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Facing the UNC football season with (very) guarded optimism

Earlier today, I heard a few NC State fans in the office discussing the upcoming football season.  They were going position-by-position, talking about the strengths and weaknesses of this year’s squad.  And, with the season less than a month away, you could feel the palpable sense of excitement.

Contrast that to UNC fans.  This summer, I’ve received no… zip… zero emails from friends about about UNC football.   The only conversation I can recall having about the upcoming season is about the freshman quarterback, Donovan Tate, who left campus after a few days to play pro baseball.  The conversation wasn’t “Oh man, I can’t believe he left.”  It was more, “I thought Brandon Tate had already left school. WTF? Whoa, this is a different guy?  Weird.”

The difference in UNC and NC State fans in our attitudes of football has never been more different.  While I worry about NC State fans and their laser-like focus on football and creeping apathy about basketball, a sport where they’ve won two national titles (I’ll have to write about that at another time), it also puzzles me why I don’t get more amped up about football.  I mean, I have season tickets.  I follow the team very closely.

I can only come up with two reasons for this apathy:

  1. Basketball is a gigantic black hole that sucks up a huge share of our time and attention.  That’s even more the case after winning a NCAA title.
  2. Football success has always felt temporary, impermanent and fleeting.  In the early 80s, with Lawrence Taylor terrorizing the ACC, we got to the top 10.  Then, the inevitable slide until the mid 90s, when another stout defense brought a couple of more top 10 finishes.  Then, Carl Torbush let some air out of that balloon, and John Bunting popped it.  It’s hard as hell to get to the upper echelon, but I think it’s even harder to stay there, especially in a state that doesn’t generate a huge amount of top-level, homegrown talent.

Oddly enough, I found another reason to be very guarded about UNC’s chances this year in a very odd source.  In the San Diego airport last week, I bought Jeff Pearlman’s Boys Will Be Boys, an expose on the early 90s Dallas Cowboys.  This is a helluva book – I mean, the debauchery and lawlessness of that team is almost incomprehensible.  As a one-time Cowboys fan, I think I committed a felony just by supporting the team during that time.

How does this relate to UNC?  Well, UNC head coach Butch Davis was the defensive coordinator for a time with the ‘Boys, and John Blake (UNC’s current recruiting wiz and assistant head coach) worked with Butch as a defensive line coach.  Here’s how Pearlman portrayed Butch Davis:

Though [new Cowboys coach Barry Switzer] failed to garner the support of Butch Davis, the arrogant defensive coordinator, this was hardly Switzer’s failure — Davis had campaigned for the head coaching job and was outraged when he was overlooked. (As Davis would later prove in his four disastrous years guiding the Cleveland Browns, it was a solid no-hire).

Ladies and gentleman, the head coach of your UNC Tar Heels!

The venom for Blake is even more, uh, enlightening.  Blake, an African-American, saw Dallas QB Troy Aikman chew out a black wide receiver for running the wrong route.  Blake complained to Switzer that AIkman was a racist who “never” yelled at white players, even though he treated everyone quite evenly, according to an overwhelming percentage of teammates.  With this move, Blake ended up causing a split the locker room along racial lines, helping hasten the downfall of the Cowboys (although the never-ending cycle of hookers and blow helped, too).

Blake soon left the Cowboys to coach his alma mater, Oklahoma.  Pearlman writes:

John Blake would go 12-22 in three seasons with the Sooners before being fired.  He is regarded as the worst head coach in school history.

So yeah, I’m taking the upcoming season with a grain of salt.  I highly recommend Boys Will Be Boys, however.  Probably more than UNC football.

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