The Gamecocks are spending this whole season making a statement about their intent to be part of the national conversation. They have a statement win over Ole Miss. But in the last two weeks they’ve made another kind of statement, stepping outside the boundaries of their tradition to make fashion statements just as bold.
For the sake of motivation, the regularly red-and-white Gamecocks broke out red pants at Eastern Illinois and black jerseys last week at home against Murray State — and both times it caught head coach Jack Crowe by surprise.
“I haven’t initiated any of these color changes,” Crowe said. “Things happen down in that locker room I don’t know about.”
Definitely not as prolific as Oregon — where media reports have placed the Ducks’ green-gold-and-white combinations of jerseys, pants, shoes and helmets at between 80 and a gazillion — the Gamecocks have had only five color combinations in the last three seasons.
Their usual ensembles are red tops/white pants at home and white-on-white on the road. But when the situation has called for something special, they’ve worn white jerseys and red pants on the road, an all-red version for last year’s UT Martin game (because the Skyhawks’ standard road uniforms are all white) and, of course, black jerseys and white pants Saturday.
“It’s more a motivational type thing,” student equipment manager Kortne Gosha said, “something to give us an edge. I think it gives them a little fire.”
You can’t argue with the results. The Gamecocks are 9-2 all-time in the non-traditional combos under Crowe — 8-2 in the red pants, including the 1-0 in all-red, and 1-0 in the black jerseys.
They broke out the red pants for the first time under Crowe at Eastern Illinois in 2008 and won, but lost in them at Eastern Kentucky a few weeks later and didn’t wear them the rest of the year. They returned last year for every road game except the opener and the Gamecocks went 5-1. The loss was the near upset at Florida State.
It wasn’t immediately decided what the color scheme would be for Saturday’s game at Martin.
“We kind of base it on the mood of the players and we’ll make that decision Thursday,” Gosha said. “We’re very traditional of how our look has gone. Even bringing (the black jerseys) out was risqué for us, but, again, it’s about the players.”
And they were the ones who pushed for them, even if it did fly in the face of the athletic department’s push for a “Red Out Day” against the second game in their refurbished stadium.
That was the only reason Crowe was reluctant to bring them out this week.
“We bought them to wear and I felt we would wear them some time, but when I heard it was ‘Red Out,’ I told the equipment manager we didn’t need to do it then, let’s wait for another day,” he said. “The last player I asked was Curt (Porter) in the locker room. ‘Do the players really want to do it this week?’ He said, ‘Yessir’ and I said, ‘All right.’
“There wasn’t any reason not to do it other than my own little quirkiness.”
Being an old-school traditionalist, Crowe was prepared not to like the jerseys at first, but he quickly changed his opinion when he saw “Gamecocks” emblazoned across the chest above the number. Other versions of their jerseys had the nickname across the back, but the players’ names were sewn there on the new ones.
From the stands, it looked like it was going to be just like any other home game. The Gamecocks came out for pregame warm-ups in their traditional home attire, matching the red worn by those who used the 14,812 tickets distributed for the game, but when the players went inside for their final instructions, waiting in their lockers were the new black jerseys.
“They really shocked me, but it was a good change up,” cornerback T.J. Heath said. “I didn’t think we were going to get to wear them – at any time. They looked pretty good.”
That was a common reaction.
“A lot of people had come to me and said that,” said Porter, a senior tackle. “Coach Crowe didn’t really want to do it, but we got to thinking: Everybody is redding out; if we came out in black jerseys that would look really sharp. Some of the seniors got together and started talking about it and thought it’d be a good idea.
“Plus, Murray State, we knew it would be a big game for us. I think they looked really good. Some people may not have liked them, but I thought you come in and put on something that looks good, a lot of times it makes you feel a little bit better and you go play good.”
That was exactly the managers’ motivation for bringing them out, and even though it took a while to take hold, it worked. The Gamecocks fell behind 14-0 early, then erupted for 33 straight points on more than 300 yards to seemingly take control of the game before having to hold on for their ninth straight win over the last two seasons.
“I think it gives them a little fire, they came out pretty fired up,” Gosha said. “It got the reaction we wanted.”
The only combination the Gamecocks haven’t tried yet is black jerseys and red pants. They won’t go to white with black because, the players said, it would make them look too much like Ohio Valley Conference rival Southeast Missouri.
And the way things are developing the OVC, the Gamecocks’ final regular season home game Nov. 14 against SEMO is shaping up to be the conference game of the year.
“I think we were going to try to do that (black and red) last week,” quarterback Marques Ivory said, “but it might have taken too much time to switch pants and everything. It looked good, though.”
“My mom actually made mention of that,” Porter said. “She said that would look good. I heard black-on-black, too.”
But the Gamecocks don’t have black pants – at least not that anyone has seen.
“We didn’t have black jerseys until not long ago, either,” Porter said. “They’ve got connections.”
“We talk about how (black on red) would look,” Heath said. “Now that we’ve actually worn the (black) jerseys, I think we could wear it in the first game of playoffs or something. That might be in the cards. I think we’ll look really good.”
Asked about the possibility of ever appearing in the black and red, Gosha offered an emphatic “no.”
“We try to keep it pretty traditional,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll ever see the black and red.”
But that doesn’t mean there’s not something special in the works.
“I’ve kind of got something going with the players,” Gosha said. “I tell them if they keep winning, we’re gonna pull something out of the bag.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for the Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.