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Snow and Turtles

I passed up a chance to go to the UNC-Maryland game today, ironically because of the threat of bad weather made the haul down from D.C. a little too risky. It's ironic not only since the weather forecast has changd radically since I made that decision, but also becuase inclement weather played such a big role in one of the more imortant Maryland games or recent years - the blizzard game of 2000.

I was one of the alumni who didn't make the trek to Chapel Hill for that game. I had a good excuse - I had started my second-shift job Monday afternoon, and hadn't left for two days, snowed in and running tens of millions of dollars of manufacturing equipment. I wouldn't get my car out of the company parking lot for another two days; there was no way I was going anywhere. Now that I think about, that week did more than anything else to push me into grad school on a beach where the weather never drops below 50.

Of course, as lousy as my week was Bill Guthridge's was worse. UNC was 11-8, unranked for the first time since 1990, and was sufferring through a season that included being routed by Michigan State - that game I'd been in attendance for - and a four game losing streak that included home losses to UCLA and Florida State. It was, we were all convinced, a low point in UNC basketball (Ha!).

As an aside, I came across this while writing too much about Grant Wahl's Magic Eight:

I am a transplant to North Carolina. In every game of North Carolina's that I happen to have watched this year or last, I have felt that Bill Guthridge was outcoached. My perception is that he might be able to recruit (or he inherits excellent players because he is at UNC), but that he really doesn't have what it takes to motivate and guide the team to the top. Is this perception accurate?  -- Michael Busch, Boone, N.C.

(That was right before the four game slide, and Wahl's response essentially calls Guthridge's toughness into question, but I'm amused that the conventional wisdom is almost excatly the opposite of what it was in January 2000. Guthridge would go on to lead an undermanned Heels team to one more Final Four, but very little for Matt Doherty to work with in his first few seasons.)

Anyway, with the snow keeping the folks with Smith Center parking passes away from an already-delayed game, the stadium officals had the good sense to let the excess students into the Dome and down to the floor-level seats. 15,000 folks saw the game, most of them students and all anyone could talk about the next day was the Carmichael-like atmosphere that powered UNC to a 75-63 win.

The Heels went on to, well, a 6-4 record to finish the season and a first round exit from the ACC tournament. But then they caught fire, upseting 3rd ranked Stanford, 11th Tennessee and 18th Tulsa on the way to th Final Four and a fitting send off for Guthridge. That summer, the seating was rearranged for the first of the two courtside student standing section, and within a year Carolina Blue was fashionable in the Smith Center again.

(No really. The Dean Dome was never as quiet as detractors would like to say it was, and the crowd would always get amped for the great games there, but the only folks wearing Carolina Blue for most of the '90s were the little old ladies with the same color in their hair and the guy dressed in the suit made of pom-poms - it was all white and gray[*] in those days.)

The Dean Dome is an entirely different atmosphere these days, and a lion's share of the credit has to go to Matt Doherty, who made a concerted effort to change that and Roy Williams, who made a concerted effort to have something for the fans to cheer for. But without the snowicane of 2000 to remind folks what the building was capable of, it would have been a much harder battle to do so.

Of course that Baltimore Sun article interviews exactly one person about the stadium - Jay Bilas  (You couldn't have asked him to stick his head out of his cubicle and shout for Hubert Davis?) who has this to say:

"I'll never forget this, when we walked in, you know what Cameron looks like, [Johnny] Dawkins looked around and turned around and looked at me and said, 'We got to get us one of these,'" Bilas said. "We were looking up and we couldn't make out anybody on the top deck. If we can't see them, they sure as hell can't see us."

I was at that game, in those nosebleed seats, and believe me, we could see you just fine. UNC won that game 96-92, in Bilas's only game there.