Posted by: Dave | September 10, 2010

An Unhealthy Affliction Gets Worse


            For most of my life I have dealt with an affliction that has caused me continued social rejection, embarrassment, and at times, isolation from other members of society.  I have wandered through this desert of life, knowing only a few others that suffered from the malady.

I suffer from being a rabid Jacksonville State University Gamecock fan.  My loyalty and emotional attachment to my alma mater is hard to explain, and even more difficult to act upon, since my career has taken me a long way from the little school in Northeast Alabama, and I currently reside nearly 1,000 miles away in Virginia.

It has been a lonely and misunderstood journey.  Most people, when they see my Jacksonville State Gamecock hat that I constantly wear, think it represents a school in Florida, or a school in Jackson, Mississippi, or even a school in South Carolina. My “problem” as my wife has referred to it, has caused me to behave in strange ways, like painting my body at the Homecoming games I attend annually, (I associate with similarly afflicted friends….we spell GO GAMECOCKS…its really cool) or inappropriately repeating  obscene cheers associated with our school mascot in refined social gatherings.  I have caused my wife and children great embarrassment.

Last Saturday I knew my affliction was going to be treated with a hot lance to the gut, or liberated through a religious epiphany as my relatives and I crowded around a television in southern Maryland as freshman quarterback Coty Blanchard took the snap from center to attempt a two point conversion in double overtime last Saturday against The University of Mississippi in Oxford. A lot was riding on that play, not just for me, but for the university.

When I attended JSU it was regarded as one of the best small colleges in the southeast, predominantly for its low cost and small classes.  Additionally, “The Friendliest Campus in the South” fielded outstanding athletic teams at the Division II level.  We dominated our in-state rivals of Troy State and University of North Alabama, and our athletic arenas were frequently filled with rabid students and fans.  We had a lot to cheer about back in the day, including Division II national championships in, football baseball, and basketball.

But in the 1990’s when the school decided to move its athletic programs up to the next level, Division 1AA, as it was then called, the “Fighting Gamecocks” couldn’t duplicate their earlier success.  Financial constraints, a lack of close rivalries, and changing demographics reduced the JSU’s ability to compete consistently at the higher level.  

 Through the 1990s and early 2000s, the school experienced mediocre successes on the field and courts, except for brief flashes in the pan by the women’s softball team, students and alumni had little to cheer for.  Fans stayed away in droves, and most students went home for the weekend instead of sitting in an empty stadium. 

Then the Trustees took a risky and bold move.  In 2008, after two decades of mediocrity at the Division 1AA Level, the Board voted to spend approximately $50 million to expand the football stadium to 24,000 seats, enabling the Gamecocks to graduate to the nation’s largest arena, the Bowl Championship Series, which will probably occur in 2012 or 2013.  Bloggers and editors criticized the decision as wasteful and arrogant.  Professors penned letters of protest to newspapers. Some students protested. 

It got worse.  The decision coincided with the economic collapse.  The school had planned on funding the expansion with naming rights and the sale of luxury suites, most of which fell far below expectations.  Furthermore, in 2009, the football team was banned from postseason play due to poor academic performance, and costs for the stadium expansion exceeded expectations due to a sink hole developing under the new construction.  During my last visit for Homecoming of 2009, I had a hard time being optimistic as I stared at the mostly empty stadium, with the sunken area taped off, and a losing score on the scoreboard.

But there were glimmers of hope.  The team teased my affliction by playing respectably against Georgia Tech and actually led Florida State until 40 seconds left in the game, only to agonizingly lose at the end.

The team was recognized for outstanding academic performance at the conclusion of 2009, and the stadium expansion gave rise to a strong recruiting season for 2010.The table was set for an upset last Saturday against Ole Miss.  

My family was visiting relatives in Southern Maryland last Saturday, and I found myself in a sports information vacuum. I was relegated to checking the score as it crawled across the bottom of the television.

When I saw that the Gamecocks fell behind 31-10 at halftime as planned, I conceded defeat and my wife and I went for a bike ride.

Upon my return, I the score was 31-26.  The Cocks were making a comeback.  I became uncontrollable, running around the house trying to figure out how to either watch or listen to the game.  I finally called my brother, who lives in Birmingham and therefore had access to the local network that was televising the game.  He understands my affliction, and proceeded to give me a very descriptive play by play narration. As the Gamecocks tied the game sending it into overtime, my excitement gained the attention of the rest of the family members, who huddled around the cell phone for the play by play. Of course, minutes later, we could watch the Gamecocks on television as ESPN cut to the regional network to show the overtime live on national TV.  It was then that I saw the young true freshman, Coty Blanchard, the multisport standout that turned down a pro baseball contract to play football for the same team his father had played for decades earlier.  When Blanchard fired the guided missile into the end zone on 4th and 15 from the 35 to move within one point in the second overtime, I lost all pretense of being a polite house guest, throwing myself on the floor in unbridled delirium and performing what my brother-in-law later described as a “dying cockroach.”

The disappointments of the last two decades of sports wasteland could be wiped out with a successful two point conversion in Oxford Mississippi.  When a Football Championship Subdivision team defeats a Football Bowl Subdivision team, the shot is heard around the country.  Blanchard took the snap and executed a shuffle pass to seal the victory.  The entire house launched into uncontrolled bedlam in the living room. 

The win couldn’t have come at a better time.  The opening ceremonies for the new stadium are scheduled for this Saturday. On-line orders for tickets crashed the server, and the athletic department opened the ticket window on Labor Day to meet the demand.  Hundreds of students welcomed the team home from Oxford.

Instead of being cured, my affliction has entered a new level, much like a gambling addict that won the long shot. People recognize my hat now, and they know the school isn’t located in Florida.  Newspapers all over the country trumpeted the last minute victory, and it was replayed over and over on ESPN.

But there is hope.  There’s a support group, and they meet on Saturdays in the fall…

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Responses

  1. Yeah you got a bad case of it. Don’t miss your 12-step therapy meetings!!

    Go Gamecocks!!!!

  2. Good prose!!! Excellent story!!! Matches the “Win one for the Gipper”….

  3. Let’s see if you are brave enough to post those pictures of the “painted bodies”. I still have nightmares!


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