The 12,000-plus seat Carolina Coliseum opened in November 1968 with the expectation that it would serve as the home for the University of South Carolina’s hotshot basketball team. The building came to be known as the “House that Frank Built,” a nod to Gamecock coach Frank McGuire’s transformation of the school’s basketball program into one worthy of such a large and grandiose arena. Over the past five decades, the coliseum became so much more to the region — a host to cultural and social events as well as big-time college athletics. As the university plans for the future of the esteemed venue, let’s look back at some of the greatest moments and events held at the Assembly Street arena.
20. The Grateful Dead, Oct. 31, 1985: A taste of Haight-Ashbury made its way to the Carolina Coliseum on Halloween 1985. A full house danced and swayed the night away to The Dead, watching Jerry Garcia and company work through two sets that included extended jams of “Shakedown Street” and “Playing in the Band.” The Dead also tried their hand at covers of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy.”
19. NCAA Men’s Basketball East Regional Finals, March 12 & 14, 1970: For the first time ever, a NCAA Tournament Regional Final was held in the state of South Carolina. Future NBA superstar Bob Lanier earned regional tournament MVP honors, leading
St. Bonaventure to its first and only appearance in the Final Four. In the regional final game, Lanier almost single-handedly dominated the Villanova Wildcats, posting 26 points while garnering 14 rebounds.
18. The Eagles, May 11, 2003: Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and company brought their mega-Farewell Tour to the Coliseum in 2003. This was the second time that the group played at the venue. Back in 1972, they opened for Yes just as the progressive rockers were making a name for themselves nationally. The 2003 Eagles show featured a sprawling 24-song set and three separate encores.
17. Columbia Inferno Hockey, 2001-2008: Professional hockey had a brief run at the Carolina Coliseum. The Columbia Inferno of the East Coast Hockey League spent seven seasons in the building, playing before often large and enthusiastic crowds. The club was affiliated with the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs at different times during its tenure in Columbia. Several noteworthy future NHL players donned the Inferno’s sweater, including goaltender Alex Auld, left winger Eric Boulton, and hard-checking forward Alex Burrows.
16. South Carolina Gamecocks Men’s Basketball, 1988-1989 season: The Gamecocks ended a 15-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament in 1989 under the leadership of head coach George Felton. A USC alum, Felton built his squad up into Metro Conference powers in the late 1980s — no easy task when considering that this league also included the likes of Memphis, Cincinnati, and Louisville. The 1988-1989 edition of the Gamecocks was led by sturdy power forward John Hudson and sophomore scoring machine Brent Price, the younger brother of perennial NBA All-Star Mark Price.
Brent himself had an impressive 10-year career in the association. In the Metro Conference tournament, the Gamecocks fell at home to Florida State, which also earned a bid in the NCAA Tournament. In the NCAA Tournament, South Carolina fell to Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State Wolfpack team, a club that featured five future NBA players. The success of George Felton’s club in the winter of 1988-1989 turned the coliseum into a rollicking place once again, as standing room only crowds watched the Gamecocks post a 13-1 record at home that season, including wins over Louisville, Ohio State, and Maryland.
15. Whitney Houston, June 13, 1991: The legendary R&B vocalist brought her “I’m Your Baby Tonight” tour to the Carolina Coliseum. Houston closed out the evening with a moving rendition of one of her calling cards — “Greatest Love of All.”
14. Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling (1970s-1980s): Before national wrestling promotions like Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation (later Entertainment) and Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling came to dominate the business in the late 1980s, regional promotions such as Jim Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling drew large and enthusiastic crowds to venues across the country. Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling was one of the most vibrant promotions in North America, drawing large television and live audiences to shows in the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland for decades. Many a standing room only crowd filled the Carolina Coliseum to watch the likes of Ric Flair, André the Giant, and Wahoo McDaniel put on shows that often blurred the lines between fiction and reality.
13. Run D.M.C., Aug. 23, 1986: Hip-hop’s most influential trio brought its Raising Hell tour to the coliseum on a hot August night in 1986. The week before Reverend Run, D.M.C., and Jam Master Jay performed in Columbia, their album Raising Hell became the first rap album in history to earn multiplatinum status. The group returned to the coliseum for a second show in June 1988.
12. Mötley Crüe, Feb. 2, 1990: Residents of Richland County celebrated Groundhog Day 1990 with Nikki, Vince, Mick, and Tommy. The Crüe brought their Dr. Feelgood tour to town and ripped through a 15-song set that was bookended by their two most recent hits. “Kickstart My Heart” served as the show’s opener and “Dr. Feelgood” finished off the evening. The rest of the band took a break midway through the set as Tommy Lee laid it down with one of his almost acrobatic drum solos.
11. Gamecocks Upset Kentucky, March 5, 1994: The winter of 1993-1994 was one of rebuilding for USC basketball. Head coach Eddie Fogler, who would soon remake the Gamecocks into a force in the SEC, was just getting his bearings in Columbia. South Carolinians got a preview of things to come during USC’s home finale in 1994. Rick Pitino and the Kentucky Wildcats came into the Carolina Coliseum as the No. 7 ranked team in the country. The eventual SEC champions left with a 75-74 loss. Senior South Carolina forward Emmett Hall capped off his college career by pumping in 20 points and leading the Gamecocks to their biggest home win in years.
10. Van Halen, Feb. 17, 1984: Columbia was an early stop on Van Halen’s 99-date 1984 North American Tour, a slogging marathon that proved to be the David Lee Roth version of the band’s denouement. The foursome from Pasadena, California, were still fresh when they hit the stage at the coliseum, just 11 dates into the tour. The band treated the more than 12,000 fans in attendance to selections from throughout the band’s catalog as well as a drum solo by Alex Van Halen, a bass solo by Michael Anthony, and, of course, a rip-roaring guitar solo from Eddie Van Halen.
9. South Carolina Women’s Basketball, the Nancy Wilson Years (1984-1997): USC first established itself as a women’s basketball power under the leadership of Head Coach Nancy Wilson. Under Wilson, South Carolina won or shared the Metro Conference title on five occasions while earning five bids to the NCAA Tournament. Then known as the “Lady Gamecocks,” the South Carolina team proved to be one of the strongest draws in women’s basketball at the Carolina Coliseum. In 1991, the Gamecocks joined the Southeastern Conference, which led to a temporary reversal of the women’s basketball team’s fortunes.
8. High School Graduations (1969-Present): The Carolina Coliseum has long been a part of a special day in the lives of young people and their families in the region. It has served as the venue for hundreds of graduations for Richland and Lexington county high schools over the past five decades.
7. South Carolina Men’s Basketball, The Eddie Fogler Years (1993-2001): After leading Vanderbilt to the Sweet 16 in 1993, Eddie Fogler brought his reclamation project to Columbia. The Queens, New York, native brought South Carolina basketball back to prominence over the next few seasons, luring the throngs back to the Carolina Coliseum to watch Gamecocks basketball. In 1996-1997, South Carolina earned its first-ever SEC regular season championship and finished the season ranked No. 6 in the national polls. In 1997-1998, the Gamecocks won another 23 games, finished the season in the top 10, and earned another bid to the NCAA Tournament.
6. World Championship Wrestling, Clash of the Champions VIII: Fall Brawl ’89, Sept. 12, 1989: WCW returned to the Carolina Coliseum with a cast of characters familiar to Mid-Atlantic Wrestling fans for this made-for-television event on TBS. Fans got to see World Heavyweight champion Lex Luger retain his belt against Tommy Rich as well as Ric Flair and Sting winning by disqualification against Dick Slater and the Great Muta in a Tag Team match.
5. South Carolina Women’s Basketball, 2001-2002 Season: The reemergence of South Carolina as a women’s basketball power took place in the last years that the coliseum served as the Gamecocks’ primary home. In 2001-2002, the team went 25-7 and earned its first ever bid to the Elite Eight. Susan Walvius rebuilt the Gamecocks into one of the country’s toughest and most talented clubs. Two players from the 2001-2002 team enjoyed WNBA careers — forward Jocelyn Penn and guard Shaunzinski Gortman.
In the winter of 2001-2002, the Carolina Coliseum became the place to be once again, as South Carolina raced up the national polls and became a genuine challenger to Tennessee’s preeminence in the SEC. In many ways, the high point of the season was a game that the Gamecocks lost — a Jan. 17, 2002 matchup with No. 2 ranked Tennessee at the Carolina Coliseum. It was the first game that South Carolina women’s basketball ever sold out at the coliseum.
4. KISS, April 18, 2000: “You wanted the best! You got the best! The hottest band in the world” has been a common introduction at the Carolina Coliseum. On 10 occasions, KISS has rocked the coliseum, most recently in April 2000. The 2000 KISS show at the coliseum was part of the group’s Farewell Tour (the first of several) and featured the original lineup of Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss.
3. Elton John and Billy Joel, March 14, 2003: America and England’s best piano men brought their iconic World Tour to the Carolina Coliseum in March 2003. The show opened with the dueling pianists and singers belting out “Your Song,” “Just the Way You Are,” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” before each performer launched into an individual set. The evening concluded with another round of duets featuring John and Joel favorites as well as a cover of the Beatles’ “Hard Day’s Night.” Both men liked the coliseum so much that they each later used the venue as a practice space for subsequent world tours.
2. Elvis Presley, Feb. 18, 1977: The King put on a marvelous show in Columbia on what turned out to be his final tour. The set featured songs from throughout his two-decade long career and concluded with the showstopping ballad “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” The ballad, based on the classic French love song “Plaisir D’Amour,” was one of Presley’s favorites and often closed out his shows.
1. South Carolina Gamecocks Basketball, The Frank McGuire Years at the Coliseum (1968-1980): The 12,000-seat Carolina Coliseum was a big-time basketball arena that befitted the big-time basketball program that legendary Frank McGuire built at USC. The arena opened just as McGuire had transformed the Gamecocks into a regional power. USC won more than 90 percent of the games that McGuire coached in the building as the Gamecocks compiled some of the best seasons in program history. The Gamecocks opened the “House That Frank McGuire Built” with six consecutive 20-win seasons. While playing at the coliseum under McGuire, the program earned four NCAA Tournament bids and three NIT bids and never had a losing season. Future NBA stars such as Alex English, Tom Owens, and Mike Dunleavy learned to ply their trade at the Carolina Coliseum for McGuire’s Gamecocks.
Clayton Trutor holds a Ph.D. in U.S. History from Boston College and teaches at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. He is the author of Loserville: How Professional Sports Remade Atlanta—and How Atlanta Remade Professional Sports (University of Nebraska Press, 2022).