Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Are we getting comfortable in our own skin?

Last December, I remember vividly the moment I realized I was confident about the upcoming new year for Carolina sports.  Heading into 2011, I dare say I was actually <gasp> happy about the way things were in Columbia.  Not the fake, “I hope it will get better” stuff either.  I am talking about genuine optimism.  I can’t tell you the number of times I have headed into the Christmas season fed up, angry and depressed about Gamecock sports so this was new.  For the first time maybe ever, USC fans are getting comfortable in their own skin.  Okay, not ALL of us are, but those who choose to see the big picture are good with the way things are rolling.
I believe a big part of that is the change in the football rivalry.  When I was little, I used to try and find anything to try and deflect the fact that our rivals were tearing our rear ends up on the football field.  We would land great skill position players that would draw headlines.  We would pretend that we were now focused on the conference.  We would say that the rivalry was an aging relic to be moved or ignored.  We hired Coaches that were big on talk, motivation and publicity stunts, but low on wins against our in-state brethren. 
Meanwhile, the Tigers were a machine, landing unheralded linemen, defensive depth and filling what they actually needed.  They had a football program and we had a media carnival.  While we were out making fools of ourselves, desperate for attention and saying, “Hey yall watch this,” they were focused on consistency, running the football, controlling the lines of scrimmage and a ferocious defense.  They were beating us and letting the rest take care of itself.  In other words, we were the sizzle but they were the steak.  I am so glad that the roles have reversed themselves. 
Growing up in a small town, I would go to Yuletide get togethers.  I remember watching the body language on my Tiger friends as they would smile, watch us bend ourselves into pretzels explaining why it didn’t matter that they had just beaten us again.  Oh, the countless times I would be having some eggnog and I would get that condescending pat on the shoulder as one of my compadres of orange ilk would come up and say something nice about Robert Brooks, Kalimba Edwards or whoever the headline grabbing player of the day was for us. 
Now for the second straight Christmas, I will be listening to them make the case over and over that “other things” make up for three years of getting mauled by your rival.  They will point to recruiting with a hopeful longing.  (Just like we used to do over and over and over again.)  Meanwhile we can thankfully just smile or chuckle quietly and move on to the next Tiger friend, patting them on the back, complimenting Sammy Watkins and wishing them luck in their bowl game.  I have been where they are and I don’t want to go back.  It’s much better from this side of the Chrismas Cocktails. 

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