Wednesday, November 22, 2017

How to Be a New York Basketball Fan In Memphis -- 2017-18 Edition

This coming Sunday, the Brooklyn Nets will visit Memphis to play the Grizzlies. The New York Knicks will do the same on January 17.

Before You Go. Memphis is in the South. Not the Deep South, but the Mid-South. In fact, their old arena was named the Mid-South Coliseum. However, Tennessee rejoined the Union a long time ago, and you won't need to bring a passport or change your money.

If you were going to a baseball game, or an early-season football game, the heat might be an issue. But this will be in late November, so even outside the arena, heat won't be a factor. Cold might be: For Sunday, the website of Memphis' main newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, is predicting the temperatures to be in the high 50s in daylight, but will drop to the low 30s at night. No rain, though.

Memphis, like most (but not all) of Tennessee, is in the Central Time Zone, an hour behind us. Adjust your timepieces accordingly.

Tickets. The Grizzlies averaged 16,519 fans per home game last season, just over 91 percent of capacity, a little low considering that they're the only major league sports team in town. Tickets could well be available.

Seats in the lower level, the 100 sections, go for $80 between the baskets and $60 behind them. Seats in the upper level, the 200 sections, are among the cheapest in the NBA, going for $30 and $10.

Getting There. This will be Sunday of Thanksgiving Weekend, so the usual travel guidelines will not apply. Seats could be scarce, and tickets expensive.

It's 1,100 miles from Midtown Manhattan to Memphis. So your first instinct would be to fly. A a round-trip nonstop flight could cost $938 on United Airlines. Memphis International Airport is 10 miles south of downtown, and the Number 20 bus can get you to downtown in under 40 minutes.

Greyhound can get you from New York to Memphis in a little under 30 hours, for $458 round-trip, $329 with advanced purchase, although you'd have to change buses in Richmond. The Greyhound station is at 203 Union Avenue.

Amtrak is a bit more complicated: There's no direct route from New York. You'd have to take the Lake Shore Limited out of Penn Station at 3:40 PM on Friday afternoon, arrive in Chicago at 9:45 AM on Saturday, stay over there until 8:05 PM, and take the City of New Orleans (the current version replaces the Illinois Central Railroad's Panama Limited "Night Train," instead of the old version made famous by the Steve Goodman/Arlo Guthrie song), arriving in Memphis at 6:27 AM on Sunday, the morning of the game. And, because of the holiday, it would be a whopping $1,132. At any rate (if you'll pardon the pun), the address for Memphis Central Station is 545 S. Main Street.

If you do drive, it's far enough that you should get someone to go with you, to trade off, especially if one can sleep while the other drives. Get into New Jersey, take Interstate 78 West into Pennsylvania. At Harrisburg, get on Interstate 81 South, and take that down through Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia, into Tennessee, where it flows into Interstate 40 West. Take that all the way across Tennessee. Exit 1 is for downtown.

If all goes well, you should spend a little over an hour in New Jersey, 2 hours and 45 minutes in Pennsylvania, 15 minutes in Maryland, half an hour in West Virginia, 6 and a half hours in Virginia, and 8 hours and 15 minutes in Tennessee, for a total of 19 hours and 15 minutes. Given rest stops in Pennsylvania, one at each end of Virginia, and 3 in Tennessee, and we're talking about a trip of at least 26 hours -- each way.

Once In the City. Founded in 1819, and named for the ancient capital city of Egypt, Memphis is in the southwestern corner of Tennessee, across the Mississippi River from Arkansas. Downtown is 13 miles from the Mississippi State Line. So, like New York, it has a "Tri-State Area." These States led to one of the names of its ABA team, the Tams: TAM, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi.

Memphis is the largest city in Tennessee, with over 650,000 people, and a metropolitan area of over 1.3 million. That sounds like a lot, but it's actually the 3rd-smallest market in the NBA, ahead of only Oklahoma City and Salt Lake City. It would be easily the smallest in MLB, the smallest in the NFL except for Buffalo, and would rank ahead of only 4 NHL cities, all of them in Canada: Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg.

The sales tax in Tennessee is 7 percent, and within Shelby County, including Memphis, 9.25 percent, even higher than New York's. ZIP Codes for Memphis start with the digits 380 to 383. The Area Code is 901.

Address numbers on east-west streets increase away from the River, and Madison Avenue separates north from south. The Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) runs buses and light-rail "trolleys," with a base fare of $1.75, plus 80 cents for each additional zone.
Going In. Federal Express was founded in Memphis, and aside from music companies is the corporation most associated with the city, which has certainly been helped by having bought the naming rights to the main sports arena. The official address of the FedEx Forum is 191 Beale Street, at S. 4th Street.

If you're driving, parking is to the southwest of the arena, at B.B. King Blvd. and Dr. Martin Luther King Avenue, and can be had for as little as $10.  If you're walking in from a downtown hotel, you'll most likely be going in from the north or the west.
The arena opened in 2004, and has been home to the Grizzlies and the University of Memphis (formerly Memphis State University) Tigers basketball team ever since. The Nashville Predators hosted a preseason game there in 2006, and it hosts concerts, boxing and wrestling. The court is laid out east-to-west.
Food. Memphis has a reputation as a city of fine Southern food, particularly barbecue. However, the Grizzlies' focus seems to be on Club Level restaurants, for the well-heeled customer: The Horseshoe Lounge, the Bud Light Bar, the Draft Room and the Blue Note Lounge. You may well be better off eating before and after the game.

Team History Displays. The Vancouver Grizzlies began as an NBA expansion team in 1995 -- only the Charlotte Bobcats/new Hornets are a newer team -- and moved to Memphis in 2001, not making the Playoffs until 2004.

So there isn't much history there. They've never won a title even at the Division level (although they've finished 2nd in 4 out of the last 5 seasons, and won a Playoff series in 3 of the last 6), and have no banners for such titles, don't hang a banner for their 1 visit to the Western Conference Finals (in 2013, where they got swept by San Antonio).

So far, only 2 people associated with the team have been elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame: Hubie Brown, former Knicks head coach, who held the same post with the Grizzlies from 2002 to 2005; and Allen Iverson, who briefly played for them in 2009. However, the Grizzlies have announced that, during the 2017-18 season, they will retire uniform numbers for the 1st time, and dates yet to be announced: 50, forward Zach Randolph, 2009-17; and 9, guard Tony Allen, 2010-17.

The only banners in the arena belong to the University of Memphis basketball team, winning the old Metro Conference in 1982, '84, '85 and '87; winning Conference USA in 2006, '07, '08, '09, '11, '12 and '13; and reaching the NCAA Final Four in 1973, '85 and 2008. However, their 1985 Final Four berth and their 2008 C-USA title and Final Four berth were vacated by NCAA sanctions.

The Memphis Tigers also have 9 retired numbers: From the 1950s, 13, Forest Arnold, and 22, Win Wilfong; from the 1970s, 21, Larry Finch, 33, Ronnie Robinson, 35, Larry Kenon, and 44, John Gunn; from the 1980s, 24, Keith Lee, and 34, Elliott Perry; and from the 1990s, 25, Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway.

