FORT MILL -- Steve Spurrier had my respect before Tuesday night. He has more of it now.
Because the football coach of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks said in Fort Mill, like he did a couple weeks ago in Columbia, that the Confederate flag has no official place in South Carolina.
Spurrier came to Fort Mill not to talk about the flag, but to rally the Gamecock faithful at the annual York County Gamecock Club spring meeting. The hundreds who showed didn't show to talk about the flag, either. They wanted to know if the offensive line would be a wall or a sieve, if the team would win.
But Spurrier is the most recognizable face in the state, easy. He said Tuesday night Gov. Mark Sanford is more recognizable.
Spurrier is our Zeus. What he says matters. What he said in that gathering about the Rebel flag two weeks ago was news, and it remains news because he said it.
"So you all want to talk about the Confederate flag," he said to me during a brief news conference before the meeting when I asked him to talk about it.
Yes, I did want him to talk about it. It is my job to ask big shots questions sometimes. Spurrier is the biggest big shot there is in our state. I doubt hundreds would show up on a Tuesday night to hear the governor or either of our U.S. senators. Unless they could guarantee a victory over Clemson.
Spurrier's grandparents were from Charlotte. He grew up in east Tennessee but came to this area every Thanksgiving and Christmas. This area is part of him.
As long as the Confederate flag flies next to the Statehouse, and has official sanction, people like Steve Spurrier feel they have to express the opinion that that flag must go.
Sure the flag came off the Statehouse dome years ago. But it remains nearby. During a nationally televised ESPN pregame show last fall outside Williams-Brice stadium, for the whole country to see, somebody stood in front of the camera and waved the Rebel flag for what seemed like hours.
Spurrier said two weeks ago that that was embarrassing, and Tuesday he said it was bad.
Bad is a nice way of putting it. It was ridiculous. That flag is wrong.
Heritage groups say the flag means revering their ancestors. This is America, and I will fight for their right to say so.
But the flag means slavery for so many millions. When whites owned blacks. Period.
And Tuesday night, Spurrier did what courageous men do. He looked me in the eye and made no apologies for wanting the flag gone.
"It's a detriment to our state," he said. "In my opinion, to make our state a better place, we need to get rid of it."
Spurrier then said he didn't say what he said for recruiting reasons, or any other reason. He said he's no politician, that he is only expressing his opinion.
But he's got guts. He spoke his mind.
Later Tuesday night, Spurrier sat for more than an hour, signing autographs.
He even signed the cast on a broken left forearm of a 13-year-old kid from Fort Mill named Stephen Nall, who will have the coolest broken ulna at Gold Hill Middle School today.
"Awesome," Stephen Nall said, and he was right.
Stephen Nall will get that cast off soon, but he will save it. Because Steve Spurrier, the USC football coach, the most famous man in our state, signed it.
Spurrier signed almost 70 commemorative footballs that cost $79 apiece. On those footballs is a picture of Clemson's Memorial Stadium, Death Valley, from the USC-Clemson game last year. The scoreboard reads USC 31, Clemson 28.
That win gave USC fans hope.
Spurrier's words give me hope.
In that picture on the footballs that were sold, off to the left, is a flagpole with three flags flying on it. On the bottom is an orange Clemson Tiger paw flag.
In the middle is the state flag. A palmetto tree and crescent moon on a field of blue.
At the top is Old Glory. The American flag.
There is not a Rebel flag anywhere in that picture. Not because there wasn't room.
But because it does not belong.
Steve Spurrier said so.