Photo courtesy Kimberly Rivers
Mention North Carolina Football to average sports fans and the response usually
warrants a mention of the basketball team. “It’s a basketball school,” they’ll say, most recently citing the Jordan Brand deal as supposed proof of North Carolina athletics’ inability to focus on anything but the men’s basketball program.
For me though, Carolina football is a tradition. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been at Kenan Stadium for each opening Saturday and just about every subsequent home game. I remember walking through Tar Heel Town on Polk Place with curiosity. Wearing my Carolina blue Ronnie McGill replica jersey, my dad walked me through a campus that looked a lot bigger through the eyes of an 8 year old.
But all I really cared about at the time was grabbing food and getting to the stadium as quickly as possible to watch a young T.J. Yates throw touchdowns to Hakeem Nicks. Even though I knew that our football team wouldn’t enjoy as much success as our basketball team, I looked forward to Saturday afternoons (and sometimes nights!) at Kenan Stadium just as much as evenings at the Smith Center. I still feel the same way.
Back then I’d sit with my family high above the field in the upper deck, but I still feel the same feelings at games now as I did when I was 8. Instead of being with my immediate family, though, I experience those feelings with my family of fellow Tar Heels all around me in the Tar Pit.
Instead of looking at the huge, green campus with wonder and dreaming of my future there, I now look at it as my home. And nothing brings that sense of home out quite like a crisp late-summer, early-fall day watching the Tar Heels take the field under the pines at Kenan. The atmosphere of a campus only a couple weeks into the academic year is filled with hope for a successful season without the high pressure associated with monumental national expectations.
If Carolina basketball is your family’s unpredictable, stress-inducing Thanksgiving dinner, then Carolina football is your family’s annual, usually-joyous, usually-predictable Christmas party.
Each week during the season campus pauses, especially on that first Saturday when the Carolina athletics year is unofficially christened.
Carolina football is a weekly gathering for families. Carolina football is showing campus off at its best to your mom and dad and taking pictures wearing your Carolina blue. Carolina football is feeling a little happier and a little less stressed. Carolina football is a slowdown.
Carolina football is a tradition. To spend a fall Saturday in Chapel Hill is to spend a day at home. In that way, the University of North Carolina is, without a doubt, a football school.