Not mentioned in the rafters is the American Basketball Association team known as the Memphis Pros in 1970-71 and 1971-72, the Memphis Tams (For the 3 States in the Memphis metro area: Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi) in 1972-73 and 1973-74, and the Memphis Sounds in 1974-75. They made the Playoffs only in their first and last seasons, and their stars included future New York Nets stars Wendell Ladner and Larry Kenon, future broadcaster Steve "Snapper" Jones, and Darel Carrier, who was named to the ABA All-Time Team (but mainly for what he'd done with the Louisville-based Kentucky Colonels).

Stuff. The Grizzlies Den is located in the arena's Grand Lobby. Whether they sell hats with bear ears on them, I don't know. Smaller souvenir stands are located all around the arena.

As one of the NBA's newer teams, there are no NBA Finals DVD packages for the Grizzlies, and books about them are few and far between. A year ago, Samantha Mugent and Sam Moussavi wrote the Grizzlies' edition for the Inside the NBA series.

During the Game. Memphis people don't like Nashville people. That's about as far as rivalries go there. So as long as you don't make any wiseguy remarks about this being a North vs. South game, you shouldn't face anything beyond the usual nonviolent "My team rocks, your team sucks" talk.

A November 13, 2014 article on DailyRotoHelp ranked the NBA teams' fan bases, and listed the Grizzlies' fans as 22nd. The team has only been around for 16 years, and has reached the Conference Finals exactly once. Their number of Hall of Fame players is exactly none. So there's been little about which for them to get excited about, or for which to generate any atmosphere.

This Sunday's game against the Nets is Kids Day, with a drawstring backpack to the 1st 3,000 fans. The January 17 game against the Knicks will not feature a promotion.

The Grizzlies' mascot is Grizz the Bear, and he won NBA Mascot of the Year in 2011. They don't have a regular National Anthem singer, instead holding auditions. As you might guess in a great music city like Memphis, the Grizzlies have been renowned for their in-game music. DJ Paul, with the town's "Bluff City" nickname in mind, recorded "We Don't Bluff (Memphis Grizzlies Theme)," while another rapper, calling himself Al Kapone, recorded "Whoop That Trick (Grizz Grindhouse Version)."
After the Game. If there was an NBA team in Nashville, Memphis fans wouldn't like them. But they're fine with pretty much everybody else, including their putative geographic rivals in Atlanta, New Orleans and Dallas. Knicks and Nets fans shouldn't get any hassling, as long as they didn't bring it on.

Beale Street, the "capital" of the blues, is not only home to the FedEx Forum but several places to go after the game, including The Hard Rock Cafe at 126, the Blues City Cafe at 138, B.B. King's at 143 (you may be familiar with the New York version on 42nd Street), Rum Boogie Cafe at 182, Silky O'Sullivan's at 183, Coyote Ugly at 326. But I can find no reference

I can find no notations of any bars where fans of New York sports teams are known to gather.

If your game in Memphis is during the European soccer season (which this one is), the likeliest place to watch your favorite club is The Brass Door, 152 Madison Avenue, downtown.

Sidelights. Memphis has its problems, including crime and racial resentments. But, in spite of having only an NBA team, never an MLB team, and never an NFL team except for 1 season, there's still plenty to see there, from the sacred to the gloriously profane.

* Memphis Pyramid. The first arena to lure a major league team to Memphis played on the theme of the origin of the city's name, designed in the shape of an Egyptian-style pyramid. The 20,142-seat arena opened in 1991, and its troubles began immediately: The arena flooded because of poorly-designed drainage.

The Memphis Tigers moved right in for the 1991-92 season, and the arena attracted the moving Vancouver Grizzlies in 2001. It also hosted the 2002 fight in which Lennox Lewis ended the legend of Mike Tyson.

But, even though it was designed with basketball in mind, they apparently hadn't lived up to the NBA's standards, and the Grizzlies only intended to use it as a stopgap arena. At the age of just 13, both the Grizzlies and the Tigers moved to the new FedEx Forum, and the Pyramid's future was in doubt.

This past April, Bass Pro Shops moved into a renovated Pyramid, and opened a megastore there. 1 Bass Pro Drive, at Front Street & Willis Avenue, a mile and a half north of downtown (so the location also wasn't very good). Number 20 bus from downtown.

* Memphis' sports complex. For many years, this location included the Mid-South Fairgrounds, a minor-league ballpark, a football stadium and a sports arena, with Christian Brothers University just to the north. The Fairgrounds and the ballpark are gone, and the arena is closed, but the stadium is still in operation.

Built in 1963 and seating 10,085 people, the Mid-South Coliseum was best known as the home of the city's American Basketball Association franchise, known as the Memphis Pros in their 1st season in town, 1971-72; the Memphis Tams after being bought by Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley, 1972-74; and the Memphis Sounds in their last season, 1974-75, after Finley sold them. They moved to Baltimore to become the Claws, but, still feeling the effects of Finley's mismanagement, folded before ever playing a game in Charm City. The closest they got to a title was 1975 East Division Finals.
Memphis never again got close to attracting an NBA team until after the Pyramid was built, which rendered the Coliseum pretty much obsolete, with half as many seats and no modern amenities.

The Beatles played 2 shows there on August 19, 1966, but the evening show was marred by a firecracker being thrown onstage, leading the bandmembers, concerned over threats due to John Lennon's controversial "We're more popular than Jesus" comment, to think it was a gunshot. (This was 2 years before Martin Luther King was killed in the city, but 3 years after John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas, and the Beatles really didn't want to go to Dallas.)

Elvis sang at the Coliseum, on March 16 and 20, 1974 and March 20, 1976. In 1997, 20 years after his death, his old band and backup singers (nearly all of them still alive at that point) reunited for the first time at the Coliseum, and presented "Elvis In Concert," with them playing and singing in front of a huge screen showing him from performances such as the 1973 Hawaii concert and from the documentaries Elvis: That's the Way It Is (1970) and Elvis On Tour (1972). A 25th Anniversary show was done at the Pyramid in 2002, and, despite the deaths of some bandmembers, these shows continue to be put together.

The Mid-South Coliseum continued to hold concerts, and remained the South's premier pro wrestling venue (as it had been since the mid-1960s), until, operating at a loss of $1 million a year, it was closed in 2006, but it still stands.

Memphis has never had an NHL or a WHA team. The closest current NHL team is the Nashville Predators, 212 miles away, but the Memphis-Nashville rivalry may complicate rooting interests. The next-closest team is the St. Louis Blues, 283 miles away.

The Liberty Bowl game was played in Philadelphia from 1959 to 1963, and indoors at what's now Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City in 1964, before moving to the brand-new Memphis Memorial Stadium in 1965. The stadium was renamed Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in 1976.
Currently seating 59,308 people, with a slope down to small end-zone seating sections similar to what the old Tampa Stadium "Big Sombrero" had, it's hosted the University of Memphis football team since it opened. It's also briefly been home to several pro football teams: The Memphis Southmen of the World Football League in 1974 and '75, the Memphis Showboats of the USFL in 1984 and '85, the Memphis Mad Dogs of the CFL's ill-advised American experiment in 1995, and the Memphis Maniax of the XFL in 2001. It also hosted the Memphis Rogues of the old North American Soccer League in 1978, '79 and '80.

