COLUMBIA -- They've been around a lot longer, but the bet was hatched about five years ago.
The ground rules are simple: Dom Fusci and Lou Sossamon purchased a fine bottle of scotch. It will go to the last one living, either the 89-year-old Fusci or the 90-year-old Sossamon.
They laugh about the wager, but there's a hint of seriousness when it comes up. The moment makes two things glaringly obvious: South Carolina's oldest living football legends have terrific senses of humor -- and they're doggedly competitive, even when it comes to dying.
"We don't even like scotch," Fusci said.
In the back of Mike Safran's antiques store on Whaley, just a mile or so north of Williams-Brice Stadium, is something of an unofficial USC athletics museum.
An incredible and fascinating array of memorabilia, from most every sport and as far back as the early 1900s, fills a large space in the back of the building.
But Safran has nothing like the walking, talking museum exhibits that often occupy the front room of the store.
Fusci and Sossamon love saying hello to visitors, telling and retelling old stories from their days with the Gamecocks. Most days -- even on summer scorchers, and there have been plenty in 2011 -- they sit in small, wooden chairs, enjoying each other's company and that of those who stop in to peruse.
"It's kind of hard to beat having those two as your greeters," Safran said.
Sossamon's career stretched from 1940-42. The Gaffney native, a center, was the first All-American at South Carolina.
Fusci arrived in Columbia from New York in 1941. The offensive tackle played in 1942 and 1943, served in the Pacific phase of World War II for two years and then returned to USC in 1946 to complete school.
The two men shared the experience of playing for coach Rex Enright, who they speak about, decades later, in the loftiest of tones.
Sossamon played (and Fusci watched, as a freshman) in the 1941 Clemson game -- the first USC win in the series in seven years.
Both Sossamon and Fusci still recall the joy -- and relief -- that stemmed from the 18-14 victory. Church bells rang throughout the Columbia night after the Clemson spell was finally broken.
"Friday was a university holiday after we won," Sossamon said. "That's how big of an event it was."
Enright was even given a car, a Cadillac, by alums as a reward for the victory.
"A lot of us wanted to help coach Enright," Sossamon said. "We thought the world of him."
Sossamon was later a pallbearer at Enright's funeral.
Fusci had his own memorable moments in the Clemson rivalry. In 1943, with USC holding a large lead late in its 33-6 smothering of the Tigers, someone entered as a substitute for Fusci.
The only way for Fusci to get off the field in time, without incurring a penalty, was to head toward the Clemson sideline. As he exited, he nearly ran head on into grumpy Tigers coach Frank Howard.
Fusci told Howard he had deceptive speed, for a lineman. Howard responded with things that are not suitable for print.
Before returning to his own sideline, Fusci then purchased and polished off a hot dog from a vendor near the bench.
"Because I was hungry," he said.
Fusci's final Clemson game, in 1946, also had a different tint to it. That was the so-called "Counterfeit Game," in which thousands of fake tickets were sold, leading to a surge of masses onto the sidelines at Carolina Stadium.
Howard purportedly could not see the game because of a woman -- and her large hat -- in front of him. U.S. Secretary of State James Byrnes, who would eventually become the state's governor, was even positioned on the sideline. Byrnes and Fusci talked some about the war -- during the game.
Fusci was on the field most of the time, though. That was fine with him, too, considering the number of people gathered on the sideline.
"Someone would get tackled out of bounds," Fusci said, "and knock down a couple of spectators."
There's pride for both Fusci and Sossamon that they're the living oldest Gamecocks standouts, the only breathing members of the school and state's athletic halls of fame and the all-time USC football team.
"You're darn right we're proud of that," Fusci said.
Given what sort of athletes they were, it shouldn't really come as a huge surprise that Fusci and Sossamon are still as active as they are. They exercise daily, and they drive themselves to Safran's.
"It really is true that you're only as old as you feel," Fusci said, starting to laugh. "We're pretty old, I guess, but we feel pretty good."
And there's a sealed bottle of scotch to prove it.
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