It starts on the walk from the parking lot. Maybe, on a game day, you make a detour through the student store, soaking in the atmosphere and surveying the newest Tar Heel wearables, but eventually you’ll find yourself heading on. As the Bell Tower pierces the sky to your right, the anticipation begins to build, and you follow the crowd up Stadium Drive, no longer paying atention to your steps. There’s something special about losing yourself in a stream of the right blue; something lovely about not having to worry about directions. After all, you’re walking with thousands of your closest friends, the ones with the Tar Heels on their cheeks and that perfect shade of blue on their shirts and hats, and you’re all heading to the same place.
That place is Kenan Stadium, a touchstone of my youth and a fixture in the lives of many Tar Heel faithful. A monument of concrete and light blue paint, a cathedral to the team we all dearly love with a detached steeple visible over the northwest corner in the form of a bell tower, the sections of Kenan Stadium provide common ground for fans from everywhere to join voices and cheer that Tar Heel team like hell.
In the summer, things are more quiet. Maybe it’s due to a majority of the students departing, leaving the town to locals such as myself. Maybe it’s a function of the weariness that begins to creep in as the days get longer. Maybe it’s just too damn hot.
In these hot months, more often than not, the stadium stands empty; the quiet sprawl brimming with cool concrete shade, a welcome retreat for any athletes using the multitude of stairs to keep in shape through the hot months. I was on a jump rope team in my youth; we used to run those stairs for conditioning, so I know of whence I speak. Summer storms roll through, dousing the 51,000 seats in a cool rain that turns quickly to steam when the sun inevitably returns. Year after year, the stadium patiently awaits the new season, standing solidly against the passing time, wearing facelifts with pride and playing host to some of the best memories for generations of Tar Heel faithful, both football-related and not.
There have been fireworks shows and concerts, stair sets and storm delays. It’s a fixture, a beating heart near the center of a beautiful campus; lively even when it isn’t football season. It’s home in a way that is simultaneously impossible to describe and readily evident. The stadium feels like forever, even though we only spend fleeting moments walking those stairs or peeking out from those tunnels.
I look forward to seeing y’all there sometime soon.