A sermon fit for a big-tent revival laid a rooster to rest Monday as the sun set in Death Valley. Clemson University students settled in the amphitheater in the center of campus to mockingly mourn the most hated bird west of Columbia, Cocky the Gamecock.
The tradition of holding a funeral for Cocky dates back at least to the 1940s, said 1968 alumnus David Lyle, and the ceremony serves a pep rally leading to the game between rivals Clemson and the University of South Carolina on Saturday.
Sandy Edge has been a sort of ringmaster for the funeral since the late 1990s.
Wearing a smirk and a top hat, he wiped imaginary tears from his cheeks as he led Cocky's funeral procession from the North Green to the amphitheater stage.
"Do you smell dead poultry?" a female student at the microphone asked the audience.
Four men wearing camouflage carried Cocky's simple black coffin, and two Clemson Tiger mascots trailed it dragging a rubber chicken corpse.
"It is my dearest wish, my most earnest request, tonight that I inter these remains so that Saturday these bones will not rise again," Edge shouted.
"I am ready to burn this befouled rooster, this disgrace to the chicken race," Edge continued.
Jokes ensued about how the real USC is in California and how Clemson fans should take a bit of mercy on their rivals. After all, Edge said, "Their own mascot represents an illegal sport."
God himself surely favors Clemson, he added, judging from the orange sunset and purple mountain scape.
Edge paused and stared down at Cocky, still hanging from a rope.
"I look at him now, and good thoughts come to mind," he said. "Chicken dumplings, chicken pot pie, chicken nuggets."
His audience snickered.
After students linked arms and swayed as they sang their alma mater, Cocky was cremated in a metal garbage can."Disco Inferno" played as Cocky burned.
Edge, a career adviser in the College of Business and Behavioral Science, said his wife winds him up before his speech each year.
Chelsea Green, a Clemson freshman, will be out of town during Saturday's game, but she will be rooting for her team from afar. She's never been a Gamecocks fan, she said.
"First of all, we have a better mascot," she said.
Nigel James, a freshman, liked the sermon, and said that it fit the mood on campus preceding the big game.
"We make a lot of jokes because it's football and everything," he said. "It's all fun and games until the football starts."
Students ate fried chicken sandwiches after the funeral.