North Carolina and Missouri Declare Independence in December: Alumni Will Be Watching


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There are certain things you will never hear from the mouth of a Tar Heel. For example things like, “I Miss Matt Doherty”, “That is Coach K’s Natural Hair Color,” “Tyler Hansbrough’s broken nose was an accident.” And around this time of year you will never hear someone say, “I follow Carolina football religiously but basketball not so much.”

There’s an old joke from the early 21st century that goes, “What did Matt Doherty do in 3 years that Mack Brown couldn’t do in 9 years?” The punch line? “Turn North Carolina into a football school.” (rim shot). I was a UNC student during every torturous moment of Matt Doherty’s tenure, and I can tell you there is a bit of truth to the jab. Though, I believe a kid named Julius Peppers had a little to do with it as well.

Carolina football is often the invisible line in the sand that separates fans from alumni. I am going to go out on a limb and guess that alumni purchased about 70 percent of Tar Heel tickets to next Monday’s game in Shreveport, LA. Additionally, I would say the majority of Carolina basketball fans cannot even tell you the name of UNC’s head football coach (even in a non-interim year). Every time UNC takes on Duke in basketball, sports bars across the country are flooded with fans in two different shades of blue. Watching a UNC Football game is a slightly different experience. When I watched football games in Charleston, I usually sat with one or two other alumni huddled around a small TV (without sound) in the far corner of the bar. We had one eye on the game and the other on the bartender to make sure he or she did not turn the channel on the TV we had fought tooth and nail to reserve.

I’ll be the first to admit that before I became a UNC student, I don’t think I ever watched a Tar Heel football game from start to finish. I looked for the final score and highlights, but I never knew the name of the starting quarterback. Let’s face it, North Carolina football is perennially a mediocre football team where a trip to the Gator or Peach Bowl is considered a very good season. Even when I was at UNC during the Peppers’ era, I didn’t go to all the home football games, and I regret it now. However, this had less to do with my school spirit and more to do with the fact that games usually started at noon on Saturdays. After putting my liver through hell Thursday and Friday night, I was not going to get out of bed at 11am on a Saturday and walk half a mile to Kenan Stadium. Instead I would watch noon games on television in the comfort of my dorm room bed nursing a hangover. If UNC had more late afternoon and night games, Kenan might sell out a little more. But because of advertising and the almighty dollar, schools like LSU and Ohio State get the prime television slots as opposed to the aforementioned mediocre Heels.

However, now almost a decade removed from Chapel Hill, I almost always watch Carolina football games. In fact I rarely miss an opportunity to watch any televised North Carolina athletic competition. A couple of weeks ago I watched the UNC Men’s soccer team win their second national title. The last time they won in 2001 I actually had a PWAD course with one of the star players. My heart swelled with pride as my school brought home its 18th National Championship.

And that’s the difference between alumni and fans. It’s not to say that we do not appreciate UNC basketball’s fan base. We are all a part of Tar Heel Nation. But, when I watch anyone in a Carolina uniform, I know that we share certain common bonds like eating lunch at Sutton’s Drug Store, drinking out of the Old Well, falling asleep in Davis Library during exam week and standing outside the Smith Center on frigid, Saturday mornings waiting in line for student basketball tickets. I also know that 99% of them will one day earn a diploma with the same school name on it as mine.

So, I have a challenge for all the strictly Carolina basketball fans. This coming Monday, let’s pretend we’re all alumni and cheer on the Carolina football team against Missouri as fervently and with as much zeal as if it were a round ball game in March. Here are a few extra reasons why you should:

1)      Monday will be interim head coach Everett Withers last game as a Tar Heel and his last bowl game for at least 2 years. Withers recently took the co-defensive coordinator position at Ohio State. This week, the NCAA decided that the Buckeyes would not be bowl eligible until the 2013 season. So, let’s send him off in perfect Carolina-style with a win.

2)      UNC is a slight underdog against Missouri, and who doesn’t like rooting for the underdog? Plus, it’s a chance for the ACC to score a bowl win over those college football elitists in the Big 12. And no matter how insignificant the bowl game, it’s still a bowl game. It still means money for the university and recruiting fodder for the football staff. When recently hired head coach, Larry Fedora tells a recruit that UNC has played in a bowl for the past four season, the recruit’s probably not going to ask which ones.

3)      The Tar Heels have a dynamite, red-shirt freshman running back named Giovani Bernand. He has the potential to be something really special. Five years from now, he may be running all over defenses in the NFL. Wouldn’t you like to say you knew him when?

4)      UNC men’s basketball team will not be in action again until December 29 against Elon. If you’re like me, you’ll need a Carolina blue fix before then.

5)      It’s the day after Christmas. Would you rather put together train and kitchen sets and hunt for double AA batteries all day or watch some college football?

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