As we approach game day, we can safely assume who UNC alum and sports icon, Michael Jordan, will be pulling for.
Spoiler alert: it’s not the Gamecocks.
In fairness, he’s a little biased.
MJ spent 3 seasons with the Tarheels, hitting the game winning shot in the 1982 NCAA Championship game, before going on to become a 6-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls.
So yeah, he’s a big UNC guy.
Making this weekend’s matchup even more interesting is the fact that Jordan, a North Carolina native, has majority ownership of Charlotte’s NBA team, the Hornets, which happens to be where the game is being played.
While it‘s unclear if Jordan will be in attendance at Saturday’s game, what is clear is that MJ is not just a living legend: he’s the living legend.
In my opinion, MJ is the greatest of all time. However, even if you aren’t completely convinced, that’s okay.
The point of this article is not to unveil myself as a Michael Jordan apologist (frankly I think his body of work speaks for itself).
Instead, I want to look at a quality that he possessed that cannot be argued.
Whether your vote for the GOAT goes to Lebron, or Kobe, or someone else, you cannot deny that the one thing that separated Jordan from everyone else was his desire to win. It is absolutely unparalleled.
No matter what obstacle he faced, whether it be injuries, sickness, or tough competition, he fought through it all and willed himself to win.
This reckless abandonment that Jordan played with is transcendent.
His hatred of losing fueled him to perform at levels that still seem nearly impossible, achieving in the process some truly staggering statistics and win totals.
So, with Jordan’s desire to win in mind—and his alma mater facing off with us this weekend— I started to think about the Gamecock greats.
We’ve had some insanely talented players take the field for us over the years.
A list of legends that includes Jadeveon Clowney, Alshon Jeffery, Melvin Ingram and Stephon Gilmore— among many others.
Jordan was more than just freakish talent. I wonder who of the Gamecock greats shared Jordan’s most prized skill: his unrelenting desire to win.
While there’s a few players that initially come to mind, the “MJ of Gamecock History” is obvious when you look at both the film and the statistics.
Air Jordan? How about Air Connor.
I’m convinced that Connor Shaw possessed deceptive athleticism, stubborn durability, underrated consistency, and above all else, Jordan’s intense will to win.
A guy who came in as a 3-star talent and the 47th best player in the state of Georgia probably shouldn’t have had the impact that he had.
It wasn’t expected by many that Shaw would eventually be hailed as the most successful QB to ever wear the Garnet, but it happened, and Gamecock fans couldn’t be more thankful.
While it’s true that Shaw never possessed the quickness and agility of Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, nor the arm strength of Andrew Luck, his (sometimes reckless) compulsion to win at all costs, is the one thing that led the Gamecocks to their most successful stretch of football in program history.
If you think I’m giving the guy too much credit, check out these reasons why Shaw had MJ’s winning ingredient.
Shaw’s Win Totals
When Shaw finished his time in Gamecock country, he held a record-setting win total of 27 wins to five losses.
This is still the best winning record of any quarterback to wear Garnet & Black, an amazing feat considering that Shaw only really started two and a half seasons.
In fact, Shaw was the backup through the first 5 games of his sophomore year, getting the nod only after a loss to Auburn.
In an unreal first start, he threw for 311 yards and 4 touchdowns, leading the Gamecocks to the 54-3 win over Kentucky.
This performance not only secured him SEC player of the week honors, but it catapulted him into a season where he’d only lose one game as the starter (Arkansas).
Possibly more amazing than his overall win total is his record while playing in Columbia, SC.
Through 17 home games, Connor Shaw secured a perfect 17 wins, effectively making Willy B it the toughest place to play in the nation.
Those numbers speak for themselves.
Playing through injury to seal the comeback
Like Jordan, the wins didn’t always come easily.
In what is perhaps immortalized as his most iconic game (and stuff of Gamecock folklore) Shaw showed off the Jordan-esque heroics of a comeback win, while injured.
In the 2012 season, coming into the game against Mizzou, Shaw was not slated to play due to a knee sprain.
Midway through the 3rd quarter, Mizzou was sitting on a 17-0 lead, and the Gamecocks looked as if they were ready to wave their white flags of surrender.
At around the 6–minute mark Spurrier sent the injured Shaw in as a last–ditch effort to get something going.
The gamble paid off as Shaw battled back, throwing the game tying score to Nick Jones at the 42–second mark of the 4th quarter.
The game went into double over-time, but the heroics of Shaw never quit, fighting tooth and nail to give the Gamecocks the 27-24 victory, proving that pain is nothing to a winner.
If that’s not Jordan–like, I don’t know what is.
Monster Final Season
In 2013, Connor Shaw not only led the Gamecocks to their 3rd 11-win season in a row (through sheer will at times), but he did so with Jordan’s flash and style.
Shaw completed a career best 63.4% of his passes for 2,447 yards. He then added another 558 yards on the ground, which was good for the 2nd leading rusher on the team.
His 24 touchdowns through the air looks like a solid stat, but when considering that he only had 1 interception against that number, it is absolutely mind boggling.
This protection of the ball— which played a huge part in some key wins— led him to an efficiency rating of 162.94, topping Deshaun Watson’s senior season in that category.
The cherry on top for the season (to the happiness of Gamecock fans everywhere) was Shaw’s 31-17 victory of Clemson, securing a perfect record against his rival and completing the “fear the thumb” 5-peat.
If that wasn’t enough, Shaw’s final game in a Gamecock uniform, was very possibly his best as he notched that 11th win against Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.
In this dominate performance, Shaw threw for 22 of 24, 312 yards, and accounted for 5 total touchdowns (3 passing, 1 rushing, 1 receiving).
What a way to end an amazing collegiate career.
Some may argue that Connor Shaw should never be compared to the greatest winner of all time, Michael Jordan.
To those people, I would simply say this: watch that 2013 Missouri game and tell me you don’t see a winner.
I certainly do.