COLUMBIA, S.C. – Paul Aitchison spent the early part of his Sunday afternoon the same way he usually does: watching the NFL.
Only the 47-year-old Columbia resident was watching games on a TV in the back of his car and tailgating outside Williams-Brice Stadium instead of sitting on his deck.
“I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a college game on a Sunday,” Aitchison said. “It probably won’t happen again and it is a beautiful day. I think most people were happy to have something to do on a Sunday afternoon. Most people have gone to church and it’s good to be out here.”
Aitchison and his tailgate, which takes place in Gamecock Park to the west of Williams-Brice Stadium, had some different faces than usual. It also had a lot of empty parking spaces around it – not a normal sight, but an understandable one in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
“A lot of people who travel in for the games, it’s a long way back for them on Sunday,” Aitchison said. “Of course, the Lowcountry, a lot of those people are worried about other things besides football right now. They are probably headed back to their homes and seeing what damage was done.
“I think some of there are probably here away from home and can enjoy the game today then go home.”
The hurricane hit the South Carolina coast Friday and hundreds of thousands were evacuated to the Midlands and beyond throughout the week. Many residents headed back late Saturday and Sunday as roads were re-opened. The affect in the Columbia area was felt in the form of downed trees and power lines. When it came to football, the Gamecocks moved their game against Georgia to Sunday instead of Saturday.
Looks like we'll have a lighter crowd this afternoon at Williams-Brice. pic.twitter.com/36K9Lek4Pm
— Hale McGranahan (@Hale_AJC) October 9, 2016
Columbia resident Rick Gregory said he did not pay much attention through the week to what might happen with the game.
“I would say I was more concerned with the hurricane,” Gregory said. “They were able to work it out and have it, so we are here.”
Gregory’s tailgate normally has about a dozen attendees, but had just a handful came Sunday afternoon. He said some had sold their tickets, while others had previous commitments or were affected by weather. He was happy the game was kept local, however, and not moved like last year’s game against LSU was in the wake of historic flooding in Columbia.
As the game neared, Jerry Blond was trying to unload a pair of extra tickets. The 31-year-old from Greenwood is a season ticket holder, but two people backed out of attending with the game change.
“If the game was last night, they probably would have come,” Blond said.
As for Aitchison, he said he was going to attend even if the game was played in the rain Saturday night. He also was hopeful to see at least 50,000 fans in the stadium. Attendance was announced as 77,201.
“I think it’s a nice opportunity to watch a little Sunday afternoon football,” Aitchison said. “Everybody will be done by 6 or 7 then get ready for the work week.”