Gamecock fans wait is finally over - after for some, more than 50 years

Title game marks end of long wait for some

12/01/2010 12:00 AM

12/01/2010 5:03 AM

The most popular man in York County this week is not some politician handing out contracts.

Not a courageous firefighter with nerves of steel who saved a child, or even the chicken fryer at the Shrimp Boat - although that guy sure is heroic during the lunch rush.

No, the man hundreds have tried to cozy up to - thinking he's "the man with tickets" - is Chip Comer.

Never before has the title "President of the York County Gamecock Club" been so popular. Comer, when the team stunk, had to sit at restaurant tables next to the kitchen.

This week, though, after more than a century of football - often mediocre and sometimes worse football - the Gamecocks play Auburn in Atlanta Saturday for the Southeastern Conference Championship.

Long-languishing Gamecock fans have besieged poor Comer, hoping he has the magic to find tickets for the sold-out, biggest game in the history of the school.

"I never knew I was so popular, had so many friends," he said, laughing.

For the record, Comer has just his own tickets.

About 16,000 fans, most of them Gamecock Club fanatics around the state who have invested enough years of tears - and cash - to have a shot at tickets were able to get them.

For the most part, the rest of USC's fans are out of luck - unless they want to pay through the nose buying tickets at an online auction site.

"I must have gotten hundreds of calls or e-mails," said Comer of the hopeful asking him for tickets. "Endless. But I understand - some people have been waiting all their lives for a game like this.

"Being a Gamecock fan is all about hope."

For some, that hope and wait has been more than a half-century.

"55 years," said Rock Hill's Marvin Hyatt, 75, when asked how many consecutive years he has attended USC football games.

Hyatt and his family would not miss this game in Atlanta if Sherman, carrying a torch, returned at kickoff.

"This might be the best game of all of them," he said.

Football is part of the culture in this state for people who break laws and people who make laws. USC football, this week more than ever before, is for all.

Marvin Hyatt's son, Alton, is a well-known and respected lawyer and pharmacist and former state legislator. He is a USC alumnus three times over and earlier this year ran for a seat on the school's board of trustees.

A smart guy, a professional guy. And he has gone to games for all of his 46 years - since he was a baby.

Ask anybody like Alton Hyatt, who wears a suit every day, who the USC football coach is - this week especially - and he will not only blurt out "Spurrier!" he'll probably quote his record and philosophy. Hyatt knows all scores and statistics.

He knows the local Gamecock players personally and has made a point of knowing their mommas and daddies.

Barring an earthquake - and maybe even then - Alton Hyatt will be at the game Saturday.

"Sports - this football team, and this season in particular - brings people together," he said. "Everything about it is a positive."

Another who would not miss this game is this area's representative on the USC Board of Trustees, who successfully ran for that board against Hyatt - Rock Hill lawyer Leah Moody.

The accomplishments of the team, and the young men making such a mark for the school, are something the entire state can be proud of, Moody said.

"And the excitement, people looking forward to it, just is unbelievable," she said. "This is a great week to be from Carolina."

Yes, it is a mighty week to be a Carolina fan. Not the other Carolina, as in North. This week is not for North Carolina types who wear ascots and lemon-yellow sweaters and bow ties.

I am talking about Carolina Gamecocks fans. Those who have tattoos of Gamecocks on their forearms, and those with pictures of Gamecocks over their board of directors office.

This game is for the true believers who have suffered, but never quit.

It is for people such as Tim Montgomery of Chester, who runs a business that cleans up buildings after fires and explosions and tantrums thrown by Clemson fans - Disaster Restoration Inc.

And the Gamecock football team now could be his mascot. This is a team that has reached restorative heights and its fans, who have endured taunts and losses for decades, are crowing.

Montgomery will park his Gamecock RV next to the Georgia Dome and the chicken cries will be heard all the way to Alabama.

"I been going to games since 1962," said Montgomery. "48 years I've been waiting. This is our biggest game - ever. We might not get another chance like this - ever.

"I wouldn't miss this game - ever."

Neither would Buddy Grant of Chester, who has been going to games for 50 years. His momma went to USC. All three of his kids went there.

Grant has his tickets for Saturday, and has had to tell "quite a few people who were hoping for a miracle" that he has none to spare.

"This is a big deal for us - a first," Grant said of the team's playing in the conference title game.

Tickets are being sold online for hundreds of dollars a seat.

But Grant doesn't have any extra tickets - and neither does Moody the trustee or the Hyatts, who are longtime fans, or Montgomery.

Grant already heard of one guy who got $2,000 for four seats.

"Lotta money for a football game," said Grant. "But I guess people have waited a long time.

"We win - that might seem like a bargain."

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