In 2008, 24th ranked UConn paid a visit to Kenan Stadium. It was a night game, the first of the Butch Davis era. Fans had been waiting a long time for a game like this—a relevant game. The Tar Heels were sitting pretty at 4-1 with an opportunity to announce, nationally, that they were to be taken seriously.
Every seat and every bleacher was packed to the point of discomfort. There were chants, screams, fist pumps, leaps of joy, expletives—it was hard to hear yourself think. And who could blame them? 60,000 fans on a Saturday night, all finally optimistic—yeah, with such a monstrous home field advantage on a night like this, the game was almost over before it started.
UNC smacked them, 38-12. Bruce Carter blocked three consecutive punts. Marvin Austin rumbled to the end zone for a pick six. But if you were there, you’ll remember this above everything else: the wave. Midway through the third quarter, the blinding floodlights perched high on the press box suddenly...turned off. The stadium was drenched in a shadowy gloom and there was a collective gasp as the players returned to the sidelines. The delay dragged on and the crowd grew antsy.
Then came the wave. It went around once but didn’t fizzle out. It came around again, then again, and again, and again. Pretty soon, every single person in attendance—even the UConn fans relegated to the corner of the west end zone—were waving. It continued until everyone got bored, then ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ played over the speakers and, HUH!, we were fighting ninjas all night, until the lights came back. The Heels didn’t miss a beat and finished the job in what was undoubtedly the funnest game at Kenan in recent memory.
That game was almost nine years ago now. Albeit, the blackout helped with the raucousness, but there has been scant a time this millennium when Kenan was so loud. Those days are long gone. It goes without saying that the events that would play out over the coming years left the program reeling. UNC sold out all but one game in the Butch Davis era, but since his departure, attendance has plummeted from 58,250 per game to 50,250 per game in 2016. Kenan Stadium can seat 63,000. Not good. Not good at all.
Something has to change—you hear a lot about ‘the culture’ for Carolina football. But is that the problem? Head coach Larry Fedora is now well into his career at North Carolina, and he has long since established a culture of excitement and brotherhood in the program. With all the ‘junk’ that has gone on for over, well, almost this last decade now, he has found a way to not only keep his head above water but lead the Heels to some huge wins and a division title. Say what you want about past disappointments, but the 2015 team was the best we’ve had in many years. And yet, we struggle to fill up Kenan Stadium for even the biggest games. So what happened?
Obviously, it started with the departure of Davis. Fans lost a lot of faith in UNC football after that. These days, still suffering from the NCAA scandal and the media’s narrative, most sections remain patchy on game day, and it’s sad, especially with the lethal 2015 team. Kenan sported rows of empty seats even against Duke (if you recall, Ryan Switzer had a 90-yard touchdown on the first play and Duke never had a chance after that). Some things need to occur before sellouts start becoming a regularity again.
First and foremost, this NCAA crap needs to stop. It won’t any time soon, but it needs to wind down. It’s gotten to the point of absurdity. Things won’t be fixed after that, but give it some time and faith will begin to be restored, especially if Fedora and the team can keep delivering.
That’s a bit unfair, maybe. To put the success of the team and the attention of the entire fanbase on the backs of college students, many of whom will never pursue a football career after graduation, might be a bit much. But they’re as frustrated as we are:
Maybe if we did a Men's basketball pick up game at halftime of our games maybe people will show up? Will you?— Bug Howard (@ThaBugMan) September 22, 2015
Still, this isn’t on the players. This is on us, after all. We’re the ones who actually go to the games. So, I present to you a challenge: attend at least one game. Just one. If you don’t normally go to games, take a Saturday for yourself and your family and visit Kenan Stadium. It’s really quite beautiful. Plus, it’s important—the home field advantage at Kenan Stadium is very real. But you have to be there. Can’t affect the outcome of a game watching it at home. So just go to one this year, more if you can, but one will suffice. The team really needs you.