Autographs, agony and media attention

It’s not always easy to be a Gamecocks supporter. We’re the Wile E. Coyotes of football fandom: When victory is in sight, we’re often flattened by a falling anvil.

The latest anvil was news that our not-so-secret weapon, Jadeveon Clowney, might be a casualty of the firestorm that is Johnny Manziel. Just days after news broke that Texas A&M’s Johnny Football was under NCAA investigation for accepting payment for his Johnny Hancock, Clowney was drawn into fray. At issue: an unusually high number of Clowney-signed items popping up for sale on EBay.

Foes salivate as Carolina fans hyperventilate

Georgia and Florida fans no doubt celebrated the thought of a lengthy Clowney suspension improving their teams’ odds of seizing the SEC East championship, and Clemson fans surely salivated over Carolina’s potential season-altering imbroglio. But by the end of the day, USC had done its best to nip things in the bud by saying it had investigated the Clowney situation and found no evidence of any wrongdoing.

“We have investigated things that have been on eBay with him (Clowney) and other student-athletes before, “USC Associate Athletics Director Chris Rogers told The State. “In the situations I can say we looked into, there was no further for us to go, and we determined there was no violation.”

Cause for celebration, right? Well, maybe. Hopefully. But what about Rogers’ wiggle-wording: “In the situations I can say we looked into.” This implies that some situations were looked into but perhaps some were not. Just which situations are we talking about? The ones that came to fore today, or other situations?

A story with legs?

We all hope the Clowney signature-for-pay brouhaha is a one-day story, but it’s probably not. Why? Because a variety of items for sale on eBay by multiple sellers is no reason for concern. But if it’s true there is a batch of Clowney-signed items – nearly 300 – with sequential numbers out there, it sends up red flags. That many items surely weren’t signed on the sidelines or at a crowded media event; they had to have been signed at a sit-down autograph session.

As a former reporter, I can tell you exactly what the media scribes are doing now. They’re thinking about those sequential signatures and wondering why Clowney would spend considerable time signing items for someone who was going to profit from them. They’re contacting autograph brokers and sources in a hunt for someone – anyone – to come forward and say money changed hands.

You can say it’s not fair, and you can say the media sucks, but that’s what reporters do. This is a hot story, and chasing it is their job. It’s not personal. Some like Clowney and admire his incredible talent. Some would love to see Steve Spurrier lead the Gamecocks to a national championship. After all, that’s a hugely emotional and salable story too. But with reporters, admiring or liking an individual doesn’t matter. It can’t matter, because if it does they’re not doing their jobs.

Carolina fans deserve honesty

The bottom line is that there may be more tension-inducing headlines ahead. Of course, even if an anonymous source comes forward claiming Clowney accepted payment for his signature, it’s ultimately meaningless (except in the court of popular opinion). The only thing that could endanger Clowney’s season is a credible witness willing to go on record with the NCAA.

At this point, it’s likely the only people who know for certain why there is such a large number of sequential Clowney-signed items out there are Clowney and the broker in question. And we must presume Clowney has assured Carolina officials that he did not violate NCAA rules prohibiting college athletes from profiting from their name or image.

I like Clowney; he seems like a nice guy with a good head on his shoulders. I want to believe he’s done nothing for Carolina supporters to be concerned about. By the same token, I hope that if there’s fire to go with the smoke, he does the right thing by telling the truth. A protracted investigation isn’t fair to Carolina fans, and a fair to middling season without an anvil hanging over our heads is better than a championship season that comes crashing down.


Gridiron & Grits

Adrenaline, Anxiety and the Bank of Steve Spurrier

Old Time GamecocksGamecocks fans, are you feeling the adrenaline? I know I am, because for the first time in a long while I’m living in the shadow of Williams-Brice Stadium. Literally.

