NC STATE! Gooooooo Carolina! There’s only one problem with this little rhyme. I don’t hate NC State. It doesn’t bother me when State fans call us “Tar Holes” or talk about “Cheater Hill.” I’m not entirely sure why this is. Maybe it’s because some of my dear friends graduated from Incest State, or maybe it’s because unlike Duke and Wake Forest, people from North Carolina actually attend and graduate from North Carolina State University. Or maybe it’s because 100% of my hate quotient is so wrapped up in the University of New Jersey at Durham that there is none left over for the Pack. But I think the real reason I don’t hate NC State is because in order for there to be a true rivalry, there must be competition. And let’s face it over the past twenty years, the Wolfpack hasn’t posed much of a threat to the UNC Men’s Basketball team.
Of course this wasn’t always the case. In the 1980s, North Carolina State was a formidable force in the ACC and the rest of college basketball culminating with their Cinderella 1983 National Championship. When I was a kid in the late 1980s, my best friend was a boy, and we played a lot of basketball. We would of course always pretend to be Carolina and would sometimes fight over who had to pretend to be State. Not Duke. State. Whoever ended up as “State” intentionally bobbled the ball and threw up air balls, so “Carolina” could win by a landslide. Those were the days when Chris Corchiani and Rodney Monroe were household college basketball names. Reynolds Coliseum was as raucous and intimidating as Cameron Indoor is today, and no one wanted to play Jim Valvano and the “Cardiac Pack” in Raleigh.
Then came the allegations and violations. A now famous book, Personal Fouls, by Peter Golenbock portrayed NC State Men’s Basketball as a corrupt and flawed institution that included criminal activity, drug use and little regard for academic integrity. Golenbock highlighted the case of star recruit Chris Washburn from Hickory, who in addition to his run-ins with the law, had scored below 500 on his SATs. This proved to be more than the Board of Trustees could bear as it did little to debunk the old adage, “If you can’t get into college, Go to NC State”. With Valvano out, it was up to Les Robinson to restore credibility to the Wolfpack program. The one thing I remember about watching Robinson coach is his ubiquitous, red sweaters (much more stylish than a loud red, sport coat if you ask me). Robinson was successful in restoring integrity to the program but was unable to sustain a winning percentage that State fans were accustomed to. Years later when I worked in food and beverage, I waited on Robinson (sans red sweater) and his family several times when I lived and worked on Sullivans Island, SC. Before retiring, he served as athletic director at the Citadel where he had begun his career. He is a very well-respected member of the community, and his contributions to NC State basketball are often overlooked and underestimated.
Needless to say, NC State has yet to reclaim the elite ACC status that they enjoyed in the 1980s. After Duke’s back-to-back National Championships in the early 1991 and 1992, it’s been all about the Battle of the Blues. The Duke/UNC rivalry receives all the national attention as well it should. But in the state of North Carolina, more houses are divided along red and blue lines. UNC and NCSU are the two, largest universities in the state. UNC is more competitive academically and considered the “liberal arts” college while State has one of the best engineering schools in the country. Almost every college-bound senior in NC is likely applying to one or both institutions. It’s not unusual for parents to have a son in Raleigh and a daughter in Chapel Hill or for students to attend one school for undergraduate and another for graduate school. For instance, former Senator John Edwards earned his degree in textile technology from NCSU and his law degree from UNC. (I wish I could have thought of a better example, but I will say he was born in Seneca, SC and first attended Clemson. So I say we blame South Carolina for that one).
Furthermore, as a result of Duke’s abysmal football program, NC State remains North Carolina’s fiercest football rival regardless of the Victory Bell. It is a rivalry that NC State football has dominated the past few years as they currently have a five game winning streak against the Heels. Though Carolina still leads the series overall 63-32. When I was in school the rivalry was so big that the two squared off in Charlotte at Erickson Stadium. A Tar Heel win in November of 1999 over State was one of the few times I saw toilet paper in the trees of Chapel Hill.
Now don’t get me wrong I’m going to be cheering hard for the Heels Thursday night like I always do and would hate like hell to see a State victory in Chapel Hill. But I just can’t bring myself to loathe or detest NC State and their fans. However, I will say that Chuck Amato’s hideous red shoes made my eyes bleed. The fact is I respect NC State, its tradition and perseverance. Unfortunately the feeling isn’t always mutual in Raleigh. There are a ton of State fans out there who despise Baby Blue with an unbridled passion. They accuse us of being arrogant and preppy.
Personally, I think NC State Heel Haters are merely suffering from an inferiority complex. So NC State, let’s stop the hate. We’re brothers from another mother. You know us state-supported schools got to stick together. I know it’s hard being the red-headed step-child among two, blue titans of college basketball. But remember State students and alumni, if there were no Chapel Hill, where would you meet girls? So, start up those tractors and come on over. We’ll leave the lights on for you . . . right before we shoot them out.