A Little Slice of Gamecock Paradise
( By Z'Anne Covell, Garnet & Black March 2004 )
Safran's self-proclaimed "Gamecock Museum" houses some of the rarest and coolest
Gamecock memorabilia from USC's history.
Mike Safran goes the extra mile to point put that his Gamecock Shop is no
ordinary USC retailer. "We don't do T-shirts, we don't do baseball hats -
nothing against the people who do because they make more money than I do - but
this is all about history" Safran says.
The Gamecock Shop, nestled within Safran's Antiques store on Whaley Street, can
be described as a sports memorabilia retailer.
"There isn't a USC sports museum, and I guess that to a degree this is it,"
Safran says. "But unlike most museums, most of the pieces have a price sticker
on them, so you can take them home with you today and start your own little
museum at your house."
Safran decided to convert a portion of his antique shop into the Gamecock Shop
about a year and a half ago after his home started turning into a museum of USC
"It filled up my basement. It moved over to my bedroom at my mother's house. It
was just too much stuff," Safran says. "My wife suggested that I take a little
corner of the store to put all this Gamecock stuff up to see if anybody else
liked it, and we're finding out that there are people who do like it."
Safran has been collecting the memorabilia, which he now displays in his shop,
for two decades.
"I got some game programs from a neighbor when I was younger, and then at one
point, I was like 'well, you know, everybody collects something,' and I thought
that I would collect South Carolina Gamecocks stuff," Safran says. "Over the
years, it was just hunting, and that's part of the fun of it. When you find
something that you've never seen before it's really exciting."
Growing up, Safran said he was "spoon fed" history. His grandparents started an
antique business, and his father followed in their footsteps. He said his
upbringing instilled within him a respect and admiration for the past.
Although Safran enjoys attending home football and basketball games, he does not
attribute his interest in sports memorabilia to being an avid sports fan.
Instead, his interest stems from being an enthusiastic historian.
"You know that the Gamecock people eat, drink, and breathe garnet and black
stuff," Safran says. "They're really into the Gamecocks, but I was more into it
from the historical slant."
Through his shop, Safran seeks ti visually relate USC's sports history to
"Now, it is a matter of sharing the past with people because a lot of this stuff
tells a tale, and it is a piece of history," Safran says. "I just got to believe
there are other Gamecock fans out there who would be equally enthusiastic about
learning more about the school's past."
Safran believes his collectibles evoke the past of alumni who participated in
USC sports both as fans or athletes.
"I say to people that you can take away your education from the university, and
the one thing you still have is your memories of when you were still there,"
Safran says. "That's what this does for some people. It stirs a lot of memories,
and it brings back going to the games."
Although most of the collectibles are pieces from Safran's personal collection,
he welcomes pieces from others' collections.
"What has been exciting now is some of the things that are walking in because
before I didn't have access to other people's attics and basements. When this
stuff walks in I'm like a kid in a candy store," Safran says. "We're trying to
let people know since we are here that if you have things sitting in your attic,
it could be a prize piece in somebody else's collection, who would be willing to
pay good money for it."
For Safran the best perk, which accompanies being a USC sport collector, has
been the opportunity to meet USC athletes.
One of the athletes Safran befriended was the late Tatum Gressette, who played
football for USC during the early 1920s.
"Tatum came to Carolina after Carolina had lost to Clemson for seven straight
years," Safran says."Then in 1920, Tatum's first year, he drop kicked, and
Tatum later founded the Buck A Month (BAM) Club, the predecessor of the Gamecock
Club. Safran feels interacting with the athletes has been a rewarding experience
for him and the players.
"A lot of these guys, especially the older fellows, don't get to tell the
stories anymore," Safran says. "They get a kick out of the fact that somebody is
interested, but you're learning stories that often aren't in any books that you
wouldn't know otherwise."
Not only are Safran's stories rare accounts that he has learned firsthand, but
many of his collectibles cannot be found anywhere else.
Some unique features of his collection - just to name a few - include a rat cap
that freshman students were required to wear, an original program from the 1930
Carolina-Clemson game and a 1947 basketball jersey, which is the oldest Carolina
basketball jersey known to exist, More recent memorabilia includes an
autographed brick from the wall with the mural of Heisman Trophy winner George
Rogers and pieces of the goal posts, which were torn down during some of Lou
Mike Arthur, a third-year political science student, who describes himself as a
frequent customer at the Gamecock Shop, purchased pieces of the goal posts along
with numerous other collectibles.
"I have old jerseys, pieces of goal posts, posters and photographs," Arthur
says. "I even have a pair of shoes Sterling Sharpe wore when he played here."
According to Arthur, collecting USC sports memorabilia gives him a connection to
the university's past.
"I like the feeling of a school that has a deep connection to the university's
past," Arthur says. "You can't find this history anywhere else."
Mike and Levi Boudreau, a third-year chemistry student, visit the Gamecock Shop
"Mike and I are big fans of the past, and we fell in love with the store,"
Boudreau says. "It means a lot to find out about the history."
Arthur and Boudreau initially visited the store every week to view new
merchandise, but now camaraderie is just as important.
"Every week (Safran) would have something new and different that he pulled out
of his attic, but now it's a ritual," Boudreau says. "We go there and we talk
about the ole times."
Like Arthur and Boudreau are loyal to the Gamecock Shop, Safran is loyal to USC
"Not a lot of national championships have been won by the school, but that's not
to say that there haven't been great teams, that there haven't been great
players and there haven't been great moments," Safran says. "I think people need
to know about it, and when people are more loyal fans and more dedicated fans
because they know the history."