I left South Carolina for the scarred beauty of the Texas Hill Country and a newspaper job right after taking my last USC final (accounting, brutal). For years, I imagined myself a lone beacon of SEC goodness in the midst of University of Texas, Texas A&M and Baylor fans. Spotting a car with a Gamecocks sticker or someone wearing USC tee-shirt was an honest-to-god thrill.

Now, back in the city I love most – perhaps because it’s where I left childhood behind and became an independent-thinking adult – I’m slowly getting used to seeing Gamecocks brethren at every turn. My car sports a USC license plate (something that irritatingly wasn’t available in Texas until after I fled the state).

What’s even more amazing, though, is the media coverage of everything Gamecock. In Texas, news about Carolina was limited to a two-inch game synopsis in the Sunday paper or the occasional Steve Spurrier wisecrack – although that’s changing now that A&M has joined the SEC fold. Anyway, local USC coverage sure makes a difference. Adrenaline is pumping, Aug. 29 is almost here and I’m more excited about kickoff than ever.

Of course, as my friends know, my excitement is always tempered by anxiety. I’m a fretter. When the Gamecocks play, I wait for the other shoe to drop. You probably do too, given USC’s propensity for fatal mistakes and missed opportunities. Last year’s Florida game, anyone?

Would you rather?

But back to that adrenaline I mentioned earlier. A few years ago, I asked Gridiron & Grits readers: Would you rather see the team start strong, building your hopes for an SEC championship, only to have those hopes dashed by a late-season snafu? Or would you rather lose a couple of games and your SEC hopes early on, eliminating game-day tension and turning the focus to tailgating excellence?

This is a quandary I wrestled with, particularly when the Gamecocks were in the habit of running the table for the first five games or so, only to end the season with a spectacular skid. Back then, my prayer to the football gods was, “Let them implode early if this isn’t the year. The mid-season meltdowns are breaking my heart.” Now, though? Not so much. Perhaps I’m spoiled by the strong performances of the past few years – and particularly consecutive 11-win seasons – but bring on the tension. I can take it. I want to believe. I want the excitement that comes with moving up the polls week by week and the buzz about BCS possibilities. I want to see ESPN’s Lee Corso humiliated for saying the Gamecocks will never, ever win an SEC championship. Are you with me?

Spurrier, can you spare a dime?

Speaking of Lee Corso, Gridiron & Grits readers may be few, but they’re loyal. And they have good memories. That’s why I’ve already received several inquiries about the status of THE GREAT BET. Dear G&G readers, this is indeed the final year of the wager. Based on Corso’s fighting words (and an impulsive and fiery disposition), I bet my University of Texas-spawned spouse – who agreed with Corso – that my beloved Gamecocks would win the SEC championship within five seasons. That was four seasons ago.

Folks, I have faith. This is the year. We have the coach, we have two outstanding quarterbacks and we have a weapon of mass destruction in Jadeveon Clowney. I’m confident that in December, my husband will present me with one of those Publisher’s Clearing House life-size checks in the amount of $5,000. But just in case, can someone put me in touch with Steve Spurrier? If I’m wrong, the least he can do is reward my confidence with a low-interest loan.


Fans’ heartbreak; Spurrier’s heartburn

A guy usually has to buy me dinner before breaking my heart. But not Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia.

Stephen Garcia's latest misstep opens the door for sophomore QB Connor Shaw

That cracking sound you heard Wednesday? It was the sound of USC fans’ hearts shattering nationwide as we learned Garcia had been suspended from spring practice for the second time this year and the fifth time in his Carolina career. This time, the suspension is indefinite. He may be back in uniform someday, but who can say? At this point, even Head Ball Coach Steve Spurrier probably doesn’t know for certain.

One thing’s for sure, though: If Garcia could be as consistent on the field as he is in his personal life, we’d be on our way to a championship season. This is a guy who sat out the first week of spring practice for having a girl (or girls, depending upon who you believe) in his hotel room before the Chick-fil-A Bowl. After the dust died down, Garcia apologized to Carolina fans – who were a mixture of impressed by his rumored virility and appalled by his judgment – and promised to be on his best behavior.

