This is the third of a week-long series of posts sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
cocknfire: I'm going to admit something: I have a piece of history from a game I never attended.
It was 2000, and you have to understand that South Carolina had not just been bad throughout my college career at that point; they had been epically bad. It had only been a week since the Gamecocks had broken the nation's longest losing streak, then 21 games.
So there was no reason to believe that the game against Georgia was going to be different than the 18 SEC games that were its immediate predecessor: A loss.
Not that I didn't want to watch it; I did. But I didn't have a ticket, and I did have an ... insistent ... friend at the time who would not leave me alone about going to lunch that day. And when I say insistent, I mean: Made it clear she had no intention of leaving the room until I agreed to go to lunch. I wanted to watch the game. (No, she was not a girlfriend; you can break up with them. I kid.) I gave in.
Heading back to my dorm room, I expected to walk into a loss. Maybe a close loss. Maybe I wouldn't see the final stages of another waxing by a league team. But, um, South Carolina was winning. It seems that Quincy Carter mistakenly thought it was a home game and was throwing to guys wearing the home jerseys. And as I watched the game end, I saw the goal posts come down. A thought occurred to me: I'm going to start walking toward the stadium and see what happens. (Understand at this point that the stadium was about two miles away from my dorm.)
As expected, I eventually ran into one of the goal posts. (I think the other one ended up in Five Points.) So I grabbed onto the back and helped carry it to the engineering school, where a university employee (I believe) helped us get into the loading bay and find a saw that we used to chop it up.
The piece of the goal post is on my desk -- a reminder of one of the first positive experiences I ever had as a fan of South Carolina. But certainly not the last.
Year2: The most memorable single moment for me in my fan career was watching the national championship game between Florida and Ohio State.
I watched it at a house in Gainesville with about 20 friends. Going into the game, my stock answer for anyone who asked was, "my head says Ohio State will win, but my heart says Florida will." That was mostly true, though I was largely bracing myself for a loss. This was a Florida team that barely won several games, hadn't had a good third quarter against anyone in a BCS conference, and kicked its best defensive tackle off the team in the middle of the season.
When Ted Ginn took the opening kickoff to the house, a thought entered my mind: this is going to be a blowout one way or another. Either this kills Florida in one quick shot, or Ohio State will take it easy having listened to people tell them how good they are for 51 days. The way the Buckeyes made a massive dogpile in the end zone made me lean towards the latter, because a truly focused team doesn't go overboard with celebrations like that.
Two great signs followed. First, Florida answered by going right down the field and scoring a touchdown with little trouble. Good Chris Leak had apparently had showed up, which meant that we'd only see Bad Chris Leak in the third quarter. Second, Troy Smith came out and, from his conditioning, looked like he'd been on a strict Krispy Kreme and Playstation regimen since the Heisman ceremony. If Florida could get any pressure on him at all, he'd be a sitting duck.
As few people remember, it was pretty tight throughout the first half. Ginn's return meant that for all the Ohio State offensive sputtering, it only needed one good drive to remain in the game. The good things kept coming for the Gators though. Chris Hetland, who had been awful all year, nailed his two field goal attempts. A turnover allowed a cheap touchdown right before intermission. Suddenly a 21-14 game became a 34-14 game.
All of us were cautiously giddy throughout halftime. We knew it was unlikely that Ohio State would keep playing badly, and again, the Gators had yet to have a good third quarter against a decent team all season. That score right before the half might have ended up the difference in the end.
Turns out, there was nothing to worry about. Ohio State's longest drive in the second half was five plays for 13 yards. With the defense cruising and an insurance TD tacked on early in the fourth, almost the whole second half was basically one big party. Best of all, I had someone to celebrate the big win with. My then-girlfriend (now my wife) and I had been together three months to the day, and we went to University Avenue afterwards to celebrate with fellow Gators.
It was the most perfect experience I've had as a fan. With everything on the line and faced with adversity from the opening play, the team didn't back down. It rose to the occasion, destroyed the season's only undefeated major conference team, and even was nice enough to take all the drama away in the third quarter. There was a reward for the players who had stuck with it through a contentious coaching change, vindication from his detractors for Leak, and even some redemption for guys like Hetland and Reggie Lewis (the normally flammable cornerback who snagged an interception).
I sincerely wish that all of you can have a night like that one. I'll never forget it.