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UNC Football: The Other Shoe

Is that the sky falling, or just the other shoe?

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

It was a long October. I know I don’t need to tell anyone this, but a 2-2 month for the Heels stings a lot more than it looks like it should on paper. Carolina is currently 6-2, was bowl eligible a full two weeks before Halloween, and yet the spookiest month of the year has fallen off the calendar with a wet thud and left the Heels holding two big L’s (without the Cool J).

In interactions with Tar Heel fans in my daily life, I’ve encountered an increasing and impressive number of folks who give me that knowing and world-weary nod when we discuss the baffling performance of our beloved football team the past few weeks. Lots of folks had the Georgia Tech game circled from the beginning of the season, citing recent history and/or the generally anti-Carolina football vibes of the world’s largest Delta hub, but far fewer had that game pegged as the continuation of a skid started with a faceplant against Virginia. And yet, folks are moving through the stages of grief far more quickly than I would expect, reaching a kind of depressed acceptance not even a full week after the most recent (ramblin’) wreck wrought by Tech on a promising Tar Heel season. Almost like these losses were pre-mourned.

I’ve spent the whole season waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I thought it was just my pet generalized anxiety influencing the way I interact with the world, as usual. I thought that maybe this season was different. After all, it had been nearly twenty years since such a hot start; it certainly felt a bit different. Now, though, when I talk UNC football with friends and family, I see that same anxiety reflected right back at me. They, too, had been waiting for the other shoe to drop, that inevitable fall at the end of such a precipitous rise.

I don’t think that feeling is unique to Tar Heels fans, to be clear. I think that to care deeply for something is to necessarily feel anxious about it, at least a little bit. It’s the lot of every football fan to worry about their team, to stress over things that are far beyond their control, to spend their weekends in that fraught space between the agony of defeat and the fleeting ecstacy of winning the big one. It doesn’t make it hurt any less, though, when the bill does come due. Recently, that disappointment has come home to roost more often than not for this Tar Heels football team, as we’ve watched several elite players come through the program with the same disappointing results.

Still, the flip side of that coin is the hope. The hope that comes with each game, each season; the hope that makes a loss sting all the more but still roosts somewhere between your heart and your lungs when the Heels kick off each week. That hope is the difference between disappointment and despair.

Carolina is 6-2. There’s still a shot at a trip to Charlotte at the end of the season. There are still the same pieces the Heels put together to start the season historically well. There’s still hope that the season can get back on track. It starts with a get-right game against Campbell tomorrow.

I hope they’re ready.