It’s cliché, but also true – you never forget your first. South Carolina football is no different.
The Gamecocks are presently in the midst of one of their greatest periods in program history, but until early January of 1995 South Carolina had never won a bowl game.
South Carolina’s fortunes in bowl games were forever changed on Jan. 2, 1995 when the Gamecocks bested West Virginia, 24-21, in the 1995 Carquest Bowl at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami.
The Gamecock victory allowed South Carolina to claim its first bowl win in nine tries. The Gamecocks ended their victory over the Mountaineers with a record of 7-5 in the 1994 season.
Honoring this particular team before South Carolina’s Sept. 27 game at Williams-Brice Stadium with Missouri means a great deal to current head football coach Steve Spurrier.
“We’ve gotten an excellent response from that 1995 team,” Spurrier commented. “I think Steve Taneyhill and his teammates are all looking forward to coming back. It’ll be neat to honor the first bowl winner in school history - the 1995 Carquest Bowl champions. It’ll be good to see all those guys back here.”
Spurrier knows that honoring the past is the key to the present and future of Gamecock football.
“That’s what successful schools do,” Spurrier said. “If you have tradition, you honor the players that have really played well there and accomplished whatever. We don’t have a whole bunch to talk about right now as far as championships. We’ve got the 1969 ACC champion team with Tommy Suggs and all his teammates and the (SEC) Eastern Division of 2010. We’ve got a bunch of state championships lately, but for big championships, we’re still hunting them, still looking out for them, searching for them. Hopefully it will happen real soon.”
Former South Carolina head football coach Brad Scott finds it hard to believe it has been 20 years since that 1994 team claimed the first-ever bowl victory.
“I’m so happy that the University and the athletics department is going to recognize that 1994 squad because those were some good kids,” Scott said. “I was just thinking that it kind of caught me off guard that it has been 20 years since then. That’s super.
“It was a special group and there is no question about that for what they accomplished, which was something that had not been done before. I think back on that and there is just a few times in the sport of football, especially at a major University like USC that you get an opportunity like that to go into the record books as the first team to accomplish a major goal like that. That’s something that we talked about a lot during that time. I’m just happy that ‘94 squad took advantage of that opportunity. They took a lot of pride in it and of course after that win is really when you realize just how significant that was to those players and really to the Gamecock family too. It was really special,” Scott expounded.
The Most Valuable Player in the 1995 Carquest Bowl, Gamecock quarterback legend Steve Taneyhill 20 years later looks back at that team very proudly as he and his teammates prepare to be honored.
“I know it was a while ago, but it will be pretty neat because we were the first team to win a bowl game,” the current Union County High School head coach noted. “We’re happy that the University is bringing us back and doing that for us. I think it will be great to see the guys and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen most of those guys. The few that I do see every now and again through coaching or in the summers or those things are great. It isn’t the whole group of us; I think they said that there are going to be about 70 guys there. I’m looking forward to seeing all of those guys.”
Former Gamecock tight end Boomer Foster thinks that win over West Virginia helped pave the way for Gamecock football.
“I don’t think there is really any doubt about that,” Foster relayed. “Getting into the SEC for all of us was a transition. My freshman year we were still independent. We played a bunch of really good teams, but starting that SEC schedule in 1992 and really getting to understand what it took to be competitive in the SEC through depth, speed and talent upgrades. It was really special to be a part of it. All of those guys on that team really busted their fannies and worked really hard, so we were really proud of what we were able to do.
“I’ll tell you looking back on it now, people may not look at a bowl win in and of itself as a big deal, but to us and I think to the fanbase at that time it was a monstrous thing because we had never actually been successful in the postseason before. It was a big deal to us and I think that we’re all really honored and excited that the University is going to do something to honor the accomplishments of that team. We’re all excited to see each other again because it has been 20 years since then. We think it’s really special that coach (Ray) Tanner and coach (Clyde) Wrenn are going to roll out the red carpet for us a little bit. We’re looking forward to getting back to campus,” Foster elaborated.
Taneyhill echoed Foster, noting without the 33-7 regular season-ending win at Clemson it would have not been possible.
“Winning the first bowl game was talked about that whole week of Clemson,” Taneyhill stated. “We had to beat Clemson that year to even get the opportunity to go to the bowl game. Then winning the first bowl game was talked about a lot that week. It was talked about a lot that week where ‘you could be the first and first group to win a bowl game.’ It’s funny how coaches talk and then it actually happens, you know ‘20 years from now they’ll bring you guys back as the first team to win a bowl game.’ Now here we are, so it’s great by the University and I think it’s a great accomplishment by the guys on that team that we’ll always be a part of something, the first bowl win in school history. You would wish that there had been more of those, but there wasn’t and we’re the first.”
Currently a special assistant to development, Wrenn has been working hard with Foster to get everyone back for this celebration.
