Scott Davis: Rise or Fall
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.
This past week wasn't my favorite week in the history of weeks.
As Monday turned into Tuesday, and Tuesday turned into Wednesday, I kept seeing news footage and photos from Columbia, my old town and the place where I made more memories than anywhere else. Streets where I used to walk freely were underwater. A store located just minutes from my former house near old Sarge Frye Field could barely be seen above the flood.
Dams kept bursting. Roads kept collapsing. The rain just wouldn't stop.
When you see pictures of natural disasters around the world, there's a tendency to think, "Ah man, what a shame." Then you immediately start thinking about where you're having lunch. It just doesn't ever fully become real.
But when it's a city you care about and a place where you lived for years, the destruction becomes almost breathtaking. You're sitting there on a couch, watching the waters rise, and thinking, "This can't happen here. This is my town."
If life were a sports movie, we all know what would have happened next: South Carolina's football team would have withstood the flood, stood by as the game against mighty LSU was moved from Williams-Brice to Baton Rouge, and somehow - somehow - risen like a phoenix from the ashes to shock the world and bring together a beleaguered city, state, fan base and university.
Life, unfortunately, is not a sports movie.
The Gamecocks made a go of it for a half or so, ultimately succumbing to an inevitable reality that we all expected, but hoped could miraculously be changed.
Reality, of course, remains undefeated.
Still, it's always beautiful to see that human beings have a fundamental ability to be decent when things like this happen. Vanderbilt University - who we're playing on a football field next week - sent an 18-wheeler's worth of bottled water to Columbia. LSU's athletic department and fans embraced our school and community in a way that I'm not sure I've ever seen in my nearly 40 years of watching college football (more on them later). And no one can ever repay the work that first responders, emergency personnel, volunteers and everyone in the National Guard have done and continue to do.
There's a resiliency that is a core part of who we are. We just keep fighting. When there's a wound, we try to heal it.
It's just what we do.
And though it's far less important and seems, at times, almost meaningless in light of this last week, the question for South Carolina and its football program now is simple: Can we find a way to keep fighting? Can we heal what is broken? Are we even going to try?
Those of us on the outside - fans and people who care about the program - don't have those answers. We can only hope that someone does.
When I was a little kid, I was obsessed with being Batman (NOTE: I was a weird kid). I dressed up like Batman, subscribed to Batman comics, and at times, almost convinced myself that I WAS Batman. (SECOND NOTE: OK, I was a very weird kid).
Even now that I've reached my 40s, I still like the idea of it: That a wounded, troubled guy with absolutely no superpowers can will himself to fix what's wrong in the world.
And towards the end of the movie "The Dark Knight Rises," Bruce Wayne finds himself imprisoned, wounded and with almost no hope of returning to save Gotham City as Batman. When he asks a fellow prisoner what he should do, the man turns to him and simply says: "Rise."
What that means in the simplest terms is: Get up. Try. We all feel beaten here - but try anyway.
We know that life is not a movie and we know there are no Batmans who will sweep in to save us.
But still, the idea is the right one. For a city, a state, and yes, even a football program, the idea is the right one.
There cannot be any other choice.
The waters rose. Now we must do the same.
Pharoh Cooper Game BallsAnd now that we've gotten that out of that way, let's have some fun and hand out some Pharoh Cooper Large Pepperoni Pizza With Extra Cheese Game Balls to the following:
LSU's Athletic Department and Fans for Doing Everything Short of Re-naming Baton Rouge "Columbia" to Welcome Us - When I first started seeing reports of LSU's efforts to make our team and fans feel at home this week, I'll admit that the cynical side of me first thought, "They're just doing this so they can say this was a home game for us in order to keep our game with them in 2020 in Baton Rouge."
As the week wore on, though, even the embittered, grouchy version of me started to melt away. Their band played our alma mater. The Baton Rouge airport displayed a garnet and black sign welcoming SC fans. There were billboards throughout Louisiana that said "Geaux Gamecocks." South Carolina flags flew at the stadium. Even LSU students ceremonially handed over the keys to Tiger Stadium to USC students.
No one understands what this kind of thing means more than the people of Louisiana. They showed that all week long. Sometimes, human beings really are capable of goodness. Which is why we absolutely must give a game ball to…
Leonard Fournette's Touching Post-Game Speech Honoring South Carolina - If you weren't moved while watching Fournette tell an interviewer after the game that he'd auction off his jersey to help the relief efforts in South Carolina, then it might be time to check for a pulse. He was clearly reading from a note card or something, and doing so a little awkwardly, which quite frankly made the moment even more poignant. That was as sincere a gesture as I've seen from an athlete in any sport in quite some time. It's going to be impossible for me to root against Fournette when he goes to the NFL, even if he winds up on a team I hate.
Pharoh Cooper - Laboring on an offensive unit that just simply isn't very talented, Cooper never complains and always produces. He went out there and did what he does, catching seven balls for 105 yards and a touchdown. It's hard to imagine a better example of what a college athlete should be than him.
My team's not very good and it might be hurting my NFL stock? Fine, I'm going to go out there and perform anyway, and never gripe about it. Trying to figure out who the playmakers will be on this offense during a Pharoh-less 2016 is downright depressing (by the way, yes, he's going to the NFL after this season, and should).
Going for it on Fourth Down - Some folks questioned Steve Spurrier's decision to go for it near midfield early in the game. I didn't. What's the downside? You're a huge underdog playing on the road (yes, it WAS on the road). You're winless in the SEC and probably won't be favored in more than a game or two the rest of the year. Are you trying to win here or trying not to lose? Whether you make it or you don't, you're almost certainly losing here today, so what's the risk? Go for it, for God's sake. Try. Rise.
