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By JAMAL THALJI and JOHN SCHWARB
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 1, 2001
TAMPA -- Part of the Lou Holtz mystique is the unique ways in which the South Carolina coach motivates, encourages and unites his players. Another is the way he treats them: tough on the field, and off it, his expectations and attention do not wane one bit.
The days leading up to today's 15th Outback Bowl were a study in both.
Holtz pushed his players hard all week. In his never-ending quest to correct fundamentals, his famous voice ran non-stop.
"I've been very difficult in practice, very difficult," Holtz said. "But I felt I had to be. Because we've got to be more consistent than ever before without (suspended tailback) Derek Watson, so in every phase of the game, I haven't been very patient."
But Holtz also wanted his players' stay in the Tampa Bay area to be special. He arranged for a special game room at the Hyatt Regency in Tampa, where the team is staying. There was plenty of transportation so players could see the sights during their off-time.
He took -- rather, ordered -- his team to see the Phantom of the Opera at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. The Gamecocks saw a hockey game at the Ice Palace. They visited sick children. They rode the rides at Busch Gardens. They went to museums and the Tampa Aquarium.
They had an emotional senior banquet Saturday evening, broke out the karaoke machine with family and friends, and watched the coaching staff play touch football during Sunday's walk-through at Raymond James Stadium.
Holtz wanted to make it a week to remember.
"This is my 23rd bowl, and there are so many memories our players will have of the Outback Bowl," he said. "They ate like the Russians were in Orlando moving west. ... The Phantom of the Opera, they'll appreciate that in years to come."
STICK TO COACHING: The highlight of South Carolina's walk-through was the coaches' game between the offensive and defensive staffs. It is an annual rite Holtz has had all his bowl teams participate in.
"It ended up like a lot of our games," Holtz said, "a 0-0 tie."
Holtz said that, well, maybe he is not as fundamentally sound as what he preaches. When asked why he layed out for a pass, he responded:
"I got to be honest, I didn't lay out. I fell. I knew I was going to fall anyway, and you may as well make it look good."
SIT DOWN: Ohio State senior tailback Derek Combs will not start in his last game as a Buckeye because he arrived late to Tampa on Tuesday. Coach John Cooper said Combs will play but will be punished because his tardiness could have been avoided and was not weather-related.
ORNITHOLOGY LESSON: Here are a few Buckeyes' answers to the question, "What's a gamecock?"
Darnell Sanders, tight end: "I guess it's, what, a fighting chicken or hen or something?"
Vanness Provitt, wide receiver: "I thought it was some kind of bird. I'm not sure."
Brent Johnson, defensive end: "Is it a chicken? I think so. Or a rooster."
Donnie Nickey, safety: "Some kind of bird, obviously."
Obviously. Specifically, it's a specially bred rooster trained for cockfighting.