When I began forming a list of criteria for college, I put one item on the list that some people scoff at: I needed big-time college athletics.
No, I wasn’t going to college to play a sport, and yes, I realize there’s more to life than sports. (Full disclosure: I was going to North Carolina, as long as I got in, for a variety of other reasons) But big-time collegiate sports is an atmosphere unrivaled in America, and it’s fun to be a part of that. The attachments people have to certain colleges include physical proximity and familial connections just like pro teams, but it also includes the element of community.
Many fans attended the school they cheer for, so they feel like they have a stake in it. Because I’m in the same undergraduate database as Marcus Paige, I can feel closer and more connected in ways I can’t with the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton or the Charlotte Hornets’ Kemba Walker.
I attended my third UNC-Duke basketball game last Saturday, and that’s what it’s all about.
The excitement, the up and down emotions, the grandiosity of it all is so much fun to be a part of. Win or lose, those three days are probably the most exciting of my four-year experience.
UNC lost all three of those games (I studied abroad during last year’s home win) — including Duke’s 84-77 Saturday — but after the sting of losing subsides, it’s easy to appreciate the rivalry. It’s hard to exactly explain why it’s so cool, but I’ll try.
You almost have to remember how different this game is from every other ACC match. The game takes on an identity that hibernates for a year before exploding twice in February and March. Other UNC home games are cool, but they don’t leave your ears ringing a couple of hours after they end.
There’s a buzz in the air during the whole day. Whether you’re on campus or walking around Franklin Street, it feels like the calm before the storm. A hot dog restaurant on Franklin puts up a sign that says “Honk if Dook sucks.” Some students opt for a war paint look. Plans are made in superstitiously hushed voices: “If we win, what’s the best route to rush Franklin Street?”
The luckiest students get to stand in line five hours before the game starts, dehydrated from the wait, only to stand the entire game behind one basket huddled in the body warmth of your newest friends. And thousands of others would kill to be in that position. The electricity in the air grows with every second counting down.
The “TAR…HEELS” chant starts earlier than usual. Fans file into their seats quickly to catch every possible second of action on the court. Once the game tips off, the battle begins.
You can sit down during the game, but why? Chances are, someone will be blocking your view if you choose to rest. The crowd roars and cheers and boos. UNC scores, Duke takes the lead, UNC fights back, Duke regains the momentum.
Duke obviously won the game, and 20,000 people walked out of the Dean E. Smith Center dismayed. Big-time college sports can be immensely frustrating. But even in that moment, I think everyone there could have agreed that he or she just experienced one of sports and life’s magical moments.
At some point in the second half, I paused and thought to myself, “This is fun.” Regardless of the outcomes, I find myself saying that year after year.
ANDREW TIE | @Andrew_Tie
Andrew Tie is a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill.