Eddie Dunning has painted—and repainted—the USC’s Gamecock logo on the 50-yard line for more than three decades. Along the way, he has become just as familiar a figure in Williams-Brice Stadium as the iconic bird.
By Collyn Taylor
Dec. 8, 2016
A man sits in a nearly empty Williams-Brice stadium. There are a few people on the field, but on this Friday before South Carolina’s last home game of 2016 there are no screaming fans, no thumping beat of “Sandstorm” reverberating from the turnstiles, no players racing through smoke onto the field.
The man wears a ragged black shirt with paint stains splattering it, making the shirt more smock than clothing. He walks down the stairs onto the field, a slight smile on his face. It’s a walk he has made countless times before each Gamecock home game and he knows it by heart.
He fires up the bulky paint machine and it roars to life while he goes to work again painting the iconic midfield logo while adding to his already storied career.
Eddie Dunning is in charge of painting the midfield gamecock intertwined with the Block-C before every home game. The 61-year-old South Carolina native has been painting that logo since 1984, spanning 32 seasons and 222 home games.
“I didn’t know I could do this when I first started, but the Lord spoke to me and told me, ‘I’m going to make you an important man today. You ain’t going to have to look for no more work if you have faith in me,”’ Dunning said.
He had faith and hasn’t had to look for a job for more than three decades. Along the way he became fixture at USC.
Dunning began working for the university in the 1970s and, after a break, returned in 1983 to join the grounds crew at Sarge Frye Field. When he started then, Williams-Brice had artificial turf and didn’t need painting.
That changed in 1984 with the implementation of natural grass. Dunning went to work there.
His first football season was 1984, South Carolina’s first 10-win season in history. The Gamecocks finished 10-2 that year with a shot at a national title but lost to Navy on the road.
Since 1984, Dunning has seen six different coaches patrol the sidelines he helps paint. He has developed relationships with each one and his staff, learning their names and building a bond.
He has missed just one game at Williams-Brice in 32 seasons. In 1992 the week of the Tennessee game, Dunning’s mother died and he couldn’t attend the game because of the funeral.
But then-head coach Sparky Woods made sure he was there in spirit.
“Coach Sparky Woods said, ‘I’m going to tell the team what happened and we’re going to win the game and give you the game ball,’” Dunning said. “Tennessee was a 14-point favorite and we beat them.”
South Carolina upset the No. 16 Volunteers 24-23, stopping a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter. Woods kept his promise and gave Dunning the game ball signed by the team.
Through the 32 seasons Dunning has been painting “the bird,” there has been the occasional mistake.
One week the crew that dots out the logo and the end zone paint stenciled the midfield logo on the 45-yard-line instead of the 50.
“All of a sudden I hear this ‘Eddie cry,’” assistant turf manager Donnie Lindler said. “I probably walked about 20 or 30 yards and just said, ‘Oh my God.’ And we were just standing there and Eddie says, ‘What we gonna do?’”
Lindler, who’s worked with Dunning for 15 years, said he and the team employed water hoses and green paint trying to fix the mistake so fans wouldn’t notice. It worked, and the group laughs about it now.
Dunning has seen grounds crew painters come and go through his time in Columbia. He now works with his nephew, Jonathan Dunning, who helps paint the field every Friday.
Jonathan Dunning joked that it can be weird sometimes working with family but he still sees the same meticulous Eddie he saw growing up.
“(He’s) pretty much the same - serious,” he said. “He takes everything he does serious and wants it done right.”
Dunning’s supervisor, assistant athletic director for sports turf Clark Cox, said Dunning has been a “constant” since he set foot on campus and serves as the historian for the group.
Cox also said Dunning cares about his co-workers and his hometown near Cameron, South Carolina, taking one day a week off to deliver food to people in the community.
“That says a lot about Eddie,” Cox said. “We know him as Eddie in our work world and in our athletic community, but I don’t think a lot of people know Eddie is very active in his hometown.”
While time keeps inching him closer to retirement, Dunning is not giving up his responsibilities just yet. He says the job keeps him young and when he retires he’ll still make the drive down Interstate 26 to Williams-Brice occasionally to paint.
“I enjoy coming to work,” Dunning said. “This job is a job here where you know you have something to do. You either want to be there or you don’t want to be there. And me? I want to be there.”