You know the story. UNC is a basketball school. This is not in dispute and no manner of football success is really going to change that and if you do not believe me then take a look at Florida. That being said, one goal of Butch Davis and by extension Dick Baddour in paying Davis $2 million per year is that football can play a larger role in the UNC athletic culture. So imagine the frustration when a UNC alumnus named Steve Politi writes an article in the New Jersey Star-Ledger basically saying he does not give a flip about football.
Sometimes, like during a brief window when current Texas coach Mack Brown was running the program, we had a reason to almost care. Brown was the coach when I was a student, and he turned a perennial loser into a top-25 team. We stormed the field once after beating Virginia, even ripped down the goal posts and dragged them all the way downtown.
It was something to do, but certainly not a passion. My suitemates and I would camp out for days for tickets to basketball games - and not just Duke or N.C. State, either. We camped out once for a game against Jacksonville State, and weren't even at the front of the line. Football? The sound of the marching band would wake us up in our dorms, and we'd invariably wander out in time for the second quarter.
The Tar Heels won the Peach Bowl when I was a junior in 1993, and that seemed like a big deal when it happened. Then the basketball team won the national championship that spring, with about thousands and thousands of people jamming Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill, with classes canceled and parties lasting well into the next day and Dean Smith elevated from deity to full-fledged God status.
And, sorry, but what bowl game was that again?
This is not unusual, of course. Most schools are either a basketball school or a football school. Rutgers has become a football school thanks to its success (although I'm sure a winning men's basketball team would generate interest). Fans at Oklahoma and Texas are distracted for a few weeks when their hoops teams reach the NCAA Tournament, and then spring football practice begins.
It is the opposite at North Carolina. When it comes to football, we pretty much care about two things:
1. Beating Duke. This is the college-football equivalent of kicking your dog, since the Tar Heels have won 17 out of the past 18 games. Duke cares less about football than North Carolina does, and in some strange way, I wonder if that makes the Blue Devils winners in the rivalry.
2. When parachuting into the stadium with the game ball, try to land in the correct stadium.
UNC hired skydivers to deliver the game ball for the opener last week. The skydivers did, in fact, deliver the ball ... to Wallace Wade Stadium at Duke, which is eight miles away. The Blue Devils were warming up for their own opener against James Madison and were, by all accounts, a bit surprised. (They actually defeated James Madison. Good for you, Duke!)
Other than that, most North Carolina alumni don't ask for much. Butch Davis, in his second year, is putting together some impressive recruiting classes. He could turn this thing around. If he does, he'll see that he's still second fiddle and take a better job some place else. A few Carolina grads will get angry, but most will just shrug.
Now I am not naive. I know there are some among the readers of THF that probably look at football this way. Heck, on a personal level I am more vested emotionally in basketball than football. That is mostly what Politi is saying here up until the point where he claims fans only care about beating Duke and skydivers landing in the stadium. That seems like an unnecessary assertion. Then Politi goes for the rest of way and suggests Davis will eventually fly the coop after seeing he is not top dog. Yeah. Why not just go ahead and call yourself a Wolfpack fan because that is the kind of garbage that emanates from NCSU message boards on a regular basis.
I understand the dynamics surrounding Davis and also how things tend to work with the whole "basketball > football" mentality in Chapel Hill. And who knows what things will be like 2-3-5-10 years down the road. Politi could be right, Davis might leave in three years for a true football school or he might be in for the long haul to see if he can give UNC national prowess in the two major sports. The point is, life as a Tar Heel fan is tough enough when you have the standard cadre of talking heads such as Mark Packer beating the drum of Tar Heel football apathy without hearing it come out of the mouth of someone who went to the school. Reinforcing these generalizations, even when they are true does not serve UNC in trying to change them and I for one think it is affront to the efforts of the coaches and teams to do so two days prior to a game that could be a catalyst for progress in this arena.