Most notably, when the Houston Oilers moved in 1996, they intended to play the 1997 and 1998 seasons at the Liberty Bowl, as the Tennessee Oilers, before moving to their new stadium in Nashville, 215 miles to the east, in 1999 as the Tennessee Titans.

But, despite having beaten Nashville to hosting regular-season NFL games, the people of Memphis were not willing to see a team they saw as both a lame duck and belonging to the despised Nashville, which inspired jealousy both as a State capital and as a competitor for the title of Music City, U.S.A. (a name Nashville actually calls itself). Despite going a respectable 8-8 (a fine 6-2 at home), they ended up getting the NFL's smallest crowds -- aside from the 1987 "Scab Bowls" -- since the 1950s. They averaged only 28,028 fans per home game, bottoming out at 17,071 for an October 12 win over Cincinnati. In contrast, they averaged 57,376 on the road. In other words, their road average would nearly have filled the Liberty Bowl, but their home average wouldn't have filled the Pyramid.

So team owner Bud Adams got the message, and figured, if he was going to get less than 40,000 fans to come out anyway, he might as well move to Nashville a year early, and put the team in Vanderbilt University's 41,000-seat stadium for a year until what's now named Nissan Stadium opened. 

American Legion Field opened in 1963, seating 8,800 people, and the new Memphis Blues minor-league baseball team moved in for the 1968 season, and the name was changed to Blues Stadium. The Blues moved out, and the park was dark for 1977, but in 1978 a new version of the Memphis Chicks moved in, and were replaced by the Memphis Redbirds in 1998.

Both the Blues and the Chicks were Class AA teams, while the Redbirds have been a Class AAA team since they arrived. The Blues won Texas League Pennants in 1969 and 1973, just like their parent club at the time did in the National League, the Mets. Those were the only Pennants won at this ballpark.

After the 1977 season, the name of the ballpark was changed to Tim McCarver Stadium, after the native son catcher, then still active. Wanting a more modern facility, the Redbirds opened a new park in 2000, and McCarver Stadium was demolished in 2005. So not only did McCarver have the oddity of having a sports facility named after him while he was not only still alive, but still playing, but, like actress Helen Hayes and the 1st Broadway theater named for her, he actually outlived (and is still outliving at this writing) the ballpark named for him! A park with youth fields is now on the site.
Real grass in the outfield, artificial turf in the infield.

The complex is 5 miles southeast of downtown. The address for the Coliseum is 996 Early Maxwell Blvd., and that of the Bowl is 335 S. Hollywood Street. McCarver Stadium was at Early Maxwell Blvd. and Raymond Skinner Drive. Number 2 or 5 bus.

* AutoZone Park. Seating 14,384 people, this is one of the largest ballparks in the minor leagues. The Memphis Redbirds, a St. Louis Cardinals farm team, have played here since 2000. It also hosted the 1st 2 MLB Civil Rights Games, in 2007 and '08.
As part of the powerful Cardinal system, the Redbirds have won Pennants here in 2000 and 2009, making 12 Pennants for Memphis minor-league teams. 200 Union Street at S. B.B. King Blvd. (formerly 3rd Street), downtown.

* Site of Russwood Park. Memphis' 1st professional ballpark was built in 1896, and, still made mostly of wood, burned down on April 17, 1960, mere hours after a preseason exhibition game between the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians.
The Memphis Chickasaws (or Chicks for short) won Pennants in the Class AA Southern Association in 1903, 1904, 1921, 1924, 1930, 1933, 1953 and 1955. Elvis sang there on the 4th of July 1956, and it hosted professional wrestling crowds of up to 18,000.
The bleachers after the fire

A post office is now on the site, adjacent to the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. 910 Madison Avenue at Pauline Street, about a mile and a half east of downtown. Number 102 bus.

* Martin Park. The Negro Leagues' Memphis Red Sox had a benefactor, black businessman J.B. Martin, so they were one of the few black teams that had their own ballpark. They played at Martin Park from 1923 to 1943, surviving the Great Depression, but not the manpower shortage of World War II.

A hardware store is on the site now. 494 East E.H. Crump Blvd., about 2 miles south of downtown. Bus 4.

According to an April 2014 article in The New York Times, the Yankees are actually the most popular MLB team in Memphis and the immediate environs, while the closest team, the Cardinals (283 miles to the north) are right behind; but the further you get from central Memphis, the more the Cardinals are preferred.

According to an article in the September 2014 edition of The Atlantic, alone among Tennessee's Counties, Shelby County's favorite NFL team is not the closest team, the Nashville-based Tennessee Titans, 212 miles away, reflecting the anti-State capital bias, but the Dallas Cowboys. This is also true for the northwestern corner of Mississippi, close to Memphis, as the rest of the State sides with the New Orleans Saints. Arkansas, however, goes for the Cowboys almost in their entirety, except for the southernmost part, bordering Louisiana, where the Saints are preferred.

Don't count on Memphis ever getting an MLB team, or another NFL team in spite of the built-in rivalry with the Titans. Population-wise, they'd rank 31st in baseball; and 33rd in the NFL, in each case dead last, just as they are in the NBA (30th).

Memphis City FC began play this year, in the National Premier Soccer League, the 4th tier of American soccer. They play at the 2,500-seat Mike Rose Soccer Complex. 9000 E. Shelby Drive, 20 miles southeast of downtown. Public transit doesn't go there.
When Atlanta United takes the field for the start of the 2017 Major League Soccer season, they will be the closest MLS team to Memphis, 383 miles away. Until then, the closest will be Sporting Kansas City, 452 miles, slightly closer than FC Dallas, 454 miles.

* Museums. The FedEx Forum includes the Memphis Rock and Soul Museum. Beale Street, itself, is practically a living museum of music, especially the blues. The Sun Records studio, where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins all became stars, has been turned into a museum. 706 Union Street at Marshall Avenue, at the eastern edge of downtown. Also in a former studio, and before that a movie theater, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music is at 910 East Mclemore Avenue, 2 miles southeast of downtown. Number 4 bus.

But Memphis', and perhaps the entire South's, most important museum is The National Civil Rights Museum. It was established at the former Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed on April 4, 1968, while visiting Memphis to help striking black sanitation workers. 450 Mulberry Street, a couple of blocks from Memphis Central Station. Number 100 bus. The Mason Temple, where Dr. King gave his last speech -- "I may not get there with you, but I want you to know, tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!" -- is at 930 Mason Street, a mile and a half south of downtown. Number 57 bus.

The 3 Presidents with connections to Tennessee are all well to the east of Memphis: Andrew Jackson and James Polk in Nashville, and Andrew Johnson in Greenville.

* Elvis sites. Memphis', and indeed Tennessee's, most famous structure isn't the FedEx Forum, or the Lorraine Motel, or Nashville's Ryman Auditorium/original Grand Ole Opry House, or the State House, or Andrew Jackson's Hermitage, or Neyland Stadium or the Thompson-Boling Center on the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville. It's Elvis Presley's home, open to tours since his ex-wife and executor, Priscilla Presley, ordered it to fund the virtually bankrupt Elvis Presley Enterprises in 1982. (She had to wait until Elvis' father Vernon died, as he was still living there.)