Now, the play call? That's open to debate for sure. Rolling out Perry Orth and asking the walk-on to fire a bullet into a tiny window towards the sidelines might not be making the best use of your quarterback's skill set. But still - go for it.
Shamier Jeffery - Let's face it, it's been a fairly uneventful career for Shamier, and on top of that, he's always had to linger under the shadow of his brother, Alshon, who just happens to be one of the best USC receivers of all-time and one of the best receivers currently playing in the NFL.
Still, he hung around to become a fifth-year senior despite not getting much playing time, and he graduated and got his degree. Saturday, he made a spectacular one-handed grab along the sidelines that will go down as one of the best catches ever made in one of the most legendary venues in college football, and 99.99 percent of the world will never be able to make that claim. But he will.
Me for Not Drinking an Appletini to Drown My Sorrows This Week - After shamefully acknowledging that I downed a couple of apple martinis last week in desperation, I went back to the basics this week by heading to a local pub after the game to knock back a Guinness or two. Feel the masculinity, Gamecock Nation. FEEL THE MASCULINITY!
Matthew McConaughey's New Lincoln Commercials That Run Incessantly During College Football Games - You might remember that I praised McConaughey's strange Lincoln commercials in this column last year, when he was delivering nonsensical "Deep Thoughts" monologues that somehow made you want to buy a Lincoln.
Well, he's topped himself this football season, starring in Lincoln commercials in which he stares wordlessly into the stars, apparently contemplating the mysteries of the universe, never speaks, then smiles and presses the ignition on a Lincoln…and it's awesome and definitely makes you want to buy a Lincoln. I think we can all agree there's no other actor on earth who could have made that happen. Alright, alright, alright!
West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen's Hair - The wife and I were watching the West Virginia-Oklahoma State game late on Saturday when she asked me who I was pulling for. "West Virginia," I said. "Their coach's hair is like mine - balding, but still trying to cling to a fluffy, long-flowing '80s rock band thing." This made her laugh out loud. It's always awesome to make my wife laugh out loud. Inevitably WVU lost, because that's just what happens to teams I pull for.
South Carolina Fans for Trying to Feel Good About Losing By Three Touchdowns and Giving Up More than 600 Yards on Defense - You know it's a tough season when you lose by 21 points and start saying to friends, "Hey we weren't as bad as I thought we'd be!" Listen, our guys definitely battled, especially in the first half, and the offense actually showed signs of life for the first time in quite some time. But when you give up 158 yards rushing to a running back and congratulate yourself about it, it might be time to think long and hard about where you are as a program. I'm just saying.
Roger Goodell Deflated BallsAnd on that note, we've definitely got to toss out some Roger Goodell Deflated Balls to the following:
The Referees for Botching an Onside Kick Call That Maybe - Maybe - Could Have Affected the Game's Outcome - Yeah, we were gonna lose the ballgame Saturday regardless. But still. With the Gamecocks finally seizing the slightest semblance of momentum and boldly going for and succeeding on an onside kick, the guys in black and white decided to throw a phantom off-sides flag.
Replays showed there was no foul on the play. Even the announcers were saying things like, "I'm not sure what they saw there." That was the buzzkill to end all buzzkills. And finally, considering everything that's happened to South Carolina and this football program in 2015, would the universe mind giving us a break for once? No? OK, message emphatically received.
South Carolina Players Venting Their Frustrations on Twitter - Social media's not your friend right now, guys. Either keep playing and keep trying or don't. But as long as you're getting a free scholarship from this university, it might be a good idea to refrain from throwing the program under the bus. Not playing enough to your liking? Sorry bro, get better at football. SEC football is a tough world and it's not for everyone.
Dabo Swinney's Post-Game Freak-Out After Winning Easily to Go 5-0 - You thought Spurrier's "Enemies" press conference was weird? As it turns out, running a football program isn't the only thing Clemson's doing better than we are right now. They're also defeating us in weird press conferences. It just simply can't get any weirder than seeing a paranoid Dabo go nuts after finishing up a dominating "W" to stay undefeated and firmly remain in the playoff mix.
Someone asked about it being the end of "Clemsoning" (which, yes, Clemson fans, was indeed a national topic and something sports fans discussed on an annual basis), and the dude blew up like a professional wrestler. There was even profuse sweating involved. I started expecting him to pick up a chair and beat someone over the head with it.
For the record: Yes, Clemson fans, you're going to beat us this year and do so soundly, and you do have a good team, and for all I know, you might be hanging around at the end of the year, as much as I hate to say it. But your head coach is a nerd. He recruits extremely well, and he surrounds himself with good coaches, and he's winning, and his program is in infinitely better shape than mine is at the moment. But he's still a nerd. Not that it makes me feel any better.
All Steve Spurrier Post-Game Press Conferences or Call-In Shows This Season - These have become downright scary. I'm not even sure how to respond. Sad to watch and sad to listen to. Let's move on. Quickly.
Me for Making My Wife Listen to Ryan Adams' Emotional Album of Taylor Swift Songs on Saturday Night - You know you're struggling to hold it together when you're forcing your wife to listen to sad Taylor Swift songs sung by a guy who specializes in sad songs. I think this might be all we need to say about the state of South Carolina football in 2015.
So we move on to Vandy. Do we rise?