A young woman with two kids in Evans Towne Center Park seemed puzzled by all the commotion coming from Lady Antebellum Pavilion.
“Excuse me,” she said, “but do you know what’s going on over there?”
When told it was a Gamecocks Club Fanfest taking place in Georgia, she visibly blanched. You half expected her to faint screaming, “Oh my, Yankees in Tara.”
Head ball coach Steve Spurrier and new basketball coach Frank Martin crossed the Savannah River to mingle and sign autographs for South Carolina faithful caught in a border town.
“It’s great to cross the state line and still be in Gamecock Country,” said Martin to the cheers of more than 200 garnet-clad fans.
The whole scene was beautiful for Bob Fowler, the long-time secretary of the Augusta Gamecock Club which coaxed the annual off-season rally from its usual stop in Aiken. While Spurrier has made regular trips to speak to fans in the recruiting hotbed of Atlanta, it’s the first time since the Joe Morrison era in the 1980s that a sitting South Carolina football coach has made a booster visit this side of the state line instead of just playing Augusta National Golf Club.
“We welcomed him to Georgia Gamecock country,” Fowler said. “They felt Augusta was an untapped market.”
Judging from the enthusiastic turnout and the long line of fans patiently waiting to get a signed football or a picture with Spurrier, Fowler was right. With the Tokyo Joe band playing cover songs and all sorts of activities including bouncy houses, Cocky and Sir Big Spur mascots, cheerleaders and several football trophies including the Hardee’s Trophy that Clemson hasn’t held since 2008, it was a festive event.
Spurrier, naturally, stirred them up with some fond memories about “the week we beat Georgia 45-42 – remember that?”
These have been heady days for South Carolina sports fans, with the football program setting records, the baseball program hoarding national championships and the women’s basketball team reaching the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.
The Gamecocks’ first 11-win
football season backing up an unprecedented trip to the SEC Championship game in 2010 even has Spurrier sounding like his old self with the kind of barbs that bait Georgia fans into a Pavlovian froth of hatred toward the coaching nemesis.
The ol’ ballcoach ripped off a good zinger recently when asked about moving the traditional Border Bash SEC football opener to later on the schedule in October.
“I sort of liked playing them that second game because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended,” Spurrier said during spring practice.
“Now that he has a taste at South Carolina, he’s back to the way he used to be,” said Terry Rushton, a 2001 South Carolina graduate.
That’s the kind of program confidence that can bring a booster party right into enemy turf.
“I think he feels better about coming here,” said Fowler, who also serves as secretary for the annual Border Bash that accompanies the rivalry football weekend.
South Carolina representatives monitored the recent Border Bash and made the call to make an off-season stop here.
“They saw what we were doing and saw we had a lot of potential,” Fowler said.
Martin, who is familiar with the region from his annual trips to the Peach Jam in North Augusta, was thrilled to expand his horizons.
“It’s right on the state line, so it’s a great idea and I’m sure the administration studied it and thought it would be a good idea to come here,” Martin said.
“There’s a lot of Gamecocks in the Augusta area,” said Spurrier, quickly pointing out that he’s annually come to Atlanta so Georgia isn’t virgin territory for his bandwagon. “Atlanta’s a super area and got a lot of good football players, and there are a few around here too.”
If the Gamecocks keep evolving into an SEC program to be reckoned with annually and remains the dominant force in the Palmetto state, more of these booster incursions could be coming in the future.
That would be fine with Rushton, who came over from North Augusta with his father, Tom, to celebrate their own state’s flagship program.
“I love it,” Rushton said. “All my boys in North Augusta are Georgia fans, so it’s nice to come over here and see this.”
Any other unsuspecting Georgia fans in the adjacent dog park better beware next time. The Gamecocks are eagerly marking new territory.