Standing 8 miles south of downtown, a stone's throw from the airport and almost within walking distance of the Mississippi State Line, the name of the property was originally Graceland Farms. The site includes a house built in 1939, by Dr. Thomas Moore, whose wife Ruth was the niece of the farm's namesake, Grace Toof, who inherited it in 1894 from her father, Stephen C. Toof, who ran a commercial printing firm.

The Presley family's 1st home after Elvis got famous is at 1034 Audubon Avenue, but his fans soon visited in large enough numbers that it disturbed the neighbors. Elvis chose Graceland as his new home because it had enough land, nearly 14 acres, to isolate it from the street and its other houses, so his fans wouldn't bother the neighbors. He bought it in March 1957 for $102,500 (about $882,000 in today's money), and, over the next 20 years, sank over $500,000 into building it to his tastes. (Save your jokes.)

3764 Elvis Presley Blvd., which U.S. Route 51 south of downtown had already been named while he was still alive. Take any bus from downtown east to Madison Avenue, then the Number 42 bus. The trip takes a little under an hour. The house at 1034 Audubon is 9 miles southeast of downtown, but it's still a private residence, so don't bother anyone. Number 57 bus.

Elvis Aaron Presley died at Graceland on August 16, 1977 -- and anyone who says he's still alive is either referring to the legacy rather than the man, or is engaging in wishful thinking. (He'd be 83 years old, so he'd probably be dead by now anyway.) He was born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, a little over 100 miles to the southeast of Memphis. The city of Tupelo maintains the small house where he was born as a museum. 306 Elvis Presley Drive.

The Presley family first moved to Memphis in 1948. They lived in a rental house at 572 Poplar Avenue, now a vacant lot, just north of downtown. A year later, they moved to the Lauderdale Courts, essentially garden apartments, at 185 Winchester Avenue, Apartment 328. They stayed there until he got his big break in the Summer of 1954. Just north of downtown, near the bridge. Bus 56.

For a few months in late 1954 and early 1955, they rented a house at 2414 Lamar Avenue, on the southeast side of town. Again, Bus 56, but in the opposite direction. They spent early 1956 at another rental, a few blocks away (also via Bus 56) at 1414 Getwell Road. But he was on tour so much, he hardly saw this residence. By May 1956, it was Audubon Avenue; in March 1957, it was Graceland.

Aside from the preceding, Elvis sang in many places in and around Memphis. His first concerts, on July 17, 24 and 31, 1954, were at the Bon Air Club, at 4862 Summer Avenue. (Demolished. Bus 19) His first paid concert is said to have been at the Overton Park Shell (now the Levitt Shell) on July 30, 1954. He played it again on August 10, 1954 and August 5, 1955. 1928 Poplar Avenue. (Bus 50.)

He sang at the Eagle's Nest several times in 1954: August 7 and 27; September 4, 10, 11, 18, 24 and 25; October 1, 6, 9, 13, 15, 29 and 30; November 17 and December 10. Lamar Avenue (U.S. Route 78) and Winchester Road. (Demolished. Now a commercial area near the airport, hence the name. Bus 56 to 69)

He played the Goodwyn Institute on August 14, 1954. (127 Madison Avenue, downtown.) He played Bellevue Park on August 18, 1954. (Now Jesse Turner Park. 1310 S. Bellevue Blvd., or U.S. Route 51 -- which becomes Elvis Presley Blvd. Bus 56 to 42.) He played the VFW Club at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 684 on August 20, 1954. (3709 E. Raines Rd. Bus 36 to 7.) He played the Hippodrome on August 28, 1954. (500 Beale Street, downtown.) He played on a flatbed truck at the opening of the Lamar-Airways Shopping Center on September 9, 1954. The truck's not still there, but the shopping center is. 2268 Lamar Avenue (Route 78) at Park Avenue. (Bus 56.)

He played the James M. Kennedy Veterans Hospital on September 21, 1954. (Now the Memphis VA Medical Center. 1030 Jefferson Avenue, downtown.) He played Memphis State University's auditorium on November 3, 1954. (Now the Michael D. Rose Theatre Lecture Hall at the University of Memphis. 507 University Street. Bus 5.) He played the auditorium at Bethel Springs High School on January 31, 1955. (The school is now defunct, possibly also demolished, and I can't find an address for it.) He played the Chickasaw Ballroom at the Hotel Chisca on March 9, 1956. (272 S. Main Street, downtown.)

The Ellis Auditorium was the scene of Elvis' graduation ceremony from Humes High School in 1953, and many shows he attended as a fan. He performed there on November 13 and December 19, 1955; February 6 and May 15, 1956; and February 25, 1961 -- aside from a benefit for Pearl Harbor survivors in Hawaii the next month, his last shows until the taping of his "1968 Comeback Special." Built in 1926, it was demolished in 1997, and replaced by the Memphis Cook Convention Center. 255 N. Main Street at Exchange Avenue, downtown.

He also played across the river, in West Memphis, Arkansas, at a place called "P and G," on December 8, 1954. I can find no further information about it. This is one of many concerts he gave in Arkansas in his early days, but the rest were considerably farther from Memphis. West Memphis can be reached from downtown by taking the Main Street Trolley from Main at G.E. Patterson to the William Hudson Transit Center, then transferring to Bus 78, the West Memphis Express.

The tallest building in Memphis has little imagination to its name, and, like many other buildings of the 1960s and '70s (in this case, 1965), not much imagination to its style, either. It's named simply 100 North Main, for its address. It's 433 feet tall: Never mind New York City, there are currently 21 buildings in New Jersey that are taller.

Before his daughter Miley became famous, I once joked that Billy Ray Cyrus should revive his career by starring in CSI: Memphis. After My Name Is Earl (not set in Memphis) ran its course, Jason Lee played a cop on Memphis Beat.

Many music-themed movies have used Memphis as both a setting and a film location, including the Johnny Cash story Walk the Line, the Jerry Lee Lewis story Great Balls of Fire, and the pimp-turned-rapper film Hustle and Flow. John Grisham used Memphis as a setting for some of his novels, and The Client, The Firm and The Rainmaker have been filmed there.


Memphis is more than history and music, as important as those things are. It's also the home of an NBA team that, while not yet very successful, has developed quite a following, and is now another good reason to visit this legendary city.

Going Nowhere

The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year.

Today, due to reasons beyond my control, and I won't go into those or the details thereof here, I spent 5 hours on the road... and never got more than 4 miles from my residence.

I had hoped to go on another Thanksgiving Weekend vacation, but that was destined to not happen. Half the family couldn't go (again, for a reason I won't get into here, but it's not a long-term issue), and I, as usual, was broke.

Meanwhile, the Yankees are no closer to finding that one more starting pitcher they need far more than a new manager. As we've seen, almost anyone can manage the Yankees to a Pennant, as long as he doesn't use a pitch count, and has a general manager willing to spend the money to bring in the right players.

