A Guy Thing - Carolina Devotion In Decor
( By Summer Jeffcoat Columbia Metropolitan Magazine November / December 2003 )
Mike Safrans' self-admitted "20 year obsession" all atarted out as innocent
baseball card collecting. Quickly his hobby grew into collecting championship
sports rings, which soon evolved into a passion for collecting anything and
everything related to Gamecock sports.
"I just got carried away," says Mike, a third generation antique dealer from
Columbia and a Carolina alumnus. His home's basement was overflowing with
memorabilia - jerseys, programs, championship jewelry, vintage photos and much
more - when he opened The Gamecock Shop, an extension of Safran's Antiques on
the corner of Whaley and Assembly Streets.
The shop is every sports fan's dream. Not only will you find all sorts of
memorabilia from every sport, but also a dealer who knows the history behind
each item. A hunk of metal? Oh no, Mike says, that's a piece of the goal post
from Lou Holtz's very first USC victory against New Mexico State in 2000.
Suddenly, the hunk of metal seems pretty important. A dirty old pair of cleats?
They bwcome meaningful upon learning that Todd Ellis, the new voice of the
Gamecocks, was wearing them during the fall that broke his leg abd ended his
football career. Right beside the cleats, Mike's got a vintage photograph of the
tackle that took Ellis down.
"I have a fair amount of Clemson stuff too," Mike says. "I just can't put too
much on display in the Gamecock Shop."
He is an expert on the 100 year rivalry between Carolina and Clemson. He has
collected programs from the big game dating back to 1927, including Big Thursday
games when the teams competed during the State Fair. Some of those programs and
photos were recently used in the film Bragging Rites, a documentary about the
historic rivalry that touches just about every South Carolinian's life in one
way or another - even if it's just the traffic jams at game time or jokes at the
In many cases, Mike is seeing the zeal touch people's homes directly. A lot of
his customers are men who have claimed rooms in their homes to decorate with
their favorite team's memorabilia. In a town where fans will do almost anything
to prove why Carolina is better than Clemson or vice versa, showing that passion
through decorating seems only natural.
W.C.Smith, a USC alumnus from Lexington and a member of the Gamecock Club for 27
years, calls his garnet-painted recreation room. The Gamecock Room. "I had
collected a few things over the years," he says, "but after I got to know Mike,
I started learning how to collect things of real caliber."
W.C.'s prize possession is a jersey worn by basketball player Corky Carnevale
during the Frank McGuire era. In high school, W.C. watched Coach McGuire lead
the "glory years" of Carolina basketball, and saw players such as John Roche,
Tom Owens and Kevin Joyce idolized like movie stars. "There was a kind of
excitement around town during those days that we haven't had since!" he says.
That's one reason he loves his Carnevale jersey. Another is it's rarity. "It's
the only one like it I've seen, and I'm very fortunate to have one," W.C. says.
They're rare, because Coach McGuire used to remove the school and player's names
then donate the numbered jerseys to a local children's home so the boys would
have uniforms to wear playing basketball.
W.C. displays his Carnevale jersey, along with other warm-ups and uniforms, on
torso mannequins around his Gamecock Room. Other memorabilia are displayed on
shelves - including signed baseballs from the victory game over Alabama the year
Carolina went to the College World Series.
What do wives of die-hard fans think about their husbands' passion for sports
spilling over into their decor? "My wife's okay with it, as long as I keep it
all in one room!" says W.C.
Whatever the wives think or wherever they'll allow the memorabilia to be kept,
Carolina and Clemson fans might just have found some common ground in collecting
and decorating with sports memorabilia.
Gamecocks and Tigers alike will tell you that it's about honoring heroes and
legends, keeping triumphant memories alive, owning a piece of the past, and
bragging in the present. It's a grown-up way to show homegrown, heart-felt team
spirit. And be sure, "This isn't just a girl thing in most cases," says Mike
Safran. "Not that girls can't be sports fans, but this is definitely a guy