COLUMBIA ? When the Steve Spurrier era began, most South Carolina football fans would gladly have accepted a 7-4 record and a bowl trip.
With so many loose ends dangling in the wind after Lou Holtz departed, the program seemed in danger of coming apart at the seams.
All Spurrier did was come in, shrug his shoulders at the problems, tell USC fans to look ahead to the future and then never look back.
By the time his first season was over, Gamecocks fans pretty much knew what they had in Steve Spurrier: A no-nonsense kind of guy who doesn't whine or make excuses. A candid observer of the obvious and a man who believes the impossible is simply something that hasn't been done yet.
Thus, the South Carolina football program appears on the verge of something. It has been here before and may be here again. But nothing feels as good as something about to happen.
Whether this season and this year's trip the Independence Bowl is the beginning of that something or just more of the same for a frustrated-but-loyal band of fans is yet to be seen.
But regardless of what happens, the lesson here is clear: The joy of being a football fan is in the journey, not the destination.
As a fan, your ticket was punched the moment you began to care.
That may have been when Paul Dietzel arrived in the 1960s or when USC had its share of glory in the old Atlantic Coast Conference days.
You might have jumped aboard when Joe Morrison led the Gamecocks to some success in the 1980s or when Lou Holtz coached USC to back-to-back Outback Bowl victories in the 1990s.
A program like this, one that goes back more than a century, is ageless. It gains and loses fans with every publication of the birth list and obituaries. Some live and die on the ups and downs of every game. Others follow with a hopeful eye of better things to come.
But the truth we come to know is that the joy that comes with each victory and the sadness that follows each defeat is what makes up the emotional tapestry of being a football fan.
While many think a national championship is the ultimate satisfaction, they might be surprised to learn how fleeting and disappointing that reality really is.
A national titles can quickly become memories that fade and fall away while you are busy howling at the moon.
Just ask your Clemson friends, they know. The hangover is the worst part.
Hugs and tears
Whether or not Spurrier can remake the Gamecocks into a legitimate national power is yet to be seen. Many have tried.
But the point is to remind our Gamecocks friends to enjoy the ride, no matter where it leads.
While some may grumble about going to Shreveport for the Independence Bowl rather than some sun-splashed Florida city, they should savor this moment and enjoy it for what it really is ? progress.
Just as they reveled in a first-time victory at Tennessee or that long-awaited win over Florida in Spurrier's first season, they should consider this a sidetrip to somewhere.
Because, believe it or not, this is the best part. Because winning it all means there is nothing left to win.
So don't forget all those close games you lost, the hot games, the cold games, the rainy games, the times you won easily and the times you were just outplayed.
If USC fans will remember all these little things, their long journey will be worth the trip.
Contact Ken Burger at email@example.com or 937-5598.