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Why I Love My Cocks

(This story was published in 2003).

By: Todd Heustess

College sports have been suffering a public relations nightmare this year. The coaching scandals at Washington, Alabama, Georgia and Iowa State combined with the shameful situations at Ohio State, Baylor, Georgia, and Florida State have tainted college sports with a fast-growing malignancy that threatens to turn off casual and possible hardcore fans. The dramatic, thrilling, double overtime, “game-of-the-century” between Miami and Ohio State last January is a fading memory against an ugly backdrop of monetary and academic scandals.

Even, I, a self-proclaimed college football “nut” have begun to tire of the seemingly endless bad news surrounding the sport. For the first time in a long time, I haven’t been that excited about the upcoming season, which for a boy who grew up in South Carolina in the heart of SEC and ACC country is almost unthinkable.

Just as I was about to turn my fall sporting attention to pro football and baseball’s wild-card races, something happened that restored my enthusiasm for tailgating, crazy mascots, marching bands, and packed stadiums on crisp fall afternoons. All it took was two little words to bring back the tingle of excitement I always get when I hear Keith Jackson’s voice, the Michigan fight song (surely the best college fight song out there), the annoying tomahawk war chant at Florida State, or marvel at the beautiful Southern Cal cheerleaders in their corset-like sweaters bouncing for the cameras (hey I’m gay, but you have to admit, those Southern Cal girls are a fantasy come to life). Two words that take me back to my youth, dressed up in my fraternity best white shirt (with tie) and khakis as I munch on chicken wings and drink Jim Beam and coke. “GO COCKS!!!”

Yep that’s all it takes to get the goose bumps running up and down my arms. And no, I’m not getting college football mixed up with the latest White Party or Jet Set release. South Carolina may be the only place in the nation, where a stadium full of 80,000 rabid, gun-lovin’ fans will yell “Go Cocks!” without any hint of irony or shame. In South Carolina there are two major NCAA Division 1 schools, South Carolina (The REAL USC) and Clemson. South Carolina’s mascot is the Gamecocks. For those unfamiliar with southern traditions and history, the gamecock is a fighting rooster (the first and real cockfights featured roosters with spurs battling to the death) and it was also the nickname of Thomas Sumter, a famous Revolutionary War hero who was nicknamed “The Gamecock.”

Grown men, who have never heard of WeHo and probably have never seen “Will & Grace,” will wear baseball caps with “Cocks” emblazoned across the front. T-Shirts proclaim “You Can’t Beat Our Cocks” on game day. When USC plays a hated SEC rival or when we used to play Miami, fraternity-sponsored banners adorned the stadium proclaiming “Dem Dogs Can’t Lick Our Cocks” or “The Hurricanes Can’t Blow Our Cocks!” I mean is this not the ultimate for a gay sports fan or what?

Seriously, what makes college football so wonderfully addictive and exciting is the unique atmosphere surrounding each school. Yelling “Go Cocks,” sneaking copious amounts of alcohol in flasks, and watching a forever-mediocre team challenge highly ranked teams is part of the unique atmosphere surrounding a USC game in Columbia.

At a Miami game at the Orange Bowl you park in residents’ yards and negotiate your parking fee in Spanish. At Clemson, students literally roll out of their on-campus housing, down a beer and walk over to their stadium smack in the middle of their bucolic little campus. At Tennessee, you sail up to the game in your boat (the stadium is next to the Tennessee River) and brace yourself for hearing “Rocky Top” 900 times over the next three hours.

At Virginia Tech, the 50,000+ fans at Lane Stadium literally do the Hokey Pokey. At the University of Virginia, everyone is so dressed up, you wonder for a moment if you haven’t wandered onto an opera concert and not a football game. At Northwestern, you sit in a cozy little stadium that is about half Wildcats fans and half the other teams fans if they’re playing another Big Ten school. Lincoln, Nebraska, literally turns into a sea of red on game day. At UCLA you have to drive some 15 miles away from campus to the Rose Bowl, and the pre-game is as much about the traffic (it is LA) as it is about tailgating.

These are but some examples of what makes the atmosphere surrounding a college football game as exciting and fun as the game itself. Six to seven times a season, alumni, friends and family and get a chance to socialize, tailgate and make new friends. The environment surrounding a college football game is not duplicated by any other sport and tends to make life-long fans of those lucky enough to attend a game or two. It certainly has made a life-long fan of me and I live for the fall whether it’s sitting down to watch ESPN’s “Gameday” or the big game of that week, or being lucky enough to be attending a game in person.

Occasionally this fall I’ll be writing about college football, from the perspective of average fan as I draw on my personal experience growing up in the South or living around the country. I’ll try to bring to life the experience of being at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium or tailgating at the Rose Bowl based on my memories from past experiences or from attending a recent game. I hope reading about these experiences will be as much fun for you as writing about them has been for me. All I can say is: “GO COCKS!!!”