Tailgating for South Carolina football never gets old, and there is no doubt that Gamecock fans take pride in their team. Likewise, the Gamecocks are proud of their fans who show their loyalty year after year, especially those families that have been part of the Gamecock Club as season ticket holders for a half century or longer, including Florence Steele (77 years), Anita Kirby (72 years) and Ruth Aycock (72 years), among many others.
“It’s not just going to the games, it’s a tradition,” said Robin Edwards of Myrtle Beach, who continues the tradition her late husband, Thomas W. Edwards, established 66 years ago of buying season tickets each year. “It’s a family gathering of all ages. It’s like Christmas, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. It’s Gamecock day!”
“I grew up in Columbia, I went to Carolina, and it’s just what I do,” proclaimed Ed Bignon, a 1965 graduate whose family has had season tickets for 58 years, and their support to the University led to their name being on the Bignon Gameday Center located beside Williams-Brice Stadium.
“The fellowship and camaraderie we have is what I enjoy the most about the games,” said Heyward King (pictured right with former Gamecock Alex Hawkins) of Lake City, who lettered for the Gamecocks in 1957 and has had season tickets for the last 52 years. “Just seeing everybody each year, and having fun with the people you bring, is what I like about it. We try to make sure the people around us understand what’s happening.”
“It’s a way to be supportive of the program,” said Herbert Adams of Laurens, a season ticket holder for 50 years. “I enjoy going to the games. My wife enjoys going to the games. My three daughters are all grown and graduated, and they enjoyed going to the games. There used to be a program when my girls were coming along called ‘Rooster Booster.’ It allowed children of certain ages to sit in one section. We had seats in a spot where we could see them. They made lifelong friends and when they went to Carolina, they renewed friendships they had made in that section.”
“My late husband and I started this the year before we got married,” said Sue Wharton, who lives near Lake Murray in Lexington and has been a season ticket holder for 50 years. “We both had gone to the University. Go Gamecocks! We’re just avid fans. We just have a ball! It’s still exciting. We get so involved in it.”
It’s like going to a reunion on opening day.Sue Wharton, 50 years of Gamecock Club Membership
Like a successful marriage, the fans have seen the Gamecocks through good times and bad, and they never thought twice about whether they would support their team each year.
“I never thought about not coming to games,” King said. “I played at the University – football and track. I always try to give back for all it gave me. The close friends I had at the University back when I was a student are still my friends today. If I had to do it all over again, I’d play here again.”
“I’m kind of a crazy guy,” Adams said quickly. "When we have the bad years, that’s when I feel like they need me the most. If things aren’t going well, that’s the time to rally and support them.”
“I never thought about not renewing,” Wharton said, then laughed. “I might not have always been real happy. You just make up your mind and you prioritize.”
With countless moments on instant recall, the long-time fans have had the good fortune of seeing some of the greatest games, plays, and student-athletes from days gone by.
“The 56-20 win over Clemson  comes to mind right off the bat,” Adams chuckled. “Jeff Grantz (1973-75) was absolutely amazing. The Erik Kimrey fade pass [2000 vs. Mississippi State] comes to mind. I can think of different players. I have a lot of favorites. I wasn’t a very good football player in high school, but I played on the line. So I always had an appreciation for the linemen. I saw Ed Pitts (1957-59) play. He was tremendous. There’s Chuck Allen (1977-80). I’ll never forget the game at Georgia when they tried to run at him with Herschel Walker. They weren’t going over him. King Dixon (1956-59) was from Laurens, and had a great career at Carolina. He and Alex Hawkins (1956-58) were great to watch. Connor Shaw (2010-13) and George Rogers (1977-80); there are just so many.”
“There are so many,” Bignon said. “There’s Tommy Suggs (1968-70), Dan Reeves (1962-64), ‘the fade,’ and beating Alabama when they were No. 1 (2010). If I looked at each year, I could probably find a favorite memory.”
“I can remember when Joe Morrison came here, and my husband said ‘he is my kind of man,” Wharton said. “It’s hard to pick just one favorite player. I like football and basketball, so there’s just too many - Sterling Sharpe (1983, 85-87), John Roche (1968-71), John Ribock (1969-71), and [Steve] Taneyhill (1992-95) with his ponytail.”
As they get ready for another season, the atmosphere outside the stadium is as fulfilling as what happens inside the stadium.
“I like the whole atmosphere,” Bignon (pictured right) said. “Going in to the games and tailgating; I like the whole thing. When you grow up with it, it’s in your blood.”
“We enjoy seeing good friends and good people,” King said. “We go to away games, too. We believe in giving. The University has been good to us, and we hope we’re good to them. We go to watch at other schools, too, and I don’t know that anybody has the facilities that we have with the stadium and the parking.”
“In the past we would have two car loads from Laurens that would travel and tailgate together,” Adams said. “We got to know people around us that were from Greenville and Greenwood. For a number of years, I didn’t miss a game, home or away. It still is special. I give a lot of credit to my wife (Gwen). She enjoys sports, and keeps up with it as well or better than I do. I’ve got it made!”
“Opening day is my favorite,” Wharton said. “The excitement is in the air. Everyone’s hopes are high. We started taking our son when he was three years old. He’s 42 now, and he gets just as excited as his daddy used to. We’ve met so many people over the decades. It’s like going to a reunion on opening day. It’s definitely big league now.”
With the 2017 season set to kick off, this loyal group of fans is excited to create more memories in Will Muschamp’s second year as the head coach of the Gamecocks.
“I’m excited, and I’m hopeful,” Adams said. “I respect so much the efforts I see the coaches putting into building this team and recruiting. I think we’ve got the right coach; I can tell you that.”
“I feel optimistic this year,” Bignon said. “I think the offense will be pretty good, and I think the defense will be better.”
“I have great hopes for this year, and I’m very happy with our football coach,” Wharton said. “Frank Martin is great, too!”