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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 water cooler. 
 
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 thing!"