Now, it’s possible that Garcia’s definition of best behavior differs from Spurrier’s, and also from Carolina Athletic Director Greg Hyman’s. But no matter what the definition, showing up Tuesday night at a character-building seminar behaving boorishly – and, by some accounts, smelling of alcohol – wasn’t a smooth move.

Yes, I’m one of Garcia’s biggest fans. Yes, I desperately want to win an SEC Championship. And, yes, I think our best chance at winning one in the 2011 season is with Garcia at quarterback. But at this point, I don’t know if Garcia has what it takes to lead the team. I’m not sure he even wants to lead the team.

The truth is, Garcia gift-wraps this stuff for his detractors. Seriously, his bad behavior is so bad it’s almost comical. He’s setting a record for suspensions and partying like a pro. It’s just too bad that at this rate he’ll never make it to the pros.

Fed up or ’fessing up?

The Gamecocks and Stephen Garcia’s latest hijinks are trending topics on Twitter, but one topic that hasn’t been explored is the decision by Carolina officials to publicly punish the school’s most-experienced quarterback.

What if Garcia was the starting quarterback for another team? Would Auburn’s Gene Chizik suspend, say, Cam Newton for the rest of spring training for misbehaving at a leadership seminar? Or would he look the other way in public while privately sentencing Newton to some Marine boot camp-style punishment? What about Jim Tressel of Ohio State? What would he do?

I’m not going to claim that USC leaders are perfect, but there’s something to be said for addressing the situation instead of covering it up in a single-minded quest for an SEC championship.

On the other hand, perhaps they were just fed up. Let’s face it, Garcia threw 20 touchdowns last season, but he also threw 14 interceptions. He’s been given numerous chances to get his personal act together, but consistently blows those chances.

Garcia hasn’t spoken publicly about his latest imbroglio, but when he does – if he does – he’s likely to say the same thing he’s said so many times before: “I’m sorry. I messed up, but it won’t happen again.”

This time, though, it may be too late for apologies.


Thanks for the memories … and Go ‘Cocks!

With the national championship game between Oregon and Auburn less than 24 hours a way, it’s time to put the Gamecocks’ 2010 season into a box and onto the memory shelf.

All in all, it was a very good year. Who would have thought, back in September, that the Gamecocks would make it to the SEC championship game in Atlanta – or that my husband would be sweating the outcome of our five-year bet?

Yes, the end of the season was disappointing, but not unexpected. In my view, this was Carolina’s finest year, with the notable exception of 1984. That’s the season we went 10-2 and finished 11th in the AP ranking.

Winning nine games is nothing to be ashamed of and, while I’d like to have seen the Gamecocks perform better against Auburn, there’s every indication that next year we’ll be even stronger.

Adventures in Atlanta

If I learned anything this season, it’s . . . OK, I was going to say that it’s not to spend big money on SEC championship tickets only to be disappointed. But that’s not true, because I’d definitely do it again. (If you just heard a loud groan, it came from my appalled husband.)

Someday, some way, somehow, the Gamecocks will win the championship. When they do – and, hey, it could be in 2011 – I want to be there.

But what about the bowl game, you might be wondering? Yeah. We lost another one. Yawn. After the SEC championship, it was anticlimactic. I was kind of ho-hum about the whole thing because – and this is just my opinion, of course – bowls are no big deal unless they are preceded by Sugar, Cotton, Peach, Orange or Rose.  And Clemson blew its bowl game, too, so that made our annual loss even easier to take.

The Great Bet

Well, as G&G readers know, the Gamecocks cost me $5,000 when they lost the SEC championship. That’s the amount of The Great Bet. For the uninitiated, my husband Bruce is of the opinion that the Chicken Curse lives, and he backed that opinion up a couple of years ago by wagering $5,000 that USC wouldn’t win the SEC championship within five years.

