November 21, 1987 was the day I became a Gamecock fan. I don’t mean I started pulling for South Carolina. I mean I became a FAN.
That was the night 12th-ranked South Carolina took on 8th-ranked Clemson in Columbia. It was the highest combined ranking ever for the schools, and was the night game on ESPN (back when “game of the week” meant something). I was a Freshman at South Carolina, and had seats in the student section about the 30 yard line.
It was a cold night, but the stadium was packed…and loud. The 2001 entrance was legendary, and the game would turn out to be one of the most memorable Gamecock victories over Clemson.
Both defenses were tough that night, but South Carolina broke through on this play to Ryan Bethea (hat tip to Cockytalk). When he split the Clemson defenders I just remember the entire student section going nuts. When Bethea was brought down inside the ten, I looked down on the ground and the G-man was lying flat on his back in between the bleachers where he had fallen. With no regard for his safety whatsoever, he looked up at me and screamed, “DID HE SCORE?!?”
He didn’t, but Harold Green did on the very next play. The rest of the night will be remembered by all that were there because of the hauntingly slow chant of “RODDDD-NEEEEE, RODDDD-NEEEE” directed at Clemson QB Rodney Williams, who took a beating of Biblical proportions that night. Brad Edwards sealed the win with an interception return for touchdown late in the game.
I still have that game on VHS somewhere in a cardboard box in my basement. I must’ve watched Ryan Bethea run with that football 1000 times, with the announcer (any help with who that is?) starting with the flat “Ryan Bethea” and then when the play breaks big the staccato “RY-an be-THEA, WILL GO…” Even the announcer thought he was gone.
Ryan Bethea was essentially the Alshon Jeffery of his time. A big guy, really big, with great hands and good speed. I always had such high hopes that he would be the next Sterling Sharpe, but that never materialized. Rumors swirled around campus that he was involved in some shady dealings, but nothing was ever confirmed to my knowledge. He spent some time in an NFL camp or two, but never caught on.
I have no idea where Ryan Bethea is now, but I’d love to tell him that play made me smile each and every one of those thousand times I watched it. And it still does.