What kind of college sports town is Chucktown?

Jim Lohmar




Few, if any, would consider Charleston a college football town. Gainesville, Fla. and Athens, Ga. and Tuscaloosa Ala. are hardline college football towns in the strictest sense of the phrase. The seasonal vicissitudes of these universityville hotbeds revolve wholly around fall Saturdays, perhaps best signaled by the marked upticks in state and local police presences thereon


Autumnal Charleston experiences no such infrastructural weekend necessities, notwithstanding the Citadel's and Charleston Southern's stellar 2015 seasons, which saw the teams meet in the FCS Playoff's second round. If one had to ascribe any sort of football culture to Chucktown -- especially right now -- the NFL rules the day. Football pairs somewhat easily with the peninsula's Sunday brunch scene, insofar as the peninsula's Sunday brunch scene bleeds seamlessly into afternoon booze-halling. And afternoon booze-halling is one of the strongest driving forces behind the NFL's wild, if not unproblemmatic, popularity.


All of which is to say that on Jan. 11, 2016 Charleston became a college football town for one rowdy, orange-embued night. That the Clemson Tigers failed in the face of Darth Vader's Nick Saban's Crimson Tide feels so foregone and ordained with the hindsight of two weeks. That they did so on college football's glitziest stage stings all the worse. That Dabo Swinney's club -- this unassuming, preseason middlish football team -- carried an undefeated campaign out to arid Glendale, Ariz. and stumbled so late could've deflated even the most casual of CFB viewers that night.


Real excitment vibrated throughout downtown that Monday evening. Swaths of orange and purple and "GO TIGERS" hummed up and down King. A full parade might have broken out in Elliotborough. One would be hard-pressed to name a specifically "Clemson bar" in the Holy City, but somehow everyone knew to descend upon The Alley for the best party in town.


#Clemson fans outnumber #Alabama at @TheAlleyChas during national championship https://t.co/3JnpmSH9eH #CFBPlayoff pic.twitter.com/C6unGcxhGz

— Melissa Boughton (@mboughtonPC) January 12, 2016


How distinctively Charleston that hundreds should flock to a damn bowling alley for their watch party. But flock they did, and by 7:30 p.m. -- a full hour before kickoff -- the place was forced into a one-in-one-out door policy. Tigers gear wrapped down Columbus and spilled onto the train tracks. The Post and Courier offices could've made a killing on sheer overflow alone. Stranded outside and in dire need of DeShaun Watson and Shaq Lawson, I slinked off to the relative safety of Cutty's Notary Public, itself no stranger to the arcane babel of rabid footballdom.


The national championship is over, and with it collegiate football's nine-month hibernation commences. The Carolina Panthers -- SC's proximally adoptive professional football interest -- have mirrored Clemson's 2015 electricity. But college sports march on in the form of NCAA basketball and all its attendant swings in fortune. South Carolina's men built a 15-game winning streak to start the season before falling inexplicably to a rancid Alabama squad on Jan. 13. At 17-2 (4-2 SEC) Cocky is blasting through the midseason table on the shoulders of experienced seniors well familiar with the arc of a college basketball season.


Better still, Clemson's heady soaring on the gridiron has been answered by its hardwood counterpart, which just this month downed No. 16 Louisville, No. 9 Duke, and No. 8 Miami in ACC play before a souring but forgiveable hiccup at No. 13 Virginia last Tuesday. We should excuse this last, since three tandem wins over top-25 teams is no small shakes, and anyway Virginia is coming off a 2014-2015 campaign that saw the Cavaliers take a No. 2 seed into the Big Dance. The Tigers are impressing many in the CBB world, and a late-season tournament run may very well be within their purview.


And there's no reason not to remain excited for what March Madness can bring.