The 2010 season was year two of the bet – which means I have three seasons for my Gamecocks to come through so I can happily and smugly take his money. I have confidence that I’ll claim victory (and must admit that I really enjoyed watching Bruce sweat this year when we made it all the way to Atlanta).

SEC Nation

That’s about it for this season – except for one small thing: A lot of people have asked me who I’m hoping will win the national championship. A month ago, I would have said, “Go Ducks!” But sanity has prevailed and I’d like to see the trophy remain in the hands of the SEC.

It was touch and go there for awhile, though, because I’m not a Cam Newton fan. He’s an amazing player and I admire his talent, but a little humility (and a savvy PR rep) would go a long way toward making him more palatable. So let’s just say I’ll be cheering for the SEC and hoping that an unheralded player who’s spent the season in Cam’s shadow gets a chance to shine.


orange crushed, (dis)counting chickens and counting cash

It’s time for another peek into my e-mail outbox. Hmmm. Love notes to Clemson fans, sports pundits and my soon-to-be-poverty-stricken husband.

To: Clemson fans

Re: Orange crushed

Thanks for your hospitality, Clemson people. It was really nice of you to roll out the orange carpet on my first visit to your stadium. I suspect you knew what was about to transpire, because the pre-game tailgating mood was strangely subdued.

You know, you had me scared there for, oh, about 120 seconds. But the last 58 minutes of the game warmed my Gamecock heart (although my Gamecock feet were quite chilly in the 40-or-so-degree weather).

By the way, it’s nice to know that orange is lucky – for Gamecocks, if not for Tigers. We’ve had our way with teams wearing that particular shade in the past few weeks: Tennessee, Florida and your boys, too. Next week, we plan to crush another set of Tigers clad in orange. We trust you’ll be watching and cheering us on to victory.

Until next year . . .


To: Sports pundits

Re: (dis)Counting chickens

Hey, sports writers and broadcasters, get a grip. This love-fest you’ve got going with Auburn’s Cam Newton has gone from annoying to cloying. The guy might be a good quarterback – OK, a really good quarterback – but you’re embarrassing yourselves.

What happened to journalistic impartiality? Apparently it doesn’t even pretend to exist in sports, because y’all are really busy touting Auburn’s upcoming appearance in the national championship game.

Here’s a news flash: Auburn is playing the University of South Carolina Gamecocks this Saturday for the SEC championship. It’s in Atlanta. At the Georgia Dome. At 4 p.m. Eastern Time.

Everyone loves a good spoiler, especially the kind that upsets the smug status quo. Gamecock fans can guarantee that Stephen Garcia, Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery and the rest of our team have every intention of spoiling Auburn’s victory celebration, which got started about a week too early.

You might want to check Saturday’s score before applauding Cam’s victory lap. Remember that Dewey Defeats Truman thing?


To: My dear husband

Re: Our wager

Hi, honey. Just wanted to remind you to keep your spending in check this week . . . because I’m expecting you to write me a big check after my Gamecocks win the SEC championship on Saturday night.

I’m eager to collect on our $5,000 wager and I know you’re just as eager to do the honorable thing by making good on the bet. By the way, don’t forget that my Gamecocks have until 2013 to win the SEC under the original terms of the deal.

Oh – one more thing: Don’t forget about our $10,000 side bet. You remember, right? You said Carolina wouldn’t win a national championship during my lifetime.

I know you don’t have $10,000, so it would be a good idea to look around for an investment with a hefty return. I plan to collect on that one, too. Love you . . .


The dastardly and the dysfunctional: A tale of two Tigers

Well, peeps, as my friend John says, “It’s time for our second season.”

Now that we’ve secured the SEC East, it’s on to battle two sets of Tigers: our cross state-rival and dastardly nemesis, Clemson, and the team from Auburn (where the fans are somewhat dysfunctional and can’t decide whether they’re Tigers or War Eagles).

