My Tar Heels are miserable this year. Barely above .500, they are all but certain not to make the NCAA tourney (unless they win the ACC tourney, which would require acts of several deities acting in concert), and frankly will only be invited to the NIT because the UNC franchise is so valuable that Carolina probably brings in more TV dollars losing than, say, George Mason does winning. It’s been a difficult year in the southern part of heaven.
So why did I watch the whole debacle on Saturday when the Dark Side avenged four years of losses to the Good Side on their home court with a whipping of historic proportions? What’s a fan to do? My wife wanted to fast-forward on the TiVo. My older son, who really does consider the Duke-Carolina rivalry an epic battle between good and evil, felt more like I did: waves of horror punctuated with the kind of rapt attention that a grisly road accident commands.
I am a relatively recent convert to sports at all, having paid no attention whatsoever before moving to Chapel Hill 10 years ago. Soon after we moved here, the day after the Heels were knocked out of that year’s NCAA tournament, a disheveled homeless man sat down across from me on a Chapel Hill city bus, stretched out, and declared, “I’m ashamed to be associated with this town.” I understand why we cling to political and moral ideals even when they’re losing, which I’ve done plenty of times beginning with the Mondale-Ferraro defeat in 1984. I am, and remain, Tar Heel faithful. I’m just not clear on the social psychology of why I was and am proud to root for the Heels during and after this awful season.