A super run to the Final Four led to an act of kindness that will send South Carolina’s superfan to live a dream in Arizona. Carlton Thompson, the fanatic known as “Gamecock Jesus,” will jet to Phoenix on Friday thanks to a GoFundMe campaign and lots of love for his big, bold South Carolina heart.
He plans to return next Tuesday, a day after the national championship game.
“We’re in it to win it,” Thompson told SEC Country.
‘Believe’ and be rewarded
Thompson, 63, won over South Carolina basketball fans for decades. So it’s fitting that the soul of the Gamecocks fan base will be at University of Phoenix Stadium to savor the experience Saturday when South Carolina plays Gonzaga as part of a spectacular sprint through the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
“I’m running around, trying to get ready to go,” said Thompson, who lives in Elgin, S.C.
“It’s like a dream come true.”
This dream for Thompson was years in the making. His love affair with South Carolina basketball began on Nov. 30, 1968, when he watched the program’s opening game at Carolina Coliseum, a matchup between Frank McGuire’s team and Auburn. Later, Thompson attended South Carolina periodically starting in 1971 before graduating in 1982.
Thompson works shifts as a nurse at a VA hospital in Columbia. Still, he makes time for his Gamecocks basketball passion. He has season tickets, but he won’t be found in his assigned seat. Instead, he’ll generate electricity from the front row of a student section near the baseline, creating memories for many.
Forever young. Forever faithful.
By now, Thompson’s persona as the savant of Sandstorm Nation has taken on a life of its own.
“My signature shirt says ‘Believe’ on the front,” Thompson said. “That has always been my big thing, to believe. You’ve got to believe. The team has got to believe. Everybody has got to believe.”
Believing in the Gamecocks? That’s easy for Thompson.
He says he earned the nickname “Jesus” from South Carolina’s pep band at least 25 years ago, when the band members would call out his name during home games and play “Jesus Christ Superstar Fanfare” near the end of halftime. From there, the nickname evolved into “Baseline Jesus” and then “Gamecock Jesus” after others noticed he brought his frenetic fandom to other South Carolina sporting events.
“See, that’s my whole thing is, ‘Get the fans involved,’ ” Thompson said. “We need the home-court environment. Be loud, be disruptive. We can’t score points as fans, but we can stop (opponents) from scoring points. So that’s my whole thing — to get the fans up on their feet and yelling.”
Gamecock Jesus in the desert
Thompson will have the chance to yell in Arizona this weekend because of an online deed that has delighted many.
Michael Murtaugh, a South Carolina junior, started the GoFundMe campaign on Sunday to send Thompson to the Final Four after the Gamecocks beat Florida to win the East Region. Murtaugh didn’t know Thompson that well before the campaign. But as the student told WLTX-TV in Columbia, “There’s no one more deserving than this guy to go. He’s been a fan for 40 years.”
The initial goal of $3,500 was achieved in five hours. By early Wednesday afternoon, more than $7,400 was raised through donations from 445 people. The campaign was shared more than 9,300 times on Facebook.
“Gamecock Jesus is on his way to Phoenix!” Murtaugh wrote in an update on the campaign’s website. “We raised enough money for Gamecock Jesus as well as his lifelong friend, Eddie Kester, to make the journey to the Final Four. With all the love and support, we can also get his two sons, Greg and Nick Thompson there too! Gamecock Nation is doing an incredible thing for this man and his family. Please continue to share and donate! Go Cocks!”
Thompson’s reaction to it all?
“I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I thought they were kidding. … I was just floored. I couldn’t believe it, because I wouldn’t be able to afford to do something like that without it. It has just been wonderful.”
The wonder will continue in the desert. Thompson expects a remarkable ride to last through next Monday night, when the net meets scissors.
“It would just be so thrilling,” Thompson said of South Carolina possibly winning a national title. “I can’t even imagine what it would be like. … Even if we don’t win, just being there and all that excitement and having made it this far, I truly believe we’ve got a chance to win.”
It always pays to believe.
Gamecock Jesus reached his GoFundMe goal to travel to the Final Four. pic.twitter.com/bojfUl8OyK
— Carson Mason (@CarsonAnnMason) March 27, 2017