COLUMBIA, S.C. – Greetings from just outside Williams-Brice Stadium, where the scene is surreal: Quiet, breezy and … well, just quiet.
Over the years, I’ve come to a lot of football games at Williams-Brice Stadium, and I’ve never had such an easy time driving in. What normally are clogged streets and byways even four hours before a game were nothing like it on Sunday morning. My car hardly ever stopped from the moment I left my hotel to the moment I pulled into the media lot.
There are people here. There are some tailgaters, especially at the State Fairgrounds across the street from Williams-Brice. There’s just not as many as we’ve come to expect for games here. Normally the walkways outside the stadium, even three-and-a-half hours before kickoff, would be clogged, people shoulder to shoulder. This morning you could stretch out on the pavement, have a picnic, and everyone would still have no problem walking around you.
There are isolated pockets of Georgia fans, but very few. Evidently many have either decided to stay away, or are making the drive up this morning.
This has the feel of a bowl game, a non-New Year’s Six bowl game. And obviously we’ve attended a lot of those lately, too. You sense that people will show up, but it’s only the dedicated few that are tailgating or bothering to show up more than two hours beforehand.
The local police – mainly the Richland County Sheriff’s Office – were indeed running what traffic there as around 10:30 a.m. I did notice one South Carolina state trooper on the highway coming in. He had just finished giving someone a ticket, and was in the process of pulling someone else over. Hey, revenue still needs to come in somehow.
There are no tangible signs of Hurricane Matthew or the bad weather that hit Columbia on Saturday. There is wind, which may continue until game time. But the grass outside the stadium in a spectator area only shows minimal signs of mud, so you’d expect the stadium turf – which just had a new drainage system installed this summer – should be fine.
The lettering on the stadium press box – which saw several letters blown off during the storm Saturday – has been completely taken off. Probably a wise move, rather than have a visible reminder.
Actually, there is one tangible sign of the hurricane: The hotels. Mine was full, with many evacuees from the coast. One family had come from Hilton Head, and would be remaining until at least Monday, not permitted to return just yet. The good news is the reports back home were OK, considering how bad it could have been, and that power had just been restored in their neighborbood.
Several people at the hotel also had dogs, the hotel apparently waiving the normal pet fee. Kudos to them. One dog was barking late at night. No complains from this correspondent, who owns a dog and understands the situation.
In a few hours, it’ll be time for football. It’s hard to say what the effects of the game and the weather – it will be windy – will have on the two teams. And perhaps the crowd will fill in once kickoff arrives, church having let out, and people realizing it’s a nice day for a ball game.
But for now, it’s a strange scene. A strangely empty scene.