When time had expired in the Capital One Bowl, South Carolina raised more than just a trophy.
The 2011-2012 Gamecocks set out with a goal to be the best team in school history and they achieved it. This is a team that got better as the season went on, who became more focused the more they were challenged, and who refused to quit even when the odds were stacked against them. Through it all they gave fans the best - and arguably most memorable - season in school history.
Much of what made this season so special wasn’t because of what South Carolina won, but rather how they won. Sure it’s fun to run through your schedule like a freight train without a personality, but it is a more rewarding experience when you have a team with character that can teach everyone lessons.
This group of young men gave so much to Gamecock fans all around the world. For some of us, it was the joy in remembering a lost loved one who, in their time, loved the team; of still being able to hear that loved one cheer and see their smile when the Gamecocks win. For others, it is being able to share in something special with loved ones who are still with us; of forging new memories and bonds. Others yet had the joy of using this team as a chance to teach the next generation:
“Do you see that? Marcus Lattimore got hurt, but he still does when he can to help the team.”
“Watch Melvin Ingram, he had to put in hard work for YEARS to become as good as he is now.”
“Do you see Connor Shaw? Look at how he is always working to become a better player. That is what it takes if you want to become a champion.”
You see, for so many it is more than just a game. It is about memories created that last forever. It is about screaming high-fives and hugs. It is about becoming best friends with the person next to you that you just met three hours ago. It is about parents taking their children to games, and later, children taking their parents.
The struggles, the work, the pain of this game are all very symbolic of life. This was a team full of unique individuals with whom we could all connect and that caused the bonds between Gamecock Nation and the 2011 South Carolina Gamecocks to be tighter than any before it. They gave us that connection, then we watched as they led themselves down a victorious path carrying us with them.
When they were triumphant, all of Gamecock Nation was triumphant. It is a bond that is forged at different times and in different ways but it is one that is not easily broken. The term “a nation of one” rang true. As the team faced hardships, they never seemed to lose hope; and because of that neither did we.
Now, individual rewards for the players will pour in. They will be showered with accolades and pats on the back. With a “way-to-go!” at every corner and the promise of a bright future. Some will even be given NFL careers and graduating degrees.
As the players continue on towards next season – be it at South Carolina or in the NFL – they can hold their heads high and feel good about the fact that no reward they will receive can compare to the rewards they gave; they gave us memories, they gave us joy, they gave us hope.
And for that, I say thank you.
When time had expired in the Capital One Bowl, South Carolina raised more than just a trophy. They raised the hopes and dreams of Gamecock fans everywhere.
“Life gives us brief moments…but sometimes in those brief moments we get memories that last a lifetime.”