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Hurricanes and Storms: UNC Football in Hurricane Season

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time that the Heels have played Miami after an actual hurricane visited the state.

Hurricane Dorian Makes Its Way Up East Coast
Hurricane Dorian before making landfall in the Outer Banks
Photo by NOAA via Getty Images

Mere days after the devastating Hurricane Dorian, one of the strongest storms ever measured in the Atlantic Basin, made landfall on the Outer Banks of the state, a different kind of hurricane is coming to North Carolina—the Hurricanes of the University of Miami. I thought the timing was interesting, so I decided to go back and look at every instance of a notable hurricane making landfall or spending significant time in North Carolina since 1950 and crosscheck that list against years in which the Tar Heels played the University of Miami, hoping to see if there was any kind of correlation between the two.

Not expecting much, but interested all the same, I crawled through lists of North Carolina hurricanes as well as the history between the ‘Canes and the Heels in football. The years in which there was an overlap are as follows: 1960, 2011, 2014, 2016, 2018, and of course this year (for which we don’t yet have all the requisite data). Of these six years, only two of the games were or will be played in Kenan Stadium: 2011 and tonight.

In the hopes of drawing some kind of correlation, and since one of my favorite hobbies is ignoring the fact that correlation does not imply causation, I looked at the final scores of these games to see if the Heels were motivated to exact the revenge on the Hurricanes that we are unable to on actual hurricanes—to see if Carolina had ever tapped in to that uniquely human urge to control something, anything, when faced with something so inherently uncontrollable as a storm. You can’t fight a hurricane, but hey, maybe it would make you feel better to beat a team called the Hurricanes. The wind will blow where the wind wants to, and you can either stay and let it happen or get out of the way. At least in a football game, when a back is running like the wind toward you out of the backfield, you have the option to tackle him.

The years in which there was an overlap are listed below, along with the final score of the game.

1960 – On September 12, Hurricane Donna blew ashore in the Outer Banks as a Category 2 hurricane, toppling crops and felling trees up to 50 miles inland as well as damaging multiple buildings before continuing northward. On September 30, the North Carolina football team would travel south to Miami, taking the opposite path of the named storm, and play the Hurricanes. The Heels would lose to the then-FBS Independent Miami team, 12-29.

2011 – On August 27, Hurricane Irene made landfall on the Outer Banks as a Category 1 hurricane, with winds around 85 miles per hour. As it progressed northward, the storm left behind considerable wind and water damage. A little under two months later, the Hurricanes football team would come to Kenan Stadium, defeating the Tar Heels 30-24 despite a strong game from Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner.

2014 – Hurricane Arthur made landfall on July 3, starting the 2014 hurricane season very early and, in fact, became the earliest recorded hurricane to make landfall in the United States. It came ashore over the Shackleford Banks, off the coast of Beaufort. The Heels, with the benefit of a couple of months of space, traveled to Miami on November 1, where they fell 20-47 thanks to strong outings from Miami running back Duke Johnson Jr and quarterback Brad Kaaya.

2016 – On October 8, Hurricane Matthew made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane on the coast of South Carolina, near McClellanville, and slowly spun its way north, keeping tight to the coast of the Carolinas as it dumped an incredible amount of rain, causing a large amount of freshwater flooding and setting a new storm tide record in Wilmington. Only a week later, on October 15, the Tar Heels would travel to Miami to play the other Hurricanes, and would get the win, 20-13. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky (now Mitchell Trubisky, and a Chicago Bear) was big in this game, passing for nearly 300 yards in the win.

2018 – On September 14, Hurricane Florence made an unwelcome visit to the coast of North Carolina and made itself comfortable for a few days before eventually leaving—but not before dumping nearly 36 inches of rain on Elizabethtown, North Carolina. In the plodding progress of this storm from east to west across the state, it spent enough time over Chapel Hill and surrounding cities to cause serious flooding, even this far inland. Two weeks later, after the water had receded, the Tar Heels would travel down to Miami to face the Hurricanes again, this time losing 47-10 after turning the ball over six times in an ugly game.

All told, the team from Chapel Hill is 1-4 against the Miami Hurricanes after an actual Hurricane has made landfall in the state, with just one out of the five games being played in Kenan Stadium.

The good news? The Heels’ lone win was in the game with the closest proximity on the calendar to the actual storm, which bodes well for tonight’s game which comes only a few days after Dorian made landfall.

The even better news? No matter how many times this state is hit by a hurricane, we bounce back. And no matter how many times we lose a hard-fought game to a team from Miami, we come back the next year ready to fight again, and maybe this time to win. There are things that are way bigger than a football game. We rebuild houses and we rebuild football programs, better than they were before. That much, at least, we can control.