When I started blogging some years ago, I made a promise to post every Monday, rain or shine. And I have, without fail. Even in times of extenuating circumstances such as illness or vacation, I have managed to pump something out regardless of probable forgiveness for missing a week. I promised myself that only the biggest event would change that schedule. Today is that biggest event. And so, no Monday blog to come. Today the Monday blog comes out the Saturday prior.
For today, is The Game.
The truth is, I can’t actually remember when I fell in love with Carolina. Or even when I became an avid fan of college basketball, for that matter. Or sports at all, for also that matter.
Sure, it was likely passed on from my parents and the days spent watching sports on television but…what did we watch? My earliest sports memory was The Miracle on Ice. I’m not even sure I understood what was happening as much as I understood how happy the room was. In the same timeline, we spent many a Friday night rinkside at Elmira College. There, the parents would sit cheering in the stands while the cousins would stand near the Eagle’s equipment manager, hoping to collect the remains of a broken hockey stick. Again, it would be years before even knew what offsides or a power play or icing were, but a broken hockey stick? That was gold.
I grew up a tomboy, more often seen palling around with my brother in the mud than sitting with my sister in her purple painting room. I was born with energy to burn, sports lured me. College basketball? It also lured me. My earliest memories of that craze go back to the days of Rollie Massimino and John Chaney and John Thomspon. All obvious fits for fandom for a girl growing up in southeastern Pennsylvania who loved seeing trophies hoisted and nets cut.
Then some kid named Michael Jordan popped onto the scene at some school way far away from me and I started paying attention to schools below the Mason-Dixon line.
Then, some guy named Jim Valvano popped onto the scene and I was suddenly aware of this mecca-trifecta of basketball royalty in Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill and I wondered…what was in that North Carolina water?
I’m not sure why, of the three, I opted to give my allegiance to the Tarheels.
While in college, still in Pennsylvania, my parents relocated to, yes, of all places, Chapel Hill. The move was a business necessity for my father and, as I was halfway to a degree, they did not invite me to transfer. However, after a few trips “home” and a few strolls on Franklin Street, it was over – I was bleeding Carolina Blue. I started reading about the history and about the rivalry and then, in 1993, UNC grabbed that trophy and cut that net while I watched from my couch outside of Philadelphia.
That same year, Jimmy V gave his unbelievable speech at the ESPY’s and suddenly, I developed a fairly strong soft spot for NC State. I guess that’s how it happened. I guess that’s how Dook first trickled to third in my preference list and then eventually onto my list of things not to look fondly at.
And here I sit, decades later, peering out a hotel window in New Orleans counting down the hours to what is being called CarolinaDookMageddon.
The basketball gods have shined a light on me once again and the result will be attendance at what will likely go down as one of the greatest games in NCAA Men’s Basketball lure. It won’t even have to be a good game, mind you. Average will likely suffice. The thing is, because Carolina and Dook sit in the same conference (and are basically neighbors) and because they often seed quite high going into March Madness, tournament math has always prevented them from ever meeting each other in the big dance. Fans have always known that each season, the last guaranteed game would be the first weekend in March. The second maybe-game would be sometime during the ACC tournament and that would be a wrap until the next season.
This year, with a new coach, Carolina wasn’t really predicted to do much and that seemed an accurate stance as the “L’s” rolled in quicker than the baskets. Yet, here we are, heading into the Final Four facing Dook for the first time in tournament history. This year, Coach K will take his final bow and, look, I’ll say it – it would be unreal if he went out with a trophy and a piece of that net.
But no one ever would have expected he’d have to lead his team through the Tarheels to get there.
Somehow, the math worked.
Somehow, Carolina squeaked into extra innings, just higher than the bubble slot they deserved but low enough to where for the first time EVER, the stars could align to a final battle of Tobacco Road but, for once, on the biggest stage of all.
Still, no one thought it would actually happen.
I certainly didn’t.
Certainly not when, months and months ago, I booked a spring break cruise for my family and, on a total whim, picked a New Orleans port of departure. This will be fun, I thought, to leave not out of Florida.
Certainly not when we picked an April trip rather than the usual February because the school got a bit miffed last year when we pulled our high schooler out for ten days to see Mickey Mouse. Fine, I thought, you win, we’ll follow the rules.
Certainly not when that same high schooler’s wisdom teeth exploded through the side of his head at the beginning of the current school year, causing him to miss enough school that we would have had to cancel any February plans, had we made them, lest we again shatter the too many absences rule. Good grief, I thought, why?
Oh, now I see why.
Just how long were the basketball gods working on this plan?
As the Elite Eight wrapped up last week and that Final Four graphic appeared on the screen, I bolted from my chair. It was quite agile of me and the cat-like reflexes truly surprised my husband. I frantically waved at the screen until he was able to interpret my desperate mime routine. And, finally, FINALLY, without missing a beat, he was able to read my mind.
He opened his laptop and started clicking away.
Holy hell. Was he? Yes. Were we going to do this? We were going to do this. Were we going to do this? I called a friend quickly
for permission to make sure we weren’t nuts (thank you, Reed). Did I pick the one friend who I knew would ask me why the hell I was talking to him when I should be hitting add to cart?
As Roy would say, gosh diddly darn it, you bet.
And so, we will be there tonight at tip-off.
Do not look for us behind the bench. We will not be among the Final Four royalty or in the boxes or near any celebrities.
We will be tiny dots, a few tiers up. But we will be there.
Up near the Carolina blue heavens…close enough, perhaps, to say thank you to those basketball gods.