We’ve got a turnaround in attitude going on amongst Clemson and Carolina fans this season. Usually, Gamecock loyalists are pleading with the Football Gods for mercy, hanging our tattered pride on a win in the annual rivalry game. In a refreshing twist, Clemson’s season has been the most troubled, and their fans want to recoup some pride by knocking the wind out of our bound-for-Atlanta sails.

All I can say is that the Gamecocks who spurred the tar out of Florida and Troy better be the Gamecocks who show up in Death Valley on Saturday. My cousin Chess, a Clemson graduate (there’s one in every family), couldn’t make the game. I snapped up his season ticket, which is located smack-dab in the center of the orange and purple sea. I plan to be a beacon of hope and goodness in my garnet and black. No matter what the outcome, I will hold my head high.

Seriously, though: Spurrier & Co., please do me a favor and kick some Tiger tail. The ride back to Rock Hill, S.C. with my orange-clad aunt and uncle will be really long if we let this one get away from us. And, you know, a 9-3 regular-season finish sounds good, doesn’t it? After all, for us, it’s rarefied air: We’re going for nine or more wins for only the third time in school history.

Speaking of seasons, a lot of people are saying this year has been our best ever. I mean, who would have predicted in early August that we’d beat Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida? Or that we’d avoid the usual November meltdown – I call it the Chicken Slide – that usually befalls us?

Still, as delightfully surprising as this season has been, I have to say that 1984 remains our best, as well as our most heartbreaking. That was the year we experienced the highs of “Black Magic” and the lows of our darkest hour, going 9-0 before losing to an unranked Navy team and ultimately ending the regular season at 10-1.

Good things lie ahead for Gamecock fans, though. A win against Clemson and a victory over Auburn – and, make no mistake, both are possible – would leave us in a state of unmatched euphoria.

As Thanksgiving approaches, let’s be grateful for the season we’ve had and the promise of better things ahead, not only in the next two weeks but next season, too. Yes, indeed, it’s a great time to be a Gamecock.


SEC championship tickets: That’s amoré

Well, Bruce sure knows how to come through in a pinch. I’ve forgiven him for leaving me to watch the USC-Florida game alone while he attended a Spurs game, given that he sprang for SEC championship tickets. That’s romance.

Speaking of the championship, is anyone else appalled at resale prices for the game in Atlanta? I’ve decided my Gamecocks are going to surprise Auburn and win this one – but given that most of us had to pay crazy prices for the pleasure of being there, I hope they at least give us our money’s worth.

By the way, a lot of people are hoping Auburn’s dynamic quarterback, Cam Newton, has to sit out the game in the wake of a juicy play-for-pay scandal that has SEC fans saying, “Pass the popcorn.”

I disagree. If Newton doesn’t take the field and the Gamecocks go on to win, our championship season will be forever marred by an asterisk – one that says we won by default because the Tigers played without their gridiron Achilles.

Speaking of Newton, recent reports indicate that one of the central figures in the sordid saga has produced a text message laying out a payment plan purportedly put forth by the quarterback’s preacher father, Cecil.

What’s with people and text messages these days? Haven’t we learned from the Tiger Woods scandal?

If you’re an athlete or a celebrity, even of the minor sort, here’s a tip: Don’t send text messages you’ll regret (ahem, Brett Favre), because they’re fodder for blackmail, lawsuits and public humiliation.

And here’s another seemingly obvious bit of advice:  Don’t keep the evidence on hand for later perusal (hey there, Tony Parker).

I mean, really, get a clue. Facebook has been a boon for lawyers, with online misbehavior listed as a factor in up to 25 percent of divorce cases. Add in examples of inappropriate texting and the number grows exponentially.

Seriously, texting is the electronic version of lipstick on the collar. Or, in Cecil Newton’s case, getting caught with your hand in the collection plate.

The trouble is, lipstick stains can be washed out and undocumented theft is easily forgotten. Electronic indiscretions stick around a lot longer.

Latest Tweets

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 91 other followers


%d bloggers like this: