Bunting’s Burly and The Bell are Back.

January17/ 2000

Way back in January 2001, at his hiring press conference, John Bunting was described as “the burly ex-linebacker” … an apt physical description oft-used during that Peach Bowl year.  As storm clouds settled over Kenan for the next 2.5 seasons, John lost his “burly”.  Less polite adjectives were used to describe his appearance and his lack of success.  He got “fatter”, “uglier” and “dumber” as the Ls mounted.  Between Oct 9 and Nov 20, John Bunting started getting his “burly” back … His Burly Is Back! … along with a freshly repainted Victory Bell.

   I am embarrassed to remind myself that I wrote an obituary to the Bunting Era after the Louisville debacle.  I can’t deny it unlike so many bandwagoners ARE doing right now. I may have been in the majority but I still regret losing faith. John and his staff know the cruel unforgiving nature of sports fans, but I hope I learned a lesson.  Unless what we’ve seen this past 6 weeks is simply a Tar Heel sports miracle.

   Certainly we can point to 2-3 plays since that goal line stand on October 9th that, reversed, do not have Tar Heel fans putting holiday plans on hold awaiting the “which bowl” announcement. Such is the unique nature of sports.  Over time the Muses of Fate alternately shine and frown on all men … we accept their benevolence with deep appreciation.

   I am on the periphery of Tar Heel Football.  I cannot tell you if there was an epiphany moment in early October that “turned it around”.  I have asked some “insiders” but no one can put a finger on a frozen moment.  Did Coach Bunting wake up “smarter” on October 9?  Did Gary Tranquil’s years of experience suddenly “pay off”.  Did Jeff Connors’ conditioning program start paying dividends?  Did some latent potential that Dickie saw in John Bunting back in January 2001 decide to emerge? 

   Is this a Team of Destiny?  I go for NO on that Team of Destiny thingie.  Carolina is simply 6-5 with Ws over its in-state rivals and Miami (and GaTech and W&M).  UNC is going to a well-deserved bowl game.  Has “the sleeping giant” awaken?  There has never been “a sleeping giant” so that’s a moot question.  UNC is a top-flite university striving for excellence in all its endeavors, same as it has been for 200 years.

   Before anyone other than the hardcore Internet lunatics get starry-eyed dreams of BCS sugarplums down the Glory Road, we have been spectators to an incredibly exciting season of lopsided disappointing defeats and never-to-be-forgotten thrilling victories. The defeats came early … the thrilling victories are still fresh … that is the best ordered scenario … just ask a Wuffie.

   The stretch from October 9 thru the Duke win may have been as exciting a series of games as I have ever witnessed.  Oh, I have this theory that the Utah game simply never happened.  Try it, it makes those six weeks is even better.

   Whether UNC ever becomes a “national contender” is something I simply never worry about.  I don’t need that vicarious pipe dream to enjoy following Carolina football. I prefer Ws to Ls and I like exciting plays.  I enjoy spending the Saturdays with good friends amid the color and pageantry of college football.  Heck, The Mizzus and I even enjoyed our September trip to Charlottesville despite that on-field outcome.

   As the final minutes ticked down at Wallace Wade Mausoleum I noticed Rick Steinbacher on the sidelines.  He was standing next to a geeky looking bald dude wearing a navy blazer and a “I Am The Chancellor” button.  I thought of guys like Rick and Cory Holliday and Kevin Best and Jones Angell.  These “good guys” are among the backstage crew of UNC Football.  They don’t receive the slings and poisoned arrow insults from the Internet crowd that the high profile coaches do, but they definitely do bleed emotionally too during “dark days”.  I’ve been associated with winning sports programs and with losing sports programs … winning programs are better.

   I hope Rick, Cory, Kevin, and Jones celebrated after the Duke win.  I hope their wives and families share in the joys of these moments.  For these guys behind the scenes the day to day duties go on win or lose and they usually survive the rumored house cleanings but sports is a very silly occupation.  Scoreboards Rule.  

   For these good men and true, and for the players, coaches and Tar Heel rank and file fan base … for the next few weeks, don’t concern yourselves with “next year’s schedule” … or replacing Durant … or “signing day” commits … just reflect on a few memories of an incredible goal line stand, a last second field goal, a TD pass into the shadows, and a Victory Bell being spray painted Carolina Blue.

   For those faceless souls howling on the message boards … may you continue to wallow in your pessimism, your abiding hatred for people you have never met, and your desperate hope that somehow you can discover slivers of self-worth through the ebb and flow of boys playing games.  Try 1-800-GET A LIFE.

   When I break DiMaggio’s record of 56 consecutive correct decisions in my own life, I will write another book telling Dickie, Bunting, Meez, Mazzone, Fowler, et al how I did it.  Until then we’ll all keep on keepin’ on.

   For John Bunting … a big old top sirloin, baked potato with extra butter and sour cream, and a huge piece of chocolate cake for dessert … don’t sweat those calories Big Guy … you’ve “got your burly back” along with “the bell”. … and that two year extension.

 Lets go bowling!


 Memo To Duke AD Joe Alleva

 Dear