. But I can actually remember leaving the stadium and hearing my dad and others saying to enjoy the feeling, because this may be our last win for a while. Those words would prove to be prophetic. The Gamecocks would go on to lose their next 21 games, finally breaking the record losing streak in the first game of the 2000 season with a win, and subsequent tearing down of the goalposts, against New Mexico State.
Scott was fired after the 1-10 campaign in 1998 and Lou Holtz, winner of the 1988 national championship at Notre Dame, was coaxed out of retirement to lead the Gamecocks out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land. The team responded with an 0-11 record in 1999. Fans disagree on the low point of the nearly two season-long losing streak. Some say it was the 1998 loss to Marshall, which occurred on a last-second field goal to a team in its second year of Division I-A football. Others say it was the 1999 loss to Vanderbilt.
The Vanderbilt game was one that folks knew presented the opportunity to break the streak. It was Homecoming in Columbia, and people seemed to know that, with Vanderbilt’s weak offense, Carolina might get lucky and find a way to win a game for the first time in 13 months. But on that night, the Gamecocks managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This excerpt from Vanderbilt’s 2000 Media Guide tells the whole sad story:
The Commodores spoiled South Carolina’s Homecoming and kept it winless with a come-from-behind 11-10 win in Columbia. The Commodore defense held USC to 163 yards of total offense in the game while the offense, although sluggish, produced when it counted. The two teams traded field goals in the first half and headed to the locker room tied 3-3 at the break. The Gamecocks would go up 8-3 in the third quarter on a field goal and a safety which occurred when a short ball went between Jimmy Williams’ legs and out of the back of the end zone. Still trailing in the fourth, VU got the ball at its own 10-yard line and produced the team’s longest drive of the year. The Commodores marched down the field, capping off a 90-yard drive with a three-yard TD pass from Greg Zolman to Todd Yoder. Yoder would also catch the two-point conversion pass. A late, intentional safety accounted for the 11-10 final, VU’s first ever win in the state of South Carolina in four tries.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Fortunately for the Gamecocks, things got a lot better in a hurry. After notching the season-opening win against New Mexico State in 2000, South Carolina intercepted Quincy Carter five times en route to an unfathomable 21-10 upset over #9 Georgia. The Gamecocks went on to finish the year 8-4, including a win over Ohio State in the Outback Bowl, completing one of the largest turnarounds in NCAA history. Lou Holtz became the only coach to lead six different teams to bowl games. Quite the shift in fortunes, just a year after arguably the darkest moment in Carolina’s athletics history.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia