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Team traditions: Story of how University of South Carolina got nickname

South Carolina has competed on the football field for more than a century, but the original South Carolina Gamecock fought on the battlefield more that 200 years ago. General Thomas Sumter, the namesake of Sumter, S.C., was a fierce combatant in the American Revolution. The Virginia native fought in the militia during several campaigns against local American Indian tribes, then became a key officer in the struggle for American independence.

As battles against the British raged on, he became the de facto leader of South Carolina during the War and waged many battles before being wounded in 1780. He survived his wounds and was commissioned a general near the end of the war. Sumter was a constant thorn in the side of the British forces -- so much so that the British dubbed him “The Fighting Gamecock” for his never-say-die attitude. The name made sense, since Sumter was devoted to the sport of cockfighting as a young man and employed fierce, guerilla-style tactics against the more buttoned-up Redcoats.

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He died in 1832 in his adopted home of South Carolina, at the age 97. The town of Sumter paid tribute by taking his name and is known as “The Gamecock City” as a tribute to Sumter’s fierce moniker. Decades later, he was also the namesake of Fort Sumter, the site where the Civil War would begin in 1861.

Sumter’s other namesake -- the University of South Carolina football team -- plays just 44 miles from the town of Sumter, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia. The football team had several nicknames in its early years, including the less-inspired “College Boys,” before the town newspaper dubbed the players the Gamecocks in 1903. As is often the case with animal-nicknamed teams, South Carolina games feature a live bird name Big Spur, though the official school mascot is a costumed character named Cocky.

Oddly enough, Cocky claims to be the son of Big Spur, which raises a whole lot of questions about the size of the egg he was birthed from, and whether or not male Gamecocks lay eggs at all. In any event, the mascot certainly fits the team -- especially with a personality like Steve Spurrier at the helm.