The Devils are better. But it's early in the season.

The Rutgers football team is back into pre-Greg Schiano stink mode.

The East Brunswick football team managed 2 wins this season. A 3rd, in the big rivalry game tomorrow, is incredibly unlikely.

And I'm still here. And "here" is not where I want to be.

I'd say, "Maybe next year." But, as we've seen, as the old song goes, "Tomorrow is promised to no one."

As was said by President John F. Kennedy, assassinated 54 years ago today, "We all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's future, and we are all mortal."


Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 1, tomorrow morning, at 10:00, at home at Jay Doyle Field, in the annual "Battle of Route 18" rivalry with Old Bridge. Beat The Scum!

Days until The Arsenal play again: 1, tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 PM our time, away to 1. FC Köln, at RheinEnergie Stadium in Cologne, Germany, in a UEFA Europa League Group Stage game. This past Saturday, Arsenal hosted North London arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur, and, "Two-nil, we beat The Scum, two-nil!"

Days until Rutgers University plays football again: 3, this Saturday at 12:00 noon, home to Michigan State.

Days until the New Jersey Devils next play a local rival: 17, on Saturday, December 9 at 7:00, against the New York Rangers at the Prudential Center in Newark. Their 1st game against the New York Islanders will be on Sunday, January 7, 2018, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Their 1st game against the Philadelphia Flyers will be on Saturday, January 13, 2018, at the Prudential Center.

Days until the Alex Rodriguez Contract From Hell officially runs out, and the Yankees can spend his salary on new players: 39, on Sunday, December 31. Under 6 weeks.

Days until Phil Murphy is inaugurated as Governor of New Jersey: 55, on Tuesday, January 16, 2018. Under 8 weeks. Goodbye, Chris Christie, and stay out.

Days until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: 67, on Sunday night, January 28, 2018, a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina (that's 1 country), at the StubHub Center in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson, California. A little over 2 months. After that, no matches are scheduled. They were supposed to play at the World Cup in June 2018. Alas...

Days until the next Winter Olympics begins in Pyeongchang, Korea: 79, on February 9, 2018. A little over 11 weeks.

Days until the next North London Derby: 80, on Saturday, February 10, 2018, at Wembley Stadium in West London, where Spurs are playing their "home games" until the new stadium they're building on the site of White Hart Lane opens the following August. Two things could change this day-count: The game could be moved due to the British TV networks' demands, or Arsenal could be drawn to play Spurs in the FA Cup, which would be the weekend of January 6 (if it's in the 3rd Round) or that of January 27 (if it's in the 4th Round). The 4th Round would be the weekend of February 17, after the next scheduled Derby.

Days until the Red Bulls play again: Unknown, as the season came to an end with a Playoff defeat against Toronto FC this past Saturday. Usually, the Major League Soccer season begins on the 1st Sunday in March, which would be March 4, which would be 102 days from now. A little over 3 months.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": Unknown, although the season opener is rarely a derby, so it probably won't be against either New York City FC, the Philadelphia Union, D.C. United or the New England Revolution.

Days until Opening Day of the 2018 Major League Baseball season: 127on Thursday night, March 29, as the Yankees open away to the Toronto Blue Jays. A little over 4 months.

Days until the Yankees' 2018 home opener: 131, on Monday afternoon, April 2, against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 139, on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, at Fenway Park.

Days until the next World Cup kicks off in Russia: 204, on June 14, 2018. Under 7 months. But the U.S. team won't be playing. At least now, Donald Trump doesn't have to choose, and can root for his favorite country, the host nation, Russia.

Days until September 2018 roster call-ups, when we can finally start to expect seeing most of these wonderful "prospects" that Yankee general manager Brian Cashman wanted: 283. A little over 9 months.

Days until the next Congressional election, when we can elect a Democratic Congress that can impeach and remove Donald Trump from the Presidency: 349on November 6, 2018. Exactly 1 year, or 12 months.

Days until the next Rutgers-Penn State game: 360, on Saturday, November 17, 2018, at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving high school football game (after tomorrow's): 365, on Thursday, November 22, 2018.

Days until the Baseball Hall of Fame vote is announced, electing Mariano Rivera: 413, on January 9, 2019. A little over a year, or a little over 13 months.

Days until the next Women's World Cup kicks off: 562, on June 7, 2019, in France. A little over a year and a half, or a little over 18 months. The U.S. team, as 3-time and defending Champions, has, as usual, a better chance than the men's team would have had in 2018 anyway.

Days until the Baseball Hall of Fame vote is announced, electing Derek Jeter: 778on January 8, 2020. A little over 2 years, or a little over 25 months.

Days until the next Summer Olympics begins in Tokyo, Japan: 978on July 24, 2020. A little over 2 1/2 years, or a little over 32 months.

Days until the next Presidential election, when we can dump the Trump-Pence regime and elect a real Administration: 1,080on November 3, 2020. Under 3 years, or under 36 months.

Days until Liberation Day: 1,158at noon on January 20, 2021. A little over 3 years, or a little under 38 months. Note that this is liberation from the Republican Party, not just from Donald Trump. Having Mike Pence as President wouldn't be better, just differently bad, mixing theocracy with plutocracy, rather than mixing kleptocracy with plutocracy.

Days until the next World Cup for which the American team will be eligible is scheduled to kick off: 1,826, on November 21, 2022, in Qatar. Exactly 5 years, or 60 months. The charges of corruption against Qatar may yet mean that they will lose the tournament, in which case it will be moved to a nation where it would not be too hot to play it in June and July.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

How to Go to the Palmetto Bowl: Clemson vs. South Carolina

The State House in Columbia, with its Confederate Memorial

This Saturday, the football team at the University of South Carolina hosts its cross-State rival, the defending National Champions, Clemson University, in a rivalry known as the Palmetto Bowl, in honor of their home, the Palmetto State.

Before You Go. South Carolina is in the South, so it could be a bit warmer than you're used to, including at this time of year. Saturday is forecast for mid-60s by day, low 40s by night. You won't need a Winter jacket for the entire trip, but you should still bring one.

Although South Carolina was the original "Southern State," you don't need a passport or to change your money to visit. It's in the Eastern Time Zone, so you don't have to fiddle with your timepieces, either.

Tickets. Both teams have stadiums seating over 80,000 people. Clemson nearly always sells theirs out, and South Carolina usually gets over 70,000. Getting tickets might be hard, especially for this game.

Pretty much every seat for this Palmetto Bowl at Williams-Brice Stadium is going for $134 and up, though you might be able to get a seat in the upper deck for $112. And because Clemson has already played its last home football game of the season, I wasn't able to get ticket prices. I did find a site (not the University's) that said that the average ticket price was $83.

Getting There. This will be Thanksgiving Weekend, so demand means that the usual guidelines for availability and pricing will not apply.

It's 717 miles from Times Square in Midtown Manhattan to Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina, and 777 miles to Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina. Knowing this, your first instinct will be to fly.

