Look Homeward, Angel…

oh, my sweet carolina… what compels me to go?

The recent victory of Roy’s Boys over the Michigan State Spartans marked a great day for fans of baby blue but also gave me a chance to reflect on the four years I spent in the great state of North Carolina.  When I was a freshmen, Carolina had a similar run to the National Championship that culminated in a sweet victory over the Fighting Illini out of Illinois.  Being all of 19 years at the time and freshly transplanted in to the land of dogwood and pines, I was naturally excited for any excuse to stay up late and act like an idiot, however I really had no sincere investment in the outcome of that game.  Besides, I had a paper for an American Lit class due at 8 AM regardless of whether we won our not.  Anyways, I ended up watching the game along side many friends in Old East Dorm, most of whom were seniors and had been students when North Carolina went 8-20 in 2001-2002.  Maybe it was the 3 sparks consumed during the game, or maybe it was the ghosts of Old East, but after playing close most of the game, UNC pulled away with about a minute left.  At this point the 20-30 people packed on the couches, beds, desks, and floor of 311 were pounding the 200+ year old ceiling with palms and closed fists, dispersing a chalky snow of ancient plaster amongst the celebration.  While I couldn’t help but succumb to the excitement, I also felt like I had cheated my way through a test, stealing in on a little celebration from those who had rightfully earned it.  Sure I was happy, and I had one of the best times of my life celebrating amid the mayhem on Franklin Street. But that lack of connection maybe was why I never bought a 2005 championship shirt or anything like that.

Dogwood Next to Student Union

Dogwood Next to Student Union

Somehow I got my hands on a disposable camera, and I took this picture with said camera on my way to class at 8am the day after winning the national championship.  Usually this spot would be swarmed on a school day, even at 8am.  Unfortunately this tree got its ass cut down, but I love how when I think of this picture it seems much more vivid but the actual picture is faded – like an old memory.

Anyways, what I am trying to get at is that after all the stars on the 2005 team left for the NBA, I had little hope for the team for Sophomore year at least.  I was really impressed with the desire of a few young guys on the team, particularly Danny Green, Marcus Ginyard and of course Tyler Hansbrough who at this point was not everyone in the media’s favorite pet like he so notoriously has become.  I grew attached to that team that year and to be honest I grew up with them over the next three years.  Well, I went from being a niave immature sophomore to a semi-immature, less niave senior at least.  But during the 4 years these guys played for the Tarheels, I went from being unsure about sweet tea and southern accents to loving North Carolina, and likewise my love for Carolina basketball grew as well.

Last year when our team went down by like 28 pounds in 10 minutes to Kansas in the final 4, it broke my heart.  Not only because my chances of celebrating my own National Championship were lost, but I really felt terrible for Danny, Tyler and Marcus.  So it was bittersweet this year seeing the guys win but not being able to celebrate along with everyone else in North Carolina.  Don’t get me wrong, I was still very proud to be a Tarheel and excited we won, but I wish I coulda been there, too.

All this is leading to my final point.  As Ryan Adams says at the end of the song tacked on to the beginning of this post, Ryan finishes with:

up here in the city feels like things are closing in

the sunsets just my light bulb burning out

i miss kentucky, and i miss my family

all the sweetest winds they blow across the south

And I can honestly say that in Los Angeles, gulping down smog all day doesn’t really compare to the sweetest winds.

Wrightsville Beach - Labor Day 2006

Wrightsville Beach - Labor Day 2006

As you can see, in North Carolina the sunset is more than just a lightbulb burning out (ok, this is a sunrise but still).  It makes me wonder, as famous North Carolinian Thomas Wolfe once also pondered, whether we can ever really go home.  Now that the basketball team I connected with so well and for so long has moved on, will UNC basketball ever carry that same special weight?  Really what a love of a sports team boils down to is a little occasional breeze of passion or joy that finds a way to insert itself unexpectedly into normal thoughts, whether it be a surprising upset over a better team or the excitement of looking forward to next weeks rivalry game.  Carolina basketball will probably be the same in that sense, and with any luck next year may bring about another string of lovable replacements.  But the greatest gift this group of players gave me was the memories of the finer Carolina state.

the "sweetest wind" blowing through the blue ridge mountains in boone, november 2007

the "sweetest winds" blowing through the blue ridge mountains in boone, november 2007

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5 responses to “Look Homeward, Angel…

  1. Wow – this post made my day. In a few years, I say we all move back and live on “Church House” Street, ok?

  2. I like this post a lot…keep it up!

  3. Pingback: The Franklin Street Celebration « All The Things I Wish I Wrote

  4. P.S. I updated my recent UNC post to include your summary describing how watching the Finals felt, because of how much I agree with what you said. I’m hoping you won’t mind.

  5. Well done, Walthers.

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