This past weekend when I was walking into the Georgia Dome to watch one of the more disappointing Carolina football games in recent memory, something funny happened. A Georgia fan, who probably had a few to many bourbon and Cokes, yelled at my dad, brother, and me, and said “Go home Carolina fans, you’re a *blank* basketball school. We jokingly said something back to the guy and laughed it off. I truly thought we were going to shut the drunk fan up when the Tar Heel offense went out and dropped 50 points on Georgia. We all know how that turned out.
I didn’t think about it again until right after the game. We were still sitting in our seats trying to figure out how Carolina let yet another big game slip through its fingers. Why didn’t Hood get the ball more? Why couldn’t the defense contain Nick Chubb when it mattered the most? Why couldn’t Trubisky connect on multiple deep balls? “Maybe we are just a basketball school,” I thought.
I have been going to Carolina football games since I was four months old, and the football can never quite get over the hump to being on the same level as the basketball team. As an angry and upset fan, I came to the irrational realization that the football team would never achieve anything great, and the best thing we could do was go to the closest bar to the Georgia Dome and watch Alabama thrash USC so we didn’t feel quite as bad about our own defeat.
The next day in the long car ride from Atlanta to Raleigh, I thought about the basketball school quote some more. I was no longer as upset as I was in the Georgia Dome, and I could think about the game from a more analytical view. If the Georgia fan had told us to leave because we were a basketball school, then that must mean that Georgia was a football school.
Georgia claims two national championships, one which was way back in 1942, and the other in 1980. They have had plenty of good football teams since then, but only twice can they claim they were the best. The Bulldogs can also lay claim to two Heisman trophy winners, including Herschel Walker who many people claim to be the best college football player ever.
If Georgia has two national championships and arguably the best college player to play the game, do they remind anyone else of a certain NC State basketball program? The Pack have won two national titles in 1974 and 1983, and have David Thompson, who many call the best college basketball player of all time. Does this mean NC State is a basketball school?
NC State is about as much of a basketball school as Larry Drew is the face of Carolina basketball over the past 10 years. If Georgia football and NC State basketball are comparable programs, then it is hard to buy that Georgia is a football school. They are a school who has had some football success. It is hard to argue with solid facts.
This is not meant to be a knock on Georgia football. It is hard to talk bad about a team after they beat you. It is more to serve as a reminder of just how good Carolina basketball really is. Everyone knows the pedigree of Carolina basketball. If you have ever been to a basketball game, all of the former North Carolina and NBA greats will tell you about it on the video board. 2,173 wins, 117 NCAA Tournament wins, 70 McDonald’s All-Americans, 30 ACC regular-season titles, 19 final fours, 18 ACC tournament titles, 8 national players of the year, 6 national championships. Now that is a basketball school.
After taking all of this in, I felt a little bit better. If we were a “basketball school”, at least we were a real basketball school. I then thought, why can’t we be both? Florida was successful at that when they won both the football and basketball national championship in 2007. Last year, Oklahoma sent their football team to the College Football Playoff, and their basketball team to the Final Four. Why can’t North Carolina be like this? The short answer is: they can.
A win against Georgia would have gone a long way to solidifying North Carolina as both a football and a basketball school. That didn’t happen, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible. After losing to South Carolina last year, the Tar Heels reeled off 11 straight wins and were a botched call away from potentially taking the national runner-up Clemson to overtime in the ACC championship game. The same thing can happen this year.
October 1st needs to be circled on every Tar Heel fan’s calendar. A win in Doak Campbell Stadium against a very good Florida State team could turn everything around. It could provide Larry Fedora with the signature win he has so desperately tried to capture in his tenure at Carolina, and change the way a lot of fans feel about Tar Heel football.
The final conclusion I came to after thinking about this long as hard, is that Carolina will probably never be a football school. The basketball team is just too good and has too much tradition. That is not necessarily a bad thing, though. The football team can use the basketball team as a stepping stone. North Carolina basketball is already a huge recruiting advantage for North Carolina football. Countless football recruits are in attendance at big basketball home games, and it certainly gets high school athletes excited about the prospects of being a student athlete at the University of North Carolina.
Even though The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill may never be a football school, it can be known as a basketball school with a damn good football program. That is the way Larry Fedora has this program heading, and that is good enough for me.