Unfortunately, neither Columbia nor Clemson (nor Greenville nor Spartanburg, near Clemson) is big enough to have a major airport. You may be better off flying to Charlotte Douglas International Airport and renting a car and driving the last 102 miles to Columbia or 132 miles to Clemson -- or flying to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and renting a car and driving the last 219 miles to Columbia or 133 miles to Clemson.

Amtrak goes to both towns. Columbia is on their New York-to-Florida routes, the Silver Star and the Silver Meteor. It would be $438 round-trip, except every train from Florida to New York is sold out for Sunday. You would have to stay in Columbia an extra night. The station is at 850 Pulaski Street, at the western edge of downtown. You'd have to walk a few blocks to Assembly & Blossom Streets, and take the Garnet Bus (campus bus) to get to the stadium, 2 1/2 miles to the southeast.

Were this game at Clemson, you could take the Crescent, their New York-to-New Orleans train. It leaves Penn Station at 2:15 PM and arrives in Clemson at... 4:54 AM. The return trip leaves at 9:45 PM and arrives back in New York at 10:35 the next morning. It'll cost a whopping $496 this week. The station is at 1105 Tiger Blvd., about a mile north of the campus. Red Route bus.

Greyhound to Columbia may not feel worth it, either. Round-trip fare is $338, but it can drop to $299 with advanced purchase. 710 Buckner Road, about 5 miles north of downtown. You'd have to walk a mile and a half to Main and Oakland Streets to get Bus 101 to downtown. Greyhound to Clemson is worse: The Dog doesn't even go to Clemson. It gets no closer than 4500 Highway 81 South in Anderson, 20 miles to the southeast. Fortunately, Clemson Area Transit runs bus service to Clemson proper.

So it looks like the best way down is driving. For Columbia, you'll be going down Interstate 95 (or its New Jersey equivalent, the Turnpike) almost the whole way, until Exit 160B, onto Interstate 20 West. That will get you to Columbia's beltway, at Exit 76A, taking Interstate 77 South, to Exit 5, to State Route 48 North, which will get you to the stadium.

It'll be about 2 hours from the Lincoln Tunnel to the Delaware Memorial Bridge, 20 minutes in Delaware, and an hour and a half in Maryland, before crossing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, at the southern tip of the District of Columbia, into Virginia. Then it will be 3 hours or so in Virginia, another 3 hours in North Carolina, and about 2 hours and 15 minutes in South Carolina. That's a little over 12 hours. Given rest stops, preferably in one in each State from Maryland to South Carolina, you're talking about a 16-hour trip.

For Clemson, take the New Jersey Turnpike/I-95 all the way from New Jersey to Petersburg, Virginia. Exit 51 will put you on I-85 South, and that will take you right through North Carolina and into South Carolina. Take Exit 19 to U.S. Route 76 West, to State Route 93 West, and that will take you to the campus.

You'll be in New Jersey for about an hour and a half, Delaware for 20 minutes, Maryland for 2 hours, inside the Capital Beltway (Maryland, District of Columbia and Virginia) for half an hour if you're lucky (and don't make a rest stop anywhere near D.C.), Virginia for 3 hours, North Carolina for 4 hours, and South Carolina for 2 and a half hours. That's about 14 hours. Throw in rest stops, and it'll be closer to 18 hours.

Once In the State. Like North Carolina, South Carolina was named for the King of England at the time of its settlement, Charles I. It has just under 5 million people, and is 1 of 4 States, along with North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia, to be both 1 of the Original 13 and 1 of the Confederate 11. Indeed, South Carolina was the 1st State to secede, shortly after the 1860 election, and had threatened to do so once before, during the Nullification Crisis of 1832. It is still in the shadow of its racist and rebellious past.
Prominent newspapers in South Carolina include the Columbia-based The State, the Greenville News (pretty much the paper for the Clemson community), the Charleston-based Post and Courier (not to be confused with South Jersey's Courier-Post), the Myrtle Beach-based Sun News, and the Spartanburg-based Herald-Journal.

Founded in 1786 as a State capital with a central location, and named for Christopher Columbus, Columbia is home to about 135,000 people, with a metropolitan area of a little under a million. (It's neck-and-neck with Charleston as the largest city in the State.) Street addresses increase eastward and westward from the Congaree River, and increase northward. The University of South Carolina -- and nobody outside the State calls it either "Carolina" or "USC," but people inside the State do -- was founded in 1801.

Clemson the city has only about 14,000 permanent residents, while Clemson the University, founded in 1899 and known until 1964 as Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina, has about 23,000 students. And, of course, a sellout at Memorial Stadium has a population of about 81,000.

Both the city and the University were founded by Thomas Green Clemson IV, a mining engineer from Philadelphia who had studied at the Sorbonne (the University of Paris). He had married Anna Maria Calhoun, daughter of John C. Calhoun, the leading Southern politician of the 1st half of the 19th Century, and the staunchest defender slavery and States' Rights ever had. When Calhoun died in 1850, Clemson inherited his Fort Hill plantation in what was then part of the town of Pendleton, and built his university around it.

The Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority, a.k.a. The Comet, runs buses in the Columbia area, with a single fare of $1.50. Clemson Area Transit (CAT) runs free buses around town, and to Anderson. ZIP Codes in South Carolina start with the digits 29. For the Columbia area, it's 290, 291 and 292; for the Clemson-Greenville-Spartanburg area, 296. The Area Code for Columbia is 803, and for Clemson 864. The State has no sales tax.
Going In. The official address of the University of South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium is 1125 George Rogers Blvd., about 2 1/2 miles south of downtown. If you drive in, parking is a whopping $40.
It opened in 1934 as Columbia Municipal Stadium, not as a school facility, with 17,600 seats. In 1941, it was renamed Carolina Stadium. It was expanded to 34,000 seats in 1949, and 42,517 in 1959. The estate of Martha Williams, whose husband Thomas Brice had played for the Gamecocks in the early 1920s, funded an expansion to 56,140 in 1972, and it was renamed Williams-Brice Stadium. And so, the stadium known as the Cock Pit also began to be called "the Billy Brice" and "the Willy B."

It was expanded again to 72,400 in 1982, and to the present 80,250 in 1996. It s a horseshoe pointing northwest. The field is aligned northwest-to-southeast, and was switched to artificial turn in 1970, and back to natural grass in 1984. The stadium has also hosted rock concerts, and a 1987 visit by Pope John Paul II.
The official address of Clemson's Memorial Stadium is 1 Avenue of Champions, just to the southwest of downtown. If you drive in, parking costs $25. Like Tiger Stadium at Louisiana State, it is nicknamed Death Valley. The playing surface is named Frank Howard Field, for their head coach from 1940 to 1969, when, "I retired due to illness. The alumni got sick of me."
It opened in 1942 with 20,500 seats, was expanded to 43,451 in 1960, 53,306 in 1978, 79,845 in 1984, and its present 81,500 in 2008, making it the largest stadium in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Unusual among football fields, due to the angle of the sun, the field is aligned east-to-west. It has always been real grass. Behind the east end zone is "The Hill."

