A few weeks ago I wrote an email subject line to my Wake Forest friends I’m not proud of: Go to Hell Carolina, go to Hell. I wrote this after my favorite college basketball team, Wake Forest, smoked Carolina.
I didn’t like Carolina that night – and haven’t for 41 years — and the backstory cuts deep into my ego. But I’ll make this saga loaded with baggage sort of short and not that boring.
Carolina didn’t recruit me to play basketball for them and I wanted them to. They gave my scholarship that year, 1981, to Michael Jordan. Jordan could play but so could I. Ticked me off, crushed my spirit, made me bitter.
Turning to Plan B, I visited their baseball coach hoping he would want me to play for his team. He figured if he didn’t know about me how good could I be? He misjudged my home run-hitting prowess. Must have called Dean Smith and Dean told him to pass.
Turning to plan C, I applied to Carolina based on academics alone and got wait-listed and never came off. The admission guy I met looked at my academic stats and didn’t show excitement. A dour expression he shared.
Turning to sibling rivalries, several years earlier two brothers of mine got accepted and attended UNC and loved their experience there. Carolina had the audacity to tell me my brothers’ academic performances in high school impressed them more than mine.
This fueled my dislike of the color baby blue.
When everything changed
Then a few months ago the Wake Forest football team went to UNC’s Kenan Stadium riding a 9 and 0 record. Ahead by more than 20 points in the fourth quarter, my boys were cruising on their way to their first 10 and 0 record and the season of glory would elevate my mood and all Wake Forest people ever higher. But they choked that game away.
I went home and wrote about drinking away my sorrows and vomiting. I don’t drink but I felt like it that night. The only way to cope with that disaster was to write about the classic song by Boz Scaggs titled “It’s Over.”
Carolina has been eating at my intestines for decades. In three circumstances they told me “you’re not good enough.” They had the nerve to tell me my brothers were smarter.
Then everything changed. A few weeks ago – you’ll no doubt recall — they went into Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium on Coach K’s last game at the school’s basketball stadium and let off a foul stink bomb. They whipped Duke. They puked on Duke.
On behalf of the rest of America’s basketball fans not affiliated with Duke, the Tar Heels blew the coronation to smithereens. Carolina came out of that game national heroes for slaying the big self-righteous dragon haunting all of us for the past 42 years, Coach K.
If I could have, I would have kissed every one of those Tar Heel players – on the cheek.
Which takes me back to my undergraduate days at Wake Forest when my friend for life, Jim, articulated for the first time “The Law of Sports Hypocrisy.” Under this law, you can hate a player on another team but if he joins your team you can be a hypocrite and love him.
Here’s my new wrinkle on that shallow but convenient law. If a team you hate embarrasses and humiliates a team you hate, even more, you can love that team you hate less.
For me, Carolina emerges as the team I now love. No matter what Coach K does in the rest of the NCAA Tournament, we can always remember that on that night in Cameron Indoor with 900 of his former players watching, the Tar Heels ruined the event. No basketball fan will ever forget that.
And when Duke fans start saying Coach K is the greatest college basketball of all time, they’ll be reminded forevermore about that the night he and his team stunk and sunk with the bright lights burning and national TV viewers checking in on the Durham Demolition.
For the rest of this year’s March Madness extravaganza, I’m rooting for the Tar Heels because of the joy they brought to my life on Coach K’s last home game. A month ago I couldn’t have imagined thinking this way. I told all of Carolina to go to Hell. Now I want them to go to Heaven.
This coming weekend Duke and Carolina move on to the Sweet 16. They could play one final time in the Final Four. Would the entire world stop to watch this game? Would Duke gain revenge for the nightmare ending at Cameron Indoor?
If Coach K beats Carolina in the Final Four, you’ll hear the collective cry heard around America, tears of frustration and despair and envy. I’ll walk out the front door of my house and wail like a sick coyote then get taken away in an orange jumpsuit.
How much fun will K’s wife, Mickie, have at the hotel after party? Will it be the sweetest of the 14 Final Four parties she’s enjoyed in high-brow hotels? What a lovely fairytale ending that would be, Coach K, winning it all in his last game. Barf on me if that happens.
Life is about living and dying. Basketball is about winning and losing, which is the same thing as living and dying. If Coach K wins, we all die. If he loses, we all live.
If Carolina beats Duke in the Final Four, we all go to Heaven.
What about the Dukies? They can all go to Hell.
Sammy Sportface, a sports blogger, galvanizes, inspires, and amuses The Baby Boomer Brotherhood. And you can learn about his vision and join this group's Facebook page here:
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