Saturdays in South Carolina are COVID-19’s latest victim – one that college students have been dreading nationwide since the virus reached pandemic status. Tailgate lots are barren wastelands of pavement, there are no more rivers of students and families in garnet and black trekking to Williams-Brice, and a situationally small number of only 20,000 fans are able to snag a socially distanced ticket to the football game itself. Game day’s survival looks bleak – but Gamecock students won’t let it die without a fight. And if college kids are masters of anything, it is making fun out of seemingly nothing. The students of Carolina have put their patience and innovation to the test to keep traditions alive while practicing safe social distancing.
Garnet and black is an unbeatable color combination, and outfits that showcase it are the costumes of game day. They spur camaraderie between the best of friends and the newest of strangers, and what better excuse is there to don a pair of cowboy boots? There might not be parades of people flooding the streets, but every so often, a young woman in a perfectly crafted outfit struts down the sidewalk with a game day button on her shirt. Men are spotted in their khakis and collared shirts, the UofSC emblem on their chest before disappearing into friends’ houses or apartments. The students who didn’t get a ticket will not let their spirit go, and they wear it on their sleeves to show it.
So, you’ve spotted a few fans around Cola, but where are they going? There’s no tailgate waiting for them on the other side of the train tracks, and only those lucky 20,000 got tickets. Upper and underclassmen alike have put their heads together – or rather, apart – to hold small, responsible, and socially distant watch parties. With kitchens so close, some students find themselves cooking tailgate-style favorites while their other roommates deck the halls with everything Carolina. They’ll hold a photoshoot later to share pictures on social media, because technology has yet again come in clutch for young people to share their South Carolina spirit while staying safe. And again, we didn’t dress up for no one to see our outfits!
When the hosts’ small number of close friends arrive, the guests place their own contribution of food and drink on the counter. It might not be a dirt lot or a backyard party pulsing with subwoofers, but the people they love are there. “Dixieland Delight” might be playing on a little personal speaker, and the Gamecocks are still running plays on the television. The physical game might be far off, but the spirit of the day lives on behind closed doors between the friends who share the time together.
Yes, from the outside, game day might look defeated. But all it takes is a closer look and an ear pressed against doors in residential halls to hear the cheering and thump of “Sandstorm” in each room. Gamecocks have pivoted in ways that the rest of the SEC and America look up to, and it is a perfect representation of who we are as individuals and as a community. Safely enjoying game day and keeping traditions alive and thriving (as well as raising up new ones) is just in our nature. Of course, we want our rowdy, packed Southern tailgates and not a single empty seat in Willy-B, but seeing UofSC adapt and shine might even rival the spirit of Saturdays in South Carolina in seasons past. For now, I’m pulling on my dusty cowboy boots just to strut about my apartment, and eat the tailgate food strewn out on the kitchen counter. If the Gamecocks score on my TV, I’ll cheer loud enough for the team to hear me from my living room!