GamecockCentral.com 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 shaved on Thursday.
In and of itself, that doesn’t seem like a big deal. It had been over a week, it was time to shave, the beard was beginning to itch, plus the whole facial hair experiment had started to look wack…and so I took the scruff out and felt good about doing it. It’s just what you’ve got to do.
The last time I shaved was before South Carolina played basketball games in the NCAA Tournament, before they beat Marquette and stunned Duke. It was right around the time Carolina lost to Alabama in the SEC Tournament, in fact. Which was fine. What did my beard have to do with the Gamecocks?
Then again, I’ve been the most superstitious sports fan that has existed in the United States of America for the last 35 years. If something’s working, I try to keep it working. If something’s not working, I see what I can do to change up the mojo. In the words of Kevin Costner in “Bull Durham,” “Never (bleep) with a winning streak!”
I never have. I’ve been the kind of guy who wears the same shirt for days – even after it starts smelling – in an effort to keep the wins coming.
I stepped up to the mirror Thursday morning and just said, “(Bleep) it. We’re not going to win or lose tomorrow based on whether I shave today. Plus, I actually think we’re going to win no matter what I do and no matter how many times I’ve seen the Gamecocks fall short.”
Sometimes you just know.
I shaved. And we won.
We won with stunning ease, in fact, punishing Baylor by 20 points to roll into the Elite Eight – a place we’ve never gone before.
If you’re like me, a Gamecock lifer, you’re probably trying to figure out how to deal with this reality. You keep waiting for someone to suddenly scream out, “Wait, Baylor just shot a 25-pointer that was good at the buzzer. Sorry.”
But that’s not going to happen. We are in the Elite 8. Today.
And the reason why has nothing to do with karma. Or luck. Or superstition, or my ridiculously inept beard. It’s just that we’ve simply been a lot better than every single basketball team we’ve played in the NCAA Tournament so far.
Look, there’s definitely luck involved in the Tourney. Everyone knows that. Teams unexpectedly find themselves in the Sweet 16, previously unknown coaches become hot commodities (anyone remember Darrin Horn suddenly becoming a sought-after coaching candidate? I know, me either), and then the very next year, you forget it ever happened. I guess if someone wanted to, they could cast this run as one of those “You just never know what’s going to happen in March!”-type miracle stories.
And that would be fine.
Except for this: South Carolina has straight-up destroyed every single team they’ve played in this tournament. They haven’t needed last-second threes or divine intervention to get where they’ve gotten. They’ve simply beaten folks and taken their souls, hopes and dreams away.
They took Marquette behind the woodshed in the second half.
They absolutely embarrassed Duke in the second half.
And they didn’t even need any halves at all to make the statement to a Baylor team that was ranked number one in the nation for awhile this year: “You know what? You just aren’t going to win this basketball game today, or tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or ever.”
This is a team that feels like it can beat anyone in America.
And why shouldn’t they?
I asked you the last time I wrote a column: Do you doubt this team? Still? Now?
You can’t. You don’t.
I can shave tomorrow. Or not. And it won’t matter.
Are You Ready?
There’s no doubt about it: This is the most engaged and excited I’ve seen the Gamecock fan base in a long, long time. Maybe ever. If you know me, you know I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, brooding about, reflecting about the Gamecock fan base. And sometimes the Gamecock fan base rightly gets tired of me.
But I haven’t seen this before. Does that sound crazy? It shouldn’t.
I mean, you had the baseball championships a few years ago, which finally announced to the world: Hey, yo, guys, we exist. We actually exist. And (blank) you if you thought otherwise.
You had that SEC East football title and that brief attempt to look like a nationally respected football program for a half-second or so in 2010.
There were a couple of nice 11-win football seasons under Steve Spurrier, and look, you can’t take anything for granted in SEC football. It was awesome, and I haven’t forgotten it and won’t.
But at the end of the day, where were you as an athletic program and where were you headed when you started 2017? You won a baseball title in 2010? You competed in football for a couple of years? Congratulations. Not a bad run at all. I certainly enjoyed it, and I’m sure you did. But where were you and where were you headed?
That’s what every single sports fan in America thought about you. And why would you blame them?
Then this happened.
I don’t know if South Carolina will make the Final Four. I can’t allow myself to think about that, because I’m still the guy that wonders whether or not he should shave on the day USC plays an NCAA Tournament game. I’m the guy that is trying to figure out if there’s a T-shirt I can wear to get us to the title (Is there?)
But I’m also the guy who is capable of grasping reality. I’m also the guy who watched this basketball team dismantle, embarrass and destroy the three teams they’ve played in this Tournament so far, all of whom have been pretty damn good.
Am I going to doubt this team? Still? Now?
I am not. And neither are you.
Just about everyone who knows me knows that I love the South Carolina Gamecocks. Everyone knows it. I advertise it. I accept it. I welcome it and indeed I want it to be known.
I allow myself to be ridiculed about it, and I most certainly have been. Whatever. These are my guys, they always have been and they always will be.
This is what I’ve been doing for decades. I’ll be doing it for decades more, God willing. And you will, too. We’ve simply been trying to stay alive for times like Friday night. These are the nights that are supposed to be impossible for us, it seems. We don’t see them, ever.
But we did it see it this time. And it wasn’t a dream, a hope, a wish or anything other than stark, cold reality.
These are the times we’ve been waiting for. No matter what happens tomorrow, in the words of Rihanna: This is what you came for. Enjoy it right now.
And at the end of the day, these guys don’t care whether you or I have struggled as fans for years upon years. The only thing they care about is winning.
The only thing they care about is winning.
And I think they’ll keep doing it.