Not only is Clemson more successful in football than South Carolina, but it has the honor of having the only venue in the entire State to have hosted a regular-season major league sporting event. When the NFL granted a franchise to Charlotte for the 1995 season, to be named the Carolina Panthers, it was determined that the stadium being built in downtown Charlotte wouldn't be ready until 1996, so the Panthers played their 1st season at Clemson.
Food. The South is known for great food. The Carolinas, in particular, are known for good barbecue. Unfortunately, both universities' websites only state that they have concession stands. It's bad enough for a not-that-big program like the Gamecocks', but the Tigers'? Does that sound like a defending National Championship program to you?

Team History Displays. South Carolina has one of the lamest histories of any Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly Division I-A) schools. It's not quite Rutgers bad, but bad enough. They went undefeated in the Southern Conference in 1933, but still lost the title to Duke who played 1 more conference game.

In 1969, they won the Atlantic Coast Conference title. Then they made the mistake of leaving the ACC in 1972, and this independent status hurt them. In 1984, their "Black Magic" team (so named for their all-black uniforms) won their 1st 9 games and rose to as high as Number 2 in the polls, but a loss away to Navy and another to Oklahoma State in the Gator Bowl dropped them to 10-2 and Number 11 in the final poll.

In 1992, they joined the Southeastern Conference. It took them until 2010 to win the SEC East Division and advance to the SEC Championship Game -- and Auburbn slaughtered them.

They reached their 1st bowl game on New Year's Day 1946, losing the Gator Bowl to Wake Forest. They lost their 1st 8 bowl appearances, a record. Finally, on January 2, 1995, they won the Carquest Bowl at whatever the Miami Dolphins' stadium was named that year. Since then, they've won the 2001, 2002 and 2013 Outback Bowls; the 2006 Liberty Bowl, the 2012 and 2014 Capital One Bowls, and the 2014 Independence Bowl. But they've still never appeared in one of the big bowls that were traditionally played on New Year's Day: The Rose, the Orange, the Sugar, the Cotton, or the Fiesta.

Only 2 Gamecock players are in the College Football Hall of Fame. Running back George Rogers won the 1980 Heisman Trophy, and that's why the street on the north side of Williams-Brice Stadium is named for him. Receiver Sterling Sharpe played for them from 1983 to 1987. (His brother Shannon Sharpe went to Savannah State in Georgia.)

The Gamecocks retired Rogers' Number 38 and Sharpe's Number 2, as well as the 37 of 1951 running back Steve Wadiak and the 56 of 1964 center Mike Johnson. Rogers was a Pro Bowler for the New Orleans Saints and the Washington Redskins, and was a member of the 'Skins team that won Super Bowl XXII. There is now a movement to get a statue for him, for outside the stadium.
Hopefully, they'll choose a pose less awkward than this one.

Clemson is far more successful, and not just recently. They had undefeated seasons in 1900, 1906, 1948 and 1950. They surprised people by winning the National Championship in 1981 -- and then surprising no one by getting busted for recruiting violations the next season.

In 2015, they got all the way to the National Championship Game, but lost a thriller to Alabama. In 2016, they got back, and this time, they won a thriller over Ohio State, for their 2nd National Championship.
They won the title in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1900, 1902, 1903 and 1906; and in the Southern Conference in 1940 and 1948. Despite the admittance of such schools as Florida State, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, no school has won more Atlantic Coast Conference football titles than Clemson's 16: 1956, 1958, 1959, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1978, 1981, 1982, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1991, 2011, 2015 and 2016. Total: 22 league titles. They also won the ACC Atlantic Division in 2009, but lost the ACC Championship Game.

But Clemson only has 3 players in the College Football Hall of Fame: 1939 halfback Banks McFadden, 1981 linebacker Jeff Davis, and 1982 safety Terry Kinard. The last 2 both played on the 1981 title team. They've got more head coaches in the Hall: John Heisman (yes, the man for whom the Trophy was named, he coached there 1900-03), Jess Neely (1931-39), Frank Howard (1940-69), and, newly-elected, Danny Ford (1978-89).

Actually, the most famous Clemson football personality may be a defensive tackle who followed them: William Perry, a man so big and full of food he was nicknamed The Refrigerator. As a rookie in the 1985 season, his tackling, and his running with the ball and blocking in close-to-the-goal situations helped the Chicago Bears win the Super Bowl, and made him a national folk hero, and not just for fat people. His brother Michael Dean Perry also played for Clemson, and had a decent career with the Cleveland Browns.
Clemson has 3 retired numbers: The 66 of McFadden, the 4 of 1978 quarterback Steve Fuller (Jim McMahon's backup and Fridge Perry's teammate on the '85 Bears), and the 28 of 2009 running back C.J. Spiller. McFadden's number wasn't retired so much for his playing as for his service as an assistant coach and an administrator at the school.

South Carolina, as you might guess, has rivalries with neighboring North Carolina and Georgia. Clemson has rivalries with North Carolina State, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Florida State. But their biggest rivalries are with each other. They've played each other since 1896, and every year since 1909. Clemson leads 68-42-4, having won the last 3, although South Carolina won the 5 before that.

Starting in 1980, they played for the Hardee's Trophy, named for the Carolina-based burger chain. In 2015, it was replaced with the Palmetto Trophy.
Stuff. The Bignon Gameday Center, at the northeast corner of Williams-Brice Stadium, is the main team store. You can also check out the University Bookstore at 1400 Greene Street. Clemson doesn't have a big team store at Memorial Stadium. Their Bookstore is at 720 McMillan Road, on the main campus, a few blocks east of the stadium.

In 2009, Fritz P. Hamer and John Daye published A History of College Football in South Carolina: Glory on the Gridiron. It's easily the best volume covering either school, although it doesn't have Clemson's more recent title.

During the Game. I've been to South Carolina, and most people there, black and white alike, are reasonably friendly. But I haven't been to a football game there. As usual, the best advice I can give you is stick with whichever is the home team.

South Carolina had a tradition of cockfighting going back to colonial times, and so the University's teams are called the Gamecocks. Of course, this has led to the word "COCKS" being posted on caps, shirts, bumper stickers, etc. A dormant railroad track near the stadium has had cabooses set up in garnet and white, and is known as the Cockaboose Railroad. One side of the stadium will shout, "GAME!" and then the other, "COCKS!" and repeat.

Since 1969, what's known as the Fighting Gamecock Logo has graced their helmets, with a rooster inside a block C. Sometimes, the helmet is black; sometimes, white; sometimes, garnet red. Sometimes, the jerseys have "CAROLINA" above the front uniform numbers; sometimes, "GAMECOCKS."
Sir Big Spur, the live Gamecock mascot

Since 1983, the players have entered to the tune of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" -- known to some of you as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and to some of you as the song that began every Elvis Presley concert from 1969 to 1977. This was a tradition started by Joe Morrison, the 1959-72 Giants running back who became South Carolina head coach in 1983, and died in office in 1989. There are 2 mascots: A costumed mascot named Cocky, and a live mascot named Sir Big Spur.
Anybody that fat shouldn't be so cocky.
He's almost as fat as Refrigerator Perry.

