South Carolina has played for a trophy in each of the past two weeks. Granted, it was hardware that many didn’t know about and fewer cared about. But they were trophy games nonetheless.
On the line against Missouri was the Mayor’s Cup, a basic, boring silver trophy that is outdone by the hardware awarded in most fantasy football leagues.
Against Texas A&M, the Gamecocks were battling for the Bonham Trophy — named for a hero at the Alamo who hailed from South Carolina. That trophy, commissioned in 2013 by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, is a masterful $4,000 bronze sculpture. Problem is, it just sits at the Alamo museum. No players ever see the trophy.
There will be no official trophy on the line Saturday, when Jacksonville State comes to Columbia to face Shane Beamer’s South Carolina squad. Instead, there will be enormous bragging rights.
“It’s a chance to make history,” Beamer said.
It will be the Jacksonville State Gamecocks vs. the South Carolina Gamecocks. The only two schools in America with the Gamecock mascot will meet for the first time on Saturday (noon, ESPNU).
“I didn’t really know about that until this week,” USC defensive back Nick Emmanwori said. “I guess (the winner) could say, ‘We’re the real Gamecocks’ at the end of the game.’ ”
These are the quirky things we love about college football. In no other sport do fans scour games from years prior looking to see if there is a man on the sidelines in disguise. Or turn “Tyler from Spartanburg” into a quasi-celebrity. Or make a song so popular that a man will travel from Finland to Columbia, South Carolina for a concert.
What makes the Battle of the Gamecocks so interesting is not necessarily the names. There are a million college programs named Tigers or Wildcats or Eagles. Heck, in Division I, 15 schools have the Bulldogs nickname.
It’s the smaller things that make it kind of odd. Both programs are located in the South. Both programs mainly use shades of red, black and white. Both programs have a similar-looking rooster for a mascot and they’re both named “Cocky.”
It’s a little too similar. Like that English paper where your friend wanted to copy you and insisted they’d “change it up.”
How did Jacksonville State and South Carolina get their names?
South Carolina stumbled upon the name first. That came in 1902, after a near-riot between South Carolina and Clemson fans broke out after a come-from-behind Carolina victory. The ruckus began after some South Carolina students were holding up a sheet of transparency film showing a gamecock standing over a prostrated tiger. Soon, newspapers began to refer to South Carolina students as “Gamecocks.”
It helped, too, that Thomas Sumter — the Revolutionary War hero who served as the lieutenant colonel of the South Carolina militia — was nicknamed “The Fighting Gamecock.”
Over 40 years later, Jacksonville State would adopt the same name — no fighting needed.
For years, Jacksonville State’s football team — which was founded in the late 1800s — wore blue and gold and held the nickname, the Eagle Owls — a specific breed that isn’t found in the Americas, let alone Jacksonville, Alabama.
According to Jacksonville State, no one particularly liked the name because no one had a clue what an Eagle Owl was.
When he took over Jacksonville State in 1946, coach Don Salls asked the team if they wanted to change the team name. E.C. “Baldy” Wilson, a Jacksonville State football and basketball player at the time, is the one credited with suggesting Jacksonville State becomes the Gamecocks.
“We’d go places and people would say, ‘What is an eagle owl?’ ” Wilson told The Anniston Star in 2005. “Back in the old days, everybody had a yard full of chickens. They’re pretty and they’re proud. They have a lot of pride, and they’ll fight to defend their turf.”
Since then, Jacksonville State has had quite the ascension. It played in low-level conferences until joining the NCAA in 1973, where it was competing in Division II for over two decades. It then jumped up to the FCS ranks, where it played until this season. Jacksonville State now resides in Conference USA.
Does the name change cause legal problems?
South Carolina has had disputes over logos in the past.
Back in 2010, the U.S. Patent and Trademark review board sided with Southern California after South Carolina tried to trademark its baseball logo that featured an interlocking-SC logo, very similar to Southern Cal’s athletics mark.
While it couldn’t get a trademark on that logo, South Carolina actually holds the legal right to the word, “Gamecocks.”
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the university first filed a trademark for the word, “Gamecocks” in 1990 and then filed once more in 2000 to ensure it had the right to use the word on everything from T-shirts and flags to wastepaper baskets” and dog leashes (yes, those are all actually in the application).
But just because South Carolina holds the trademark does not mean Jacksonville State can’t use the word, too.
“It would be my assumption that (Jacksonville State being the Gamecocks) does not create enough confusion in the marketplace that it would be something we would want to oppose,” said Matthew Bridges, South Carolina’s director of trademark licensing.
“Their logos are a lot different,” he added. “Even though they are also (in) college athletics — if you think about ‘Tigers,’ there are so many schools that use ‘Tigers’ as well. They all aren’t necessarily opposing each other for using it as long as the colors are different and the logos are different.”
To Bridges’ knowledge, he claimed, Jacksonville State is paying no money to South Carolina to put the word “Gamecocks” on shirts or anything else.
But if the time came when South Carolina thought the logos were too similar or the colors were too close, they could make a legal claim to the name.
“As far as your strength of claim to something, it is based on use of that trademark in the marketplace and how long you can show that you’ve been using it,” Bridges said. “Then when you have a legal dispute, it comes down to the likelihood of confusion in the marketplace.”
Or, rather than getting any lawyers involved, South Carolina and Jacksonville State could make it easier for everyone. As Emmanwori suggested, the name can go to whoever emerges victorious on Saturday.