COLUMBIA -- When South Carolina emerged for its Sept. 9 game against Georgia wearing garnet jerseys instead of the expected black, there might have been a few surprised fans in the stands at Williams-Brice Stadium.
But grizzled Gamecocks followers knew better. The veterans have seen it all, the uniforms of their beloved team having changed seemingly by the year.
"Our team changes its uniforms more than any team in the world," said Tom Price, known simply as "Gamecock Historian."
To wear or not to wear? For the past 20 years, that has been the question pondered by South Carolina coaches who have made football fashion a top priority.
Since 1981, six different men have occupied the coaching post for the Gamecocks. And almost invariably, a change in the man has brought noticeable changes in style.
"Most coaches have big egos," said Price, a former sports information director at South Carolina. "If they didn't, they wouldn't be successful. Every time you change a regime, the new staff comes in and dictates the position that `No football team existed before I came here."'
Frequent changes can be quite a headache for those trying to obtain and sell the latest duds.
"It's tough, because you have to re-order the jerseys," said Pat Wood, manager of Todd and Moore Sporting Goods in Columbia. "You end up with stuff just sitting on the shelf after they change the jerseys."
In 1983, Joe Morrison came to Columbia and reversed the colors before he reversed the fortunes of the sagging program. Morrison used a new design for the helmets, abandoning the all-white look in favor of a predominantly garnet design.
As for the jerseys and pants, well, it depended what kind of mood Morrison was in when he woke on game day.
Garnet and white. White and garnet. Garnet and garnet. Black and white. White and black. Black and black. Black and garnet. While the Gamecocks were making unprecedented success from 1983-88, their uniforms had color combinations rivaling those of a Rubik's Cube.
After having taken over in 1989, Sparky Woods went blah. The new coach took the letters off the jerseys, the stripes off the pants and gave his team black cleats.
Woods loosened up a bit after a while, adding names to the jerseys and adopting black as the main color before he was fired after the 1993 season.
New coach Brad Scott chose garnet and stuck with it until the last game of 1995, when he unveiled black jerseys for the season finale against Clemson. He switched back and forth in 1996 before going solely with black in 1997 and 1998.
Which brings us to Lou Holtz, who went retro upon his arrival in 1999, returning the helmets to the all-white look with a black stripe down the middle. Holtz stuck with the black jerseys until this season's Georgia game, when the Gamecocks wore the garnet garb.
Though Holtz indicated the change in attire was temporary and devised to reduce the effects of the searing afternoon heat in Columbia, the Gamecocks were wearing garnet again during last week's 41-6 win over Eastern Michigan -- a night game. Monday, Holtz said the team will stick with the garnet for its remaining three home games against Mississippi State (Saturday, 12:30 p.m.), Arkansas (Oct. 14, 1 p.m.) and Tennessee (Oct. 28, 1 p.m.).
Gamecocks players approved the move.
"I think that was a big motivation for everybody because they haven't done that in so long," said offensive tackle Melvin Paige. "It got everybody hyped for the game."
Not so hyped, perhaps, were those trying to make a buck off replica jerseys.
Bruce Wyndham, manager of South Carolina Bookstore, said he's reluctant to invest in a shipment of the new stuff just yet.
"We kind of sit back and wait and see what kind of demand there is first," Wyndham said. "If the phones are ringing off the hook with people who want the jerseys, we'll start doing some research and seeing what we can do to get the items."
Bryan Harmon, manager of Jewelry Warehouse, had little trouble acquiring the newest jerseys. As it turned out, those Holtz ordered for the Georgia game weren't what the coach wanted, incorporating black numbers instead of the preferred white.
The manufacturer made more to fit Holtz's liking, and Harmon managed to buy the whole shipment of the black-numbered jerseys and had them on the racks the week before the Gamecocks donned them in the Georgia game.
Now, Harmon's store is flooded with fans looking for the latest.
"Lou didn't want them, so I bought all of them from the university," said the 23-year-old Harmon, who is selling the jerseys for $79 a pop. "I lucked up. Since they've been doing well, people have been in here fighting to get each little star's number."
And as long as the Gamecocks keep winning, business will be good -- no matter what they're wearing.
Said Harmon: "They're playing good enough right now, they could wear pink jerseys and I don't think people would care."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.