“It’s special because the University doesn’t have to recognize us and I think that we get that,” Foster noted. "The fact that we’ve had three-straight 11-win seasons, we’ve got a Hall of Fame coach, we’ve got a bunch of guys on the team that have monstrous talent and the No. 1 draft pick. For them to be thinking about going back to the early to mid-90s and bringing us back is really special to all of us. I think we’re all really excited and honored that they thought enough about what we were able to accomplish as a team to bring us back. I’m sure that this is not cheap for the University, so the fact that they’re willing to do that for us, I think everybody just feels taken care of, considered and loved again.”
Taneyhill is extremely appreciative of the way Spurrier, Wrenn and athletics director Ray Tanner are embracing bringing this team back.
“Last year was the first time that I had been back to a game in a while just because of coaching,” Taneyhill said. “To see the Carolina Walk, what they’ve done in Gamecock Park and how crazy and loud the student section gets with the white towels waving makes a unique advantage. It has definitely become a home-field advantage for those guys … like I said, I’ve been around a little bit to see some things where a lot of those guys haven’t had that opportunity and it’ll be great for them to see what coach Spurrier and the guys that he’s recruited to make the Gamecocks have such a great place to play.”
Foster is keen to show the younger generation of Gamecock fans just how great of job Spurrier has done as well with the first bowl championship team being honored.
“It’s hard for me to believe that the younger generation who are fans now really understand what Gamecock football was like when this team came in,” Foster pointed out. “We’ve had some good years obviously in the past before Spurrier got there, but they were fewer and farther between. I’ve always said that we’ve got the best fans in the country because they would show up even when the teams were not very good. It’s really special for all of us and I don’t know that the younger fans really understand the perseverance and ups and downs of what it took to be a Gamecock fan. I think going through a lot of that builds a lot of character for our University because it was not as easy to be a fan for a long time. Now it’s easy to be a fan and it’s cool to be a fan, but it has not always been that way.”
Things may have changed and the players have obviously aged, but to Foster and Taneyhill the bond between teammates will still be there when they see each other.
The night before the team will have a special dinner at Seawell’s before being a part of numerous gameday activities for the Missouri game.
“You’ve got a lot of guys who are parents now and that will be neat,” Taneyhill said. “Some of the guys said that they were going to bring their kids, so that will be really neat to see all those guys. I think when you’ve got 100 guys on a team, then everyone goes their own way, then 20 years later everybody is kind of set in life, so it will be a good thing to see how everyone is. It’s nice to have that Friday night with the dinner and getting a chance to catch up, then Saturday on the field - it’ll be a fun.”
The unique opportunity to catch up is not lost on Foster.
“I’ve always said that you make your best friends in situations that are difficult, in situations where you bleed, sweat and work hard,” Foster remarked. “You create a bond with people when you go through something like that. That bond really can’t be broken and it’s much more difficult to form really lasting relationships and genuine relationships with folks that you don’t go through something like that with. We went through everything from being in stretching lines at quarter ‘til five in the morning for winter workouts to spring practice to working out in the Columbia heat and humidity to two-a-days - back then they put us through two-a-days for a couple of weeks straight - and then getting to do what we do in front of all the fans. It is exciting to get to see all those guys again.
“It’s really kind of been about a month-and-a-half of working on this, but it’s really like ‘old-home week.’ Getting to talk to some guys and hear from some guys that I haven’t heard from in a while is great. It’s a shame that we don’t keep in as good of touch as we should, but this is a great opportunity the University is providing us to be able to touch base and reconnect,” Foster continued.
Scott will not be able to attend the special event, but he will always remember what that win meant for Gamecock football.
“Coach Wrenn had called me a week ago and I do appreciate coach Ray Tanner for extending me the opportunity to be able to come back for that,” Scott said. “Of course, with my responsibilities and job I can’t do that, but I just appreciate that recognition for this team because it is significant. South Carolina has gone on to do some great things since then, but you always have to have that starting point and get that first win. That’s probably what I’ll remember.
“You don’t realize - I didn’t as a young head coach, first year as a head coach - just how big and how much it meant to South Carolina and the University until after that was over. I just remember a huge crowd at the game. There was a huge crowd at the airport when we got back that next day too. It was unbelievable the number of fans that showed up. The other thing I distinctly remember is seeing the then-governor Carroll Campbell coming into the locker room after the game and he could hardly contain himself. Just tears of joy, excitement and how proud he was of that team. He spoke to the players and the team and that really is a memory that I’ll always have. I realized walking away from that that this really meant a lot to our state and to the University at that time. So I’m just really proud of those young men and I want to let them know that. I’m proud of the University for bringing them back and recognizing them,” Scott closed.
This group may have been the first, but they are definitely not the last and that is something in which Taneyhill takes a great deal of pride.
“Winning is everything,” Taneyhill concluded. “Anybody can win a bit, but three years in a row to win 11 games is impressive. That’s going to generate a lot of enthusiasm, that’s going to generate a lot of money for the school and you need all those things to build it. I’m happy and I think we all are to see what the Gamecocks have become in football.”
**Story by Brian Hand/Photo of Taneyhill courtesy of South Carolina Athletics Media Relations**