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UNC Football: Bell-Ringers and Blues Singers

The chime of the Victory Bell has been absent from Chapel Hill for too long.

NCAA Football: Duke at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Bells will be ringin’ the sad, sad news...

Originally written and recorded in 1960, Charles Brown’s quintessential bluesy Christmas classic “Please Come Home For Christmas sounds purely festive when it first reaches your ears, beginning with the tolling of a bell signifying the coming of the holiday season. The arrangement, a classically catchy and happy Christmas tune with bouncy keys and Charles Brown’s smooth vocals, will fool anyone who isn’t really paying attention. The first line, as well, puts its weight behind this small deception; Charles Brown originally described the bells as ringing “the glad, glad news,” a small incongruity that was fixed by The Eagles in 1978 when Don Henley heard those same bells slightly differently, resulting in the opening line posted above. The happily festive instrumentation belies a more somber turn in the lyrics, turning what could’ve been just another simple Christmas song about family and love into a poignant reflection on loss and longing that transcends the holiday season.

Now, I understand that it’s still October. I’ll grant that it may be tacky to have Christmas music stuck in my head when I should be humming “Thriller” or “The Monster Mash.” To be fair, though, some unnamed stores in the Chapel Hill area already have Christmas trees on display, so it can’t be just me.

This isn’t about Christmas music, though, or my penchant for getting songs stuck in my head that probably shouldn’t be (honestly, I watched one of the NL Championship games last week and “Baby Shark” is still kicking around somewhere in there). This article is about bells, and one Bell in particular; one that’s been ringin’ Don Henley’s sad, sad, news for a few years too long.

This bell splits time between the light and the dark, being ferried back and forth yearly between Durham and Chapel Hill, and returning or staying as the case may be, to remain with the victors. The Tar Heels have taken or retained this Victory Bell in 43 of the 71 games that have been played since its introduction in 1948, not counting two vacated wins by North Carolina. The devilish team from down the road has laid claim to the bell just 25 times in the same span, but recent history has been far more kind to our rivals to the northeast. The Victory Bell has languished in darkness for three consecutive years now, both literally and figuratively, as the winning team generally repaints the base of the bell to match the winning school’s colors after winning it back from their rivals. This three-year skid is the first time the Bell has spent more than two years in Durham since the span from 1987 to 1989, and has added to UNC’s notable nine-game losing streak against in-state FBS teams.

This series between the schools from Durham and Chapel Hill has been played since 1888, with an annual meeting since 1922. The Victory Bell was introduced 26 years into the rivalry, giving the teams something to play for that’s a little bit more tangible than bragging rights, and for the past 71 years the teams have fought over the Victory Bell. The next installment of this struggle is upon us, as the team from Durham will bring the royal blue-besmirched bell into Kenan Stadium for a matchup with a Tar Heels team that will be looking to bounce back after the Hokie Heartbreak that we watched last week. A win on Saturday would be a huge boost to morale that may be flagging after losing the longest game in ACC history.

Sometimes, things need to be changed. Whether it’s expectations for a football season, the color of paint beneath a bell, or the opening line of a Christmas song; sometimes things are better off having been adjusted. We’ve gotten our expectations adjusted, and now we have the chance to apply a fresh coat of paint. A win on Saturday, and we can say goodbye to Don Henley and welcome back Charles Brown.

Bells will be ringin’ the glad, glad news...