Saturday, February 16, 2013

Long live Ray Tanner!

738 wins, 10 Super-Regionals, 6 trips to Omaha, 4 trips to the Championship game or round, and 2 National Championships.  Well-done Coach.   Other coaches may accomplish more in a sport at the University of South Carolina.  Time will tell.  But for historic purposes, Ray Tanner was the first person to lead a team in a men’s major sport to the promised land.  That can’t ever be challenged.   

So many folks have forgotten how the Tanner love-fest actually began in Columbia.  Most people think it was the run to the 1st title with Bayler-ball and the wins over Oklahoma, Clemson and UCLA.    I understand why some feel that way.  But for us “old-school” fans, we’ll never forget the importance of the 2000 season.  

Think back to January of 2000.  Gamecock Athletics were at their lowest point ever and in the sewer.  The football team had just gone 0-11.  The basketball team had lost twice in the 1st round of the NCAAs and had collapsed in 1999.  Meanwhile, baseball was quietly about to start the fourth season under Ray Tanner.  Tanner had been slowly building a program that had radically declined at the end of the June Raines era.  

The bottom line is that USC fans had given up hope.  Sure, sure, lots of them now claim they never did but hogwash!  It was just a crappy time.  Then Kip Bouknight, Peter Bauer, Scott Barber, Trey Dyson and others saved us.  I’m not over-estimating that either.  Under Coach Tanner, that baseball team saved the morale at my alma mater.  

All the frustration, all the negativity, all the anger and everything else bad just went away.   2 huge wins over Clemson that year were just what the doctor ordered.  The one in Columbia where Dyson had the big hit still ranks as one of my favorite moments of all time.  You just can’t understand how that season was if you weren’t a fan who had lived through all that other stuff.  

Before anyone howls too loudly, I get it that we didn’t get to Omaha that year, and that we went on to knock Clemson out of Omaha twice and that we won the two championships later.  I’m not ignoring any of that.  I’m just saying that we never would have seen that magical end without that miraculous beginning.  And it did feel miraculous at the time. 
So yes, I did tear up a bit yesterday as Coach Tanner had his number retired.  Yes, the players doing their tributes, the naming of Ray Tanner Way and even Coach’s comments after the game got to me.  Matt Price coming in to close it out one last time was an especially nice touch.  

As a Daddy of a 6-year old I am sure glad my boy is becoming a Gamecock fan now.  Hopefully he’ll never have to live through what I did growing up in the Garnet and Black.  But along with all those scars he’s avoided, there are two memories I’ll have on him:  Big George’s Heisman Run in 1980 and Ray Tanners Magic in 2000.  Thank you so much Coach Tanner!

It’s a great time to be a Gamecock!

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