When South Carolina score, a rooster's crow is played over the loudspeakers. The Mighty Sound of the Southeast band plays the fight songs "Go Carolina" and "USC Fight Song." When the band plays "Louie, Louie," the fans jump up and down. Shock absorbers were put in, so that the upper deck can sway but not collapse. Still, Joe Morrison said, "If it ain't swayin', we ain't playin'." That became a bumper sticker slogan that is still seen all over the State. At the end of every game, win or lose, the band plays the Alma Mater and "Amazing Grace."

In 1939, Clemson head coach Jess Neely and athletic director Rupert Fike founded the IPTAY Scholarship Fund, to help fund the football program. "IPTAY" stood for "I Pay Ten A Year," meaning $10 -- about $175 in today's money. The IPTAY Center, the team training facility, now stands in the northwest corner of Memorial Stadium. However, after the 1981 National Championship dissolved into the 1982 scandal, it was joked that IPTAY stood for "I Pay Ten Athletes Yearly."

In 1966, Samuel C. Jones, a Clemson graduate, Class of 1919, had a gift for coach Frank Howard, saying, "Here's a rock from Death Valley, California to Death Valley, South Carolina." At first, Howard didn't think it was a big deal, and used it as a doorstop. Soon, he told IPTAY executive director Gene Willimon, "Take this rock and throw it over the fence, or out in the ditch, do something with it, but get it out of my office!"

And so, just as Charles Darwin was not a Social Darwinist, and Karl Marx has been said to not be a Marxist, Howard's Rock was something that Frank Howard wanted nothing to do with. But Willimon put it on a pedestal at the top of the hill that the team ran down in the east end zone to enter the field. on September 24, 1966, they opened the season by touching the rock on the way down, and beat the University of Virginia.

A tradition was accidentally born. Howard told the players, "Give me 110 percent, or keep your filthy hands off my rock!" The players touched the rock before every game through 2012, and then ran down the hill while the band plays "Tiger Rag" (a.k.a. "Hold That Tiger"!) in what Brent Musberger called "the most exciting 25 seconds in college football."
But things began to happen. Before the 1992 South Carolina-Clemson game, the rock was vandalized. Now, Clemson ROTC cadets guard the rock for 24 hours prior to every game -- home or away. In 2013, it was vandalized again, and was put in a protective case: Players can now only touch the case, not the rock itself. It doesn't seem to have affected their performance, as they've won a National Championship (and nearly another) since.
Clemson has a great team, but horrible uniforms. White paw prints on orange helmets are bad enough. Sometimes they wear all orange. Sometimes they wear all purple. Sometimes they mix it up, and it's actually worse. Never has a team looked so bad while playing so good.
"Running Down the Hill" in all orange.
It's not even an orange that matches the entryway.

In 1988, Florida State, then ranked Number 10, traveled to Number 3 Clemson, and came away with a victory in Death Valley, on a trick play that Bobby Bowden drew up, called the "puntrooskie." As is tradition with Florida State, they then cut out a piece of the field, and took it back to their practice field's "Sod Cemetery," where other pieces of field from road upsets are "buried."

Clemson coach Danny Ford didn't like that, so when Clemson returned the favor the next season, beating the Seminoles in Tallahassee, he cut a piece of Doak Campbell Stadium sod out, and started Clemson's Victory Graveyard at their practice facility, one-upping FSU by having actual headstones instead of just plaques to mark the "graves."
Apparently, neutral-site wins count, too.

Clemson has 2 guys in Tiger suit mascots: The Tiger, who wears Number 0; and The Cub, a smaller guy who wears Number 1/2. Presumably, they're meant to be father and son, but they're both current students.
After the Game. There isn't much to eat near Memorial Stadium. You'll probably have to go downtown. At South Carolina, there are more options. Across from the northwest corner of the stadium, there's 2 Fat 2 Fly Stuffed Chickens, at 905 Bluff Road. To the south, there's a Bojangles at 1130 Bluff Road, and a Waffle House at 1210 Bluff Road.

If your visit to South Carolina is during the European soccer season, your choices are limited. In Columbia, it's the British Bulldog Pub. At Clemson, you'd have to go to Spartanburg, to Mother's.

Sidelights. Aside from the Gamecocks and the Tigers, the most popular sports in South Carolina are NASCAR (it's the home of Darlington Raceway) and golf (especially when you get to the Atlantic Coast, with Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head Island).

The Charlotte Knights began playing Class AAA baseball in Fort Mill, South Carolina in 1989, before moving to downtown Charlotte in 2014. Now, there are 4 minor-league baseball teams in the State, all in Class A: The Myrtle Beach Pelicans of the Carolina League, and 3 teams in the South Atlantic League, the Columbia Fireflies, the Charleston RiverDogs and the Greenville Drive.

There's also 2 minor-league hockey teams, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits and the North Charleston-based South Carolina Stingrays. The Charleston Battery are one of the best-supported teams in minor-league soccer.

As you might guess, the most popular NFL team in South Carolina is the Carolina Panthers, whose Bank of America Stadium in downtown Charlotte is just 12 miles from the State Line. But, probably due to TV exposure in the 1970s and '80s, and to the Carolinas not having a team until 1995, there's a lot of Dallas Cowboy, Pittsburgh Steeler and Washington Redskin fans in the State, and a little spillover of Atlanta Falcon fans from Georgia.

The Atlanta Braves dominate baseball fandom, although the fact that both the Yankees and the Mets have had farm teams in the State has led to their having a presence in Palmetto State baseball fandom. The Raleigh-based Carolina Hurricanes are easily the most popular NHL team. And once you get away from the Charlotte area, there aren't many Hornets fans in the State. Neither Columbia nor Clemson is close enough to have many Hornets fans or many Atlanta Hawks fans. It's pretty much the Los Angeles Lakers, and whatever team LeBron James is playing for now.

The State's favorite son in sports was Joseph Jefferson Jackson, a.k.a. Shoeless Joe. He is buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park in his hometown of Greenville.

Historic sites in the State include the State House, the South Carolina Military Museum, and pretty much the entire City of Charleston, including Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began.

South Carolina may have produced a President: Andrew Jackson was born on March 15, 1767, in the Waxhaw region that straddles the Carolina State Line, but no one is really sure on which side, as there is no birth record. If he was born on the South side, then that's 1 for South Carolina, 2 for North Carolina; otherwise, he joins James Polk and Andrew Johnson as Tar Heel-born Presidents.

Jackson's political teammate, then rival, John C. Calhoun remains the defining politician in the State's history, even more than Strom Thurmond. His house on the former Fort Hill Plantation, with his son-in-law Thomas Clemson's university built around it, is now the John C. Calhoun Mansion and Library -- one of the few Vice Presidents to have anything like a "Presidential Library."

While the bench scene from Forrest Gump was filmed in Savannah, Georgia, most of the movie was filmed in Beaufort, South Carolina. The 1993 college football film The Program was filmed on the South Carolina campus, including at Williams-Brice Stadium. A scene from the 1998 college football-themed film The Waterboy was also filmed there.


South Carolina is a State with issues. One is that it's "a drinking State with a football problem." That problem will get settled, at least until next Fall, when the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Clemson Tigers clash this Saturday night.