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Simpson: O Gamecock, Where Art Thou

If Notre Dame has the luck of the Irish, then the Gamecocks have the fate of Odysseus. Often while traveling I will get asked, "Isn't pulling for the Gamecocks sad?" I always respond the same way. "No! Pulling for the Gamecocks is not sad, it's tragic."
There's a huge difference.
You see, pulling for Rutgers or Tulane is sad. The Gamecocks, on the other hand, always make their heroic rise to good fortune and give everyone hope that something great will happen. Then those same hopes and dreams are dashed by some cosmic outer force that is seemingly uncontrollable.
This year that would be the loss of Stephen Garcia, the loss of Kyle Nunn, and most devastating of all, the injury to Marcus Lattimore. Their response to that "fate," if you will, will determine their success or failure. In the past, they have usually brought about their own downfall. But this year's team is different.
What Homer would call fate, and what the Gamecock fans would call the chicken curse, this year's team calls bull malarkey!
The 2011 Gamecocks have quietly worked their way back into the top 10 in the polls after an early fall from grace delivered by their Achilles' heel, Auburn. No national media outlet has given these Gamecocks a chance. They have all ignored the fact that Arkansas was lucky to beat Vanderbilt and Ole Miss in back-to-back weeks, and in their usual biased, ridiculously incompetent ways, have all picked Arkansas to roll past the Gamecocks with ease.
Had South Carolina gotten lucky to squeak out wins versus Vandy and Ole Miss the way Arkansas did, the national media would be busting at the seams to shout, "Spurrier's Gamecocks are overrated." Arkansas wins those two games and all they want to talk about is the Razorbacks' "resolve." The Gamecocks blow out Vanderbilt and the national media cried, "It's just Vanderbilt."
This year's team seemed like its fate would be that of the tragic hero. Like Odysseus, the 2011 Gamecocks had everything going for them. All the talent in the world with all the right coaches to do the job. The oracles at Sports Illustrated even prophesied greatness for the Gamecocks by putting Alshon Jeffery on the cover of the college football preview. This provided ominous foreshadowing of the coming tribulations to those who know the history of those featured on the covers of SI.
That's what makes any fall from on high that much more epic. Knowing what might have been and being able to smell and taste it, even if for a fleeting moment, is all too often the fate of the Gamecocks. Like in 2010 when the Gamecocks beat the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide only to turn around and get upset by the Kentucky Wildcats the very next week. It's like the football gods only allot so much "positive energy" to the Gamecocks at any one point in time. Some would go so far as to say that all great successes by the Gamecocks are always predestined to be followed by greater failures.
The 1984 "Black Magic" season is Odysseus' Trojan War, when he was the hero of the day. Then he embarked on his long journey home to see his wife and child again. This journey took 10 long years in the epic poem by Homer, which seemed like an eternity in that story. But 27 years later, the Gamecocks' journey to their island of "elite status" is still ongoing. And like Odysseus, every time the Gamecocks can see their island on the horizon, there is always an average Auburn (or Navy) team hiding in the shadows like a pirate that strips them of their gold.
But this year's team has defied all of the Greek Tragedy logic presented it. It has won games in unpredictable and unconventional ways with unforeseeable lineups while facing unbelievable circumstances. Even though some major media outlets in the Gamecocks' hometown don't want to recognize the obvious facts, that doesn't change them. Steve Spurrier and Co. have assembled one of the greatest teams to ever play at Carolina, winning 17 of its last 21 regular-season games.
In truest fatalistic fashion, the greatest game of the season will go unnoticed by most pundits under the madness surrounding the LSU-Alabama game. At what point in Carolina's history have they been ranked in the top 10 during the latter half of the season and had the chance to play a team similarly ranked? It seems fitting that it falls on the same weekend that the consensus best two teams square off at the same time.
For a non-mythological reference, this strange twist of fate is like being dealt pocket-kings at the final table of the World Series of Poker and having to show down only to find someone else had been dealt pocket-aces on the same hand.
Even if Carolina beats Arkansas, which I believe they will, there is not much room in the polls for an increase. Their score will just quickly scroll the bottom of the screen while the masses watch the Crimson Tide roll. I can see it now, "Arkansas stumbles as their offense is less productive than usual. [ So.Car. 17 Ark 9 ]"
Homer himself could not conjure up such a scenario which would have the Gamecocks actually defeating every team in the SEC East during the regular season but not actually winning the East division, all the while setting a new school record for SEC conference wins along the way. (Which could easily happen if the Gamecocks don't defeat Arkansas.) How often can a team beat everyone in their league, losing to no one, and still lose their league? Only in a Gamecock myth of epic proportions.
And in true Greek tragic fashion, Clemson lost to an average Georgia Tech team, which hurled them out of the top five. This would have given the Gamecocks' ranking a sure boost after they defeated the top-five ranked Tigers in a few weeks. But alas, since the Gamecocks needed Clemson to win, Clemson caught some of the wrath that the football gods aimed at the Gamecocks, and I am sure it felt strange to the Tigers.
But the 2011 Gamecocks don't care at all about any of this chaos. They methodically go about their business every week like the heroes that they are. The 2011 Gamecocks are not tragic heroes like Oedipus or Hamlet or Macbeth. They are something different. The football gods have never seen this hybrid Gamecock in Columbia before and therefore don't know what to throw at them. These gods have chosen the normal arsenal of season-ending injuries, but even that hasn't slowed this team down. Out of the ashes rose a fifth-string kid that looked more like a scampering Roger Craig of San Francisco 49er fame than he did 10 months removed from playing tailback at Blythewood High School.
I predict the only real tragedy associated with this team will be rooted in the fans' hearts. Not all the fans, but some of them. A select few that have lost their Gamecock souls along the way.
The Gamecocks may finish the regular season 11-1 but some fans on the message boards and on the radio will still be crucifying them. That will be the real tragedy, Gamecock Nation. Somewhere along the line, the football gods completely defeated some of you. Somehow, they stripped from you your ability to enjoy seeing the greatest season in Gamecock history unfold.
But the one thing to remember about Odysseus is unlike so many other epic heroes, he makes it home. That's right. After his long 10-year journey through all the trials and tribulations, he gets home to his wife and child and lives happily ever after. Like Odysseus, the Gamecocks' fate seemed doomed. Their response to their fate is what will make them heroes.
No matter what the pundits want to write about, they have no power to change the Gamecocks' fate. These Gamecocks will have their day. They will make it home.
And I know, unlike a select few, the vast majority of Gamecock fans will have been able to enjoy it.
From coach to comedian: Marty Simpson is a former Academic All-Conference player for USC who scored the Gamecocks' first 6 points in the SEC. During 8 years as a high school varsity coach, Simpson led his team to the state finals and saw one player advance to set an NFL rookie record. Simpson now divides his time between his family, running a multimedia company named Blue-Eyed Panda and traveling the country performing stand-up comedy for clubs, churches, and corporations.

Check out Marty's comedian website here.
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