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Safran's stash

Rather than sitting under glass, rare Gamecock memorabilia stocks shelves of Whaley Street antique shop

By: Alex Riley
Assistant Sports Editor

Issue date: 8/26/05 Section: Sports

Shop owner Mike Safran poses with USC President Andrew Sorensen.
Media Credit: Manuel Gaetan / Special to The Gamecock
Shop owner Mike Safran poses with USC President Andrew Sorensen.

This No. 2 jersey, hanging in Safranīs shop, is the last existing uniform worn in a game by Sterling Sharpe, USCīs receiving leader.
Media Credit: Nick Esares / The Gamecock
This No. 2 jersey, hanging in Safranīs shop, is the last existing uniform worn in a game by Sterling Sharpe, USCīs receiving leader.

The old saying goes along the lines of "Those who don't remember their past are doomed to repeat it."

That statement could easily apply to the athletic endeavors of the Gamecocks, as little remembrance of USC's past has been given to players, fans and students over the years, causing Gamecock faithful to be stuck in an almost melancholy state of mind.

But USC sports history is something hard to run across if you look outside of the brief section devoted to the greats who have passed through Columbia in a media guide.

That's where Mike Safran comes in.

Safran, a third-generation antique dealer in the Midlands, has created what many have called the only Gamecock museum to ever exist. Of the warehouse-sized facility on Whaley Street that he calls home, about one-third is enshrined in Gamecock garb, with pieces of USC's past that will boggle the mind.

"I started wanting to collect something," Safran said. "I got into sports memorabilia in the early 1980s and just starting thinking that I would collect the Gamecocks, because there was nobody collecting the Gamecocks."

That attitude landed Safran with a monstrous collection of USC's past, ranging from programs to jerseys to bowl rings. While his collection was growing, Safran came to the realization that all this stuff couldn't be his forever. Attempts to set up a USC hall of fame have been fruitless, leaving the curator of this one-man time capsule in a position to do one thing: Sell to those who will appreciate it.

"I'm not saving this anymore," Safran said. "I was saving because it seemed somebody had to save it. And I knew that there wasn't anybody saving this. It just kind of became an obsession because somebody had to do it."

"There was nobody I was aware of working to keep this stuff, so I appointed me."

If you can read it in a Carolina record book or hear older fans relive the moments, Safran probably has it or something related to it.

Some of the highlights of his collection include Gamecock football jerseys from stars such as Harold Green, Clarence Williams, Robert Brooks and Todd Ellis. His hardwood jerseys don the names of Mike Dunleavy, Ronnie Collinsand, until recently, the jersey given to commemorate Frank McGuire's 500th victory. He even has a baseball and football jersey from two-sport standout Rob DeBoer.

Safran also features a variety of former Gamecocks' professional jerseys, including Mookie Wilson, Bobby Bryant, Brian Winters and John LeHeup.

Other items that showcase the variety in Safran's collection include ticket stubs to games such as USC's win against Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1984 and the final Big Thursday match-up between Carolina and Clemson in 1959.

Safran has also seen his share of gold come through the door, selling rings from the 1984 Black Magic season, the 1971 ACC Basketball Championship a ring from USC's 2001 Outback Bowl victory.

His walls feature signed pictures from some of USC's brightest stars, including USC's lone Heisman winner George Rogers, Jeff Grantz, Dan Reeves, Alex English and Grady Wallace.

But the kicker to the collection might be the item the general public doesn't get to see. Hanging on Safran's wall in a side room is the only known game jersey worn by all-time leading receiver Sterling Sharpe. The trophy case at USC features a Sharpe jersey - only it's a recently made throwback.

While his collection is enough to make a fan speechless, Safran's pride hasn't come from what he has gained physically. It's the knowledge he has gained from his association with USC sports.

On any given day, you can step into Safran's shop and have a talk with former radio announcer Bob Fulton or one of USC's oldest living lettermen, Dom Fusci. Collins frequently stops in to see what is going on, while Ryan Brewer has been known to make an appearance. A phone call from Rogers isn't uncommon, while 1,000-point-club-member Terry Dozier recently became a visitor to the unofficial hall of fame.

One of Safran's most treasured friendships came from one of USC's all-time greatest graduates in Tatum Gressette. Gressette's athletics on the field included a drop-kick in 1920 to beat Clemson 3-0. He was also famous for his work throughout the state in government as well as other athletic teams, earning spots in USC's and the Citadel's halls of fame as well as the S.C. Golf Hall of Fame. What's even more impressive is that Gressette started the BAM Club (Buck A Month) in an effort to show up Clemson's athletic booster IPTAY (I Pay Ten A Year). Today, the BAM is known as the Gamecock Club.

"All in one lifetime, this person was able to do all this and squeeze in starting the athletic program at the Citadel and hunting, fishing and golfing with Ty Cobb," Safran said. "It's almost mind-boggling."

Safran's collection has allowed him the opportunity to do more than give fans a chance to own a piece of Gamecock history - it has allowed him to share history with fans. Over the years, Safran has been the man behind the scenes on events such as numerous Gamecock Galas, which featured memorabilia from his collection tagged with appearances from players who made the memories. He has also been a figure behind the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame's yearly banquets and even helps Rogers with his annual fundraising events.

"Simply by collecting this stuff has opened up doors that have led to places you wouldn't expect them to lead," Safran said. "You've met people that in some cases you would have only read about in a book or just heard legend of in the past.

"To be able to meet these people and hear their stories, and hear them retell the tales and to some extent bring you into their confidence is extremely gratifying just to hear this stuff. You can't really put a price on it. And it all came about by just collecting stuff."