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Scott Davis: Night of the Living Dread

Rico Dowdle and the rest of the Gamecocks had a tough night Saturday in a 56-7 drubbing by No. 3 Clemson at Death Valley.
Rico Dowdle and the rest of the Gamecocks had a tough night Saturday in a 56-7 drubbing by No. 3 Clemson at Death Valley. (CJ Driggers) columnist Scott Davis, who has followed USC sports for more than 30 years, provides commentary from the perspective of a Gamecocks fan. You can follow Scott on Twitter at @scdonfire.

I had two major problems when I woke up on Sunday morning.

The first was that as I opened my eyes and looked around the room, I slowly concluded that what happened in Clemson the previous evening was not a nightmare or a fever dream, but a stark, raving reality.

The second was that my wife insisted on me joining her at Bed, Bath and Beyond to shop for Christmas gifts.

Now, I’m not sure exactly what I did want to do on the morning after my university lost to its archrival by seven touchdowns. I think what I wanted to do was lie on the floor at home while punching myself in the face repeatedly.

But what I definitely didn’t want to do was listen to jazzy Christmas music and stare at rack upon rack of cheer and glad tidings at a retail outlet, all while my wife was being more chatty than Oprah in her prime. There are just certain times in my life when I don’t want to stare at a row of jolly Santa Claus ornaments. This was one of them.

I ended up doing those things because I pretty much just surrendered as a husband and started doing everything my wife wants me to do a few years ago. It’s far easier that way, and for someone as lazy as I am, doing what’s easy always makes the most sense. (Also, my wife is a better person than I am and deserves to run things).

I also did it because – let’s face it – I’ve been watching the Gamecocks for over three decades, and unfortunately, I’ve known this feeling all too often. I’ve been there…and been there. I’ve survived nights like this and know that I can carry on like a normal human being – eventually.

Some of you younger fans may not have known the feeling until now, but trust me when I tell you: It’s never going to go away. And I’m sorry you have to go through it.

As a South Carolina fan, you learn early on how to live with dread when it comes to Clemson.

Those mornings after a humiliating thrashing at Clemson’s hands are kind of like waking up with a hangover and knowing deep in the pit of your stomach that something awful happened the night before, only you hope and pray it might not be true. But it’s true.

Eventually, it becomes a part of you, this nagging sense that no matter how many decent seasons the Gamecocks string together, there’s always another Orange and Purple-tinted disaster lurking somewhere. There’s always a new rock bottom that will somehow feel worse than the last rock bottom. The point is, there are a lot of rock bottoms on this journey, OK? Now we have a new one.

That’s what it’s like to be a Gamecock fan. But we have to get up, put one foot in front of the other and move forward. We have to. (Or we could all just lie on the floor, punch ourselves in the face repeatedly and listen to sad ‘80s music – an option that still seems mighty tempting).

If you’re a young or newly converted South Carolina fan and are wondering how to cope with these types of atrocities, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve been doing this stuff for years and will likely still be doing in it my eighties, if I can make it that far without the Gamecocks eventually killing me.

Here’s my quick survival strategy.

1. Don’t Go On Facebook for Any Reason Whatsoever for At Least Two Weeks – Just don’t do it. I find it incredibly easy not to go on there. Now’s the time for a boycott. Sure, there may be a few gracious, classy Clemson fans on your feed, but there will also be a guy you went to high school with on there (and who you secretly hated then and do now), and that guy will spend the next few weeks posting memes featuring a cackling Dabo Swinney or pictures of the entire Gamecock coaching staff wearing the Crying Jordan face. I’ll pass. Plus, it’s not particularly fun to visit Facebook at all anymore in general. Do you really need to see photo after photo of the kids or dogs of someone you work with and barely know? No. No, you don’t.

2. Turn Off Sports Radio – This step is easier than Step One. Just listen to Christmas music. Or NPR. Or cassette tapes of a guy whistling show tunes for three hours. Or anything other than a couple of overweight, middle-aged white dudes who never played sports sitting around screaming things like, “This South Carolina program will never be competitive as long as Dabo Swinney is in the state!!!” Hard pass.

3. Don’t Wallow in Misery by Visiting Message Boards and Whining with Other USC Fans About How Awful Our Coaches, Players, and Athletic Administrators Are – It’s not going to make you feel better.

4. Don’t Try to Get Into Verbal Battles with Clemson Friends and Family Members – Your Clemson friends are going to make fun of you this week. It’s going to suck. And it will never stop. Just stare ahead blankly and expect the worst. Somewhere circa 2042, you’ll be at a family function and some Clemson brother-in-law or cousin is going to come up to you and say, “I don’t care if we lost to Carolina this year, because hey, 56-7!!!!!!” Don’t try to come back with jokes about overalls and cows and whatnot. Just admit the obvious and say, “Yep, you guys routed us. It was a complete and total annihilation.” Since Clemson fans don’t understand mysterious concepts like “humility,” this will dumbfound them, allowing you to easily depart the conversation.

Know this: You’ll survive. You will.

But also know this: It will be hard. You’re going to be tired of 56-7 jokes very, very quickly. But no matter what happens with the Gamecock program in the future, those jokes never go away. I’m still hearing about 63-17, which happened 13 f______g years ago, and was hearing about it even while Carolina was in the midst of a five-year ownership of the Tigers. No one ever said rivalries are supposed to make sense.

Buckle up and strap it on. Being a Gamecock fan is for warriors who learn to live with scars and wounds. Eventually you’ll take pride in the scars because it means you’re a survivor and no one can take that away from you, not even after a lifetime’s worth of 63-17 jibes, or of condescending and smug chatter from folks in your neighborhood. They can’t take it away from you, and they’ll never understand us and we don’t want them to.

You’ll survive. And more than anyone else in America, you’ll deserve to finally, someday watch your football program build a consistent winner.

I hope you get to see that day. I hope you do.

The “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, You Didn’t Really Think There Would be Any Game Balls After that Debacle, Did You?” Game Balls of the Week

Seriously, you didn’t really think there would be any Game Balls after that debacle, did you?

Deflated Balls

I could hand out Deflated Balls for the next six months, but let’s make it easy on ourselves and only recognize the following:

Me, for Writing a Few Weeks Ago that this South Carolina Team Never Gets Embarrassed or Humiliated – If I jinxed the Gamecocks with that column, then it was one of the most spectacular jinxes of all time. I had no idea I wielded that kind of dangerous power.

Me, for Not Watching Much of the Second Half of this Football Game – And by “much of the second half,” I mean “all of the second half.” Instead, I opted for a marathon of the new show “Good Behavior” on TNT with my wife – a show that stars the woman who played Lady Mary in “Downton Abbey.” I should probably feel bad about this, but not only do I not feel bad about it, I would do it again. If you hung in there for four quarters, congratulations, I guess. You’re a superior human being to me. Pat yourself on the back if that’s what does it for you.

My Wife for Forcefeeding Christmas Cheer and Positive Messages Down My Throat the Day After My University Lost by Seven Touchdowns to Its Archrival – Just too soon, honey. Too soon. I love you and you’re the kindest, most loving person I’ve ever known, but really: Too soon.

Dabo Swinney Calling Timeouts at the End of the Game to Make Sure the Tigers Scored One Final, Humiliating Touchdown Because, You Know, Winning by 42 Points Just Wouldn’t Have Been Embarrassing Enough – I hate this guy. I also enjoy hating him. In a weird way, I’m glad he’s in my life because it’s genuinely fun to hate a person as much as I hate him.

Being Back in South Carolina the Week Before a Clemson Game – The wife and I headed home to SC for the week of Thanksgiving, and almost as soon as we crossed the border from Georgia into the Palmetto State, I found myself thinking, “Huh, I’d really forgotten just how much I despise Clemson.” Tiger paw flags were flying everywhere, and the newspapers and newscasts sounded a week-long drumbeat about how dominant the Tigers were. I stopped by the venerable Calhoun’s Tavern in Easley with my father-in-law early last week, where I found a dusty, wooden plank commemorating Clemson’s 1981 national championship. Yep, they’re still talking about something that happened three-and-a-half decades ago around here. I legitimately feel for Gamecock fans who are living in South Carolina right now. Here in Atlanta, the Clemson game evaporates for me pretty quickly. Meanwhile, you’ve got to stare at your neighbor’s giant Clemson inflatable for the next few weeks. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s far easier to be a Gamecock fan by not living in South Carolina. I should have moved to Maine or Montana years ago.

My Disastrous Thanksgiving Effort – Early last week, I tripped and fell while walking into my in-laws’ home, leaving a gigantic, circular scrape mark on my forehead that led to a few thousand “What happened to your head??????” comments at Thanksgiving functions. That was fun. Then the bag I was using to brine my Thanksgiving turkey exploded as I put it in the fridge, pouring murky salt water all over the in-laws’ garage. Since I couldn’t brine it, my turkey ended up having the delicious flavor of sawdust, with notes of sandpaper and cardboard. If anyone had a more disastrous week than South Carolina’s football team, it was me.

Whatever Was Going on With the Entire USC Offense – Let’s move on.

Whatever Was Going on With the Entire USC Defense – Let’s REALLY move on. Fast. Like, let’s sprint out of here.

You’re going to hear a bunch of noise the next few weeks. You’ll hear it’s Steve Spurrier’s fault for letting the program swan dive during his final years instead of building a solid foundation. You’ll hear that Will Muschamp isn’t the answer for the future. You’ll hear that South Carolina may still not have a quarterback. You’ll hear there’s a gulf in talent between USC and Clemson that is wider and deeper than the Grand Canyon. You’ll hear Clemson’s “storied tradition” being compared to the likes of Alabama, Southern Cal and Notre Dame, because, you know, when you won a single title 35 years ago, you’ve got to be considered among the elite.

If you’re like me, you can deal with this because, hey: You already have. You’ve done it many times and expect to do it again.

If you’re new to this, hang in there.

It’ll get better. Or it won’t.

But you’ll survive to fight on.

You will. Why?

Because that’s just what we do.