ORLANDO, FLA. -- Mike Hold and his wife went out Saturday to pick up something she bought him for Christmas. When they arrived at the store, the employee who fetched the framed item was eager to know just how in the world Hold's wife got her hands on such a prized possession -- a South Carolina game jersey from the 1984 Gator Bowl.
She explained that Hold played quarterback for the Gamecocks that season, the most fondly remembered year in the program's history. USC went 10-2 after starting 9-0 and rising to a No. 2 national ranking.
When people see Hold, they usually recall the great moments of '84, history having dulled most of the pain of losing to Navy after the 9-0 start and falling to Oklahoma State in the Gator Bowl.
"That rock star persona carried on for years," Hold said. "It may end (today), but still, when people recognize you, and they do, they still talk about that season. What amazes me more than the way people carried on that season is the way that they still continued to carry on through the years."
Hold mentioned things possibly changing today, because if the
Gamecocks beat Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, they will finish 11-2 and eclipse not only the '84 squad's school record for wins, but perhaps also its deified status in the eyes of fans. If that happens, there will be moments today that these Gamecocks can tell stories about, just as Hold and his teammates will never forgot the high points of '84.
USC had gone 4-7 and 5-6 in the previous two seasons, the latter being its first with coach Joe Morrison. USC's seniors in '84 were on their third head coach. Having never enjoyed much success, the seniors were "hungry," said Hold, who debuted in '84 after redshirting in '83 as a transfer from a junior college.
"We believed that we were going to be good that year," Hold said. "Nobody else did, especially after we came out and barely beat The Citadel."
After sneaking past The Citadel in the opener, 31-24, USC just kept winning.
They won, 36-32, at Notre Dame to reach 6-0 and returned home to a wild celebration. As the busses carrying the team left Columbia's airport, the players saw thousands of people lining the streets for what seemed like miles.
"It was a sense of we're a part of something special here and this means something to people," said Brad Edwards, a freshman safety in '84.
Two games later, Hold, who spent most of that year rotating with Allen Mitchell, played the entire second half in a 35-28 win at N.C. State. It was "a touche moment" for Hold, he said, because N.C. State's coach, Tom Reed, had snubbed Hold during his recruitment.
USC was the only big-name school to offer Hold a scholarship as a quarterback out of junior college. His parents had to talk him out of turning it down and walking on at Arizona State. During a recruiting trip to Miami (Ohio), where Reed was the coach, Hold watched film with Reed. He quizzed Hold on coverages, then switched off the projector and, as Hold recalled, told him, "You'll never play major college football."
Three games after N.C. State, USC rebounded from the Navy loss by beating Clemson, 22-21. The Gamecocks hoped for a Sugar Bowl bid, but instead landed in the Gator. Hold recalled the players thinking, "We were 10-1. Why were we going to the Gator Bowl?"
But Hold said the seventh-ranked Gamecocks were motivated to play No. 9 Oklahoma State. They would have won if not for the Cowboys driving 88 yards for a touchdown, a 25-yard pass, with 1:04 left. After the two-point conversion, they led 21-14 and won by that score.
The Gamecocks, while disappointed, figured they would just build on '84. But they had losing records the next two years. After the '88 season, Morrison died of a heart attack at 51. Over the next 11 seasons, USC never won more than seven games, which it did just once.
Now, 27 years after the magic of '84, the Gamecocks have 10 wins for the second time ever -- and a chance to cement their legacies today.
"I never would have thought at that point that it would have taken this long," Edwards said.