COLUMBIA — He was there, the familiar No. 89 fitting on the frame that he made stronger during the offseason so he could give his team one more fine year before he left for the NFL.
But as has been painfully obvious the past three games, when Bryan Edwards isn’t feeling fine, South Carolina’s offense is hospitalized. When he just had his knee operated on 10 days ago, no matter how much he may have wanted to play or been able to play, the wise move was not to play.
So the Gamecocks’ best player, their only big-time wide receiver, their most likely chance to make the rivalry game an actual game, sat on the sideline, his jersey on over a garnet hooded sweatshirt, and watched his career end.
He could see the Northwest stadium ramp, where before next season, it will be his name plastered over those of Alshon Jeffery and the late Kenny McKinley. Edwards set records for career catches, receiving yardage and consecutive games with a catch, hauling in at least one ball in all of his 48 games.
He finished one touchdown shy of tying Jeffery and Sidney Rice for career touchdowns, but his impact will forever be remembered, on that ramp and on the post-mortem for this season. The Gamecocks scored one touchdown (Edwards caught it, naturally) in their final 12 quarters, the same game against Appalachian State where he banged up his knee.
On Saturday, a video was shown during the first quarter just for Edwards. On it, a who’s who of Gamecock receiver royalty — Sterling Sharpe, Pharoh Cooper, Bruce Ellington, Deebo Samuel, Jeffery, Rice and the parents of McKinley — thanked him for his career and wished him the best as he takes his next steps toward the NFL.
“That was a touching moment,” USC coach Will Muschamp said. “That tells you something about being from the state of South Carolina and coming to the state university and being a Gamecock and what it can do for you and how powerful it can be. Bryan certainly deserved that.”
The kid from Conway who stayed with his USC commitment through a coaching change (Muschamp was on a plane to recruit him the same day he was hired) did deserve that. He also deserved better than to have his legacy questioned as he departs.
The records show it, and numbers don’t lie. He had more receiver stats than anyone.
Yet his teams never won big, and his career ended with the Gamecocks dropping 14 of their last 25 games after all seemed to be rising. Edwards caught a key touchdown at the apex, during USC’s comeback win in the Outback Bowl at the end of the 2017 season, and figured it would only be brighter.
Instead he didn’t have the rivalry wins or the championship-game appearance. He won’t have the All-American honors or Sports Illustrated covers.
He’ll be the best, but the best didn’t get to show why he’s the best one more time.