Podcast Episode 11: The Evolution of Cocky

Remembering the Days Podcast — Episode 11

Forty years ago, Cocky was born. But that feisty garnet-feathered bird wasn't the University of South Carolina's first mascot.


The Evolution of Cocky

In 1980, a very large garnet-feathered bird with a giant yellow bill was hatched. His name was Cocky, and in the 40 years since then, the University of South Carolina’s mascot has been a fan favorite. He’s won his fair share of mascot trophies at the national level, and he was ranked No. 7 on Sports Illustrated’s list of Greatest Mascots in College Football History.

But what did the university do for a mascot before Cocky came along? I’m Chris Horn, your host for Remembering the Days, and today we’re tracing Cocky’s family tree back to 1961.

That was the year when University of South Carolina cheerleader Jerry Spann and his fellow cheerleaders decided it wasn’t enough that we were simply known as the Gamecocks. They wanted to have an actual gamecock rooster with them at the games. So, they tried bringing along a live rooster in a cage.

But problems ensued when some mischievous students poured whisky into the rooster’s water bowl on the way to a big game. As Jerry confided to me several years ago, it was clear that the university needed a mascot that could, well, handle his liquor. So, Jerry volunteered.

His girlfriend’s mother created an outfit that featured an inflated rubber glove attached to a beanie cap that sort of looked like a cock’s comb. Jerry wore that on his head and donned a long-tailed coat with a feather duster attached to the rear and a pair of yellow spats or leggings. And that was the extent of the costume. Jerry’s character was known simply as ‘The Gamecock,’ and students from opposing universities would chase him around the field on game days, trying to steal his feather duster tail.

Jerry says he never really worried about losing the tail because the students chasing him were usually (a) wearing loafers and (b) often more than a little inebriated. Jerry always wore track shoes.

For the record, Jerry Spann wasn’t the first student to dress up like a Gamecock. There’s a photo of an unidentified student in a rooster outfit at a 1940s Tiger Burn and, no doubt, there were others from time to time. Jerry’s legacy as a makeshift sort of mascot continued 10 years later, in 1971, with another student named John Nelson.

John’s mother helped him fashion a costume that bore slightly more resemblance to a gamecock than Jerry’s outfit. John wore it to football and basketball games and his character was known as The Rooster. Years later, John joined the biology faculty at the university

After John came Chuck Eaton who dressed up in a large, unwieldy outfit with a massive tail and rather spooky eyes. With that thing on, Chuck looked like a rooster all right but probably not one that you’d want to have your picture taken with. That character, known as Big Spur, attended games from 1978 through 1980 when Cocky was introduced. It took a year for Gamecock fans to warm up to Cocky, who was initially played by students Robert Lane and John Routh, but once they did, it became a love affair that’s still going on today.

In 1986 Cocky was chosen in a national contest as America’s first National Mascot by the Universal Cheerleading Association, and he has picked up more national titles over the years.

So what’s it like to be Cocky? I caught up with Garrett Humphries, a former student who played Cocky from 1998 to 2001. Garrett, who was back then and still is a champion shag dancer, often broke into some of his dance moves while dressed up as Cocky.

Humphries: So a lot of people started naming me as the dancing Cocky because my legs were; everybody said they were like Jello all the time when especially out there on the field dancing at games and I loved it. That was — If music came on that's when I was in my prime in the uniform, basically.

Cocky hams it up at lots of games, of course, and often makes appearances at weddings, parties and festivals. He also visits children’s hospitals, administering his wacky speechless antics as a prescription for some much needed laughter.

As you might imagine, some of Cocky’s biggest moments happen onstage just before a football game begins.

Humphries: Chris, as you say that I actually get chills thinking about it because the experience is like no other. And when you are coming out of the magic box, the center of the field,  and there are 82,000 people screaming your name, and you are the third hit of of '2001.' And that football team comes out on the fourth hit and that curtain drops. It is the biggest adrenaline rush, I think, that anybody can get because the crowd goes crazy when that curtain drops on the third hit of 2001. And they're all screaming for you in the center. So, you know, it's high energy. It's probably one of the most amazing feelings you can ever get. Any time I hear 2001 now, it's still sends chills through me to this day.

Garrett says his all-time high as Cocky happened in 2000 when the Gamecocks beat the Georgia Bulldogs after a long winless drought. To say that the crowd went wild would be an understatement. The team had suffered through two years with an overall record of 1 and 21. And then …

Humphries: And then we all of a sudden we beat Georgia at home. The stadium went crazy during that game. They were ripping up the bushes. They were in the end zone. The goalposts came down on the field. Pieces of it were being carried down to Five Points, actually, at the end of the game. We left the stadium. I was in uniform. People were high-fiving me going down Assembly Street. I mean, people were going crazy after that ball game. It's probably one of the most memorable times I ever had in the uniform. The highway patrol was handing me car flags that people had lost off of their vehicles when they rolled their windows down. People were just going insane after that game. We rode all the way from the stadium down Assembly Street, all the way down Blossom Street, cars honking, people going crazy, cops giving me high five as well.

Well, now you know the story of how Cocky and his predecessors came to be and what it’s like to be inside the costume. If you come to campus and walk over to the patio at the back of Davis College, you can see a 773-pound bronze statue of Cocky, which was sculpted by Gamecock alumnus Robert Allison.  And if you’re curious, listen to one of our previous episodes entitled “Why We Are Gamecocks” — it tells the story of how the feisty bird became associated with South Carolina football back in 1902.

Today’s episode of Remembering the Days is sponsored by the UofSC Alumni Association, the home for all Gamecocks that connects students and alumni to advance their careers, their passions and their university.

For the University of South Carolina, I’m Chris Horn. See you next time, and forever to thee!

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