They stood in line, sporting umbrellas and ponchos as a late-afternoon rain shower coated the sidewalk. Most clutched helmets, footballs, posters and schedule cards, waiting for a dash of silver ink inside.
As Connor Shaw took his place at the table on Friday, it wasn’t an autograph session for overzealous fans.
It was another chance to say thank you to a player who won more games than anyone ever had at South Carolina.
“I claim this as my home,” said Shaw, the Georgia native who came to Columbia four years ago and helped usher in a football revolution. “It’s always good to come back and see everyone, all the familiar faces.”
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After a whirlwind two months of signing a free-agent deal with Cleveland, then reporting for minicamps and attending the NFL rookie symposium, Shaw was enjoying a short break. He was at the Palmetto Moon at The Village at Sandhill, signing autographs in a three-hour window for $20 to $25 a pop.
All proceeds are being donated to Children’s Chance, a Columbia organization that helps cancer-stricken children and their families with non-medical needs. Shaw has been a longtime supporter of the charity, remembering the Christmas events he went to as a Gamecock and the many children he met.
“We just did an event about a month ago, and we had a lot of kids out, and Connor’s just an amazing individual off the field as well as he is on the field,” said Stephanie Amaker of Children’s Chance. “He takes a lot of time with these kids.”
Shaw will take a cancer patient on a fishing trip during the next month, while juggling his burgeoning NFL career and his personal life. He’s getting married in a couple of weeks, and in September, he and his wife will welcome a baby daughter.
Shaw can’t wait to tie the knot and then see his little girl, and, hopefully, by then he’ll know where he stands with the Browns. Shaw made it through the first round of camp and tryouts as one of four Cleveland quarterbacks (veteran Brian Hoyer, Coastal Carolina alum Tyler Thigpen and fellow rookie Johnny Manziel are the others) and he knows that once camp starts, he’ll be trying to stick on the roster.
“Nothing’s guaranteed,” he said. “I’ll be competing for that third spot on the roster. I don’t know what’s going to happen. My job right now is to find a way to contribute to the Cleveland Browns and compete my butt off.”
Until then, it’s seeing fiancé Molly, who lives in Columbia, preparing for his wedding and honeymoon in the Dominican Republic and studying the massive Browns playbook. Oh, and answering the two most popular questions – what’s Johnny Football really like, and how can he get used to wearing orange every day?
“We’ve developed a pretty good relationship,” he said of Manziel, the hotshot known as much for his off-the-field lifestyle to his Heisman Trophy. “He’s better than most people make him out to be.”
And the other?
“It’s a pretty surreal feeling, seeing your name above your locker, then you see big orange stuff in your locker,” Shaw said. “That’s something I’m going to have to get used to.”
Shaw has bonded with Browns punter Spencer Lanning, also a former Gamecock, and is ready for the future. Molly’s grandparents live near Cleveland, which would be a big help if he makes the roster or practice squad, and it seems as if things will work out.
They had a habit of doing so when he was leading the Gamecocks to never-before-seen heights.
“It was overwhelming at first, but it gets better,” Shaw said. “Just adapting to Ohio, it’s a long way from home. I’m glad I’m part of the Cleveland Browns, but it’s definitely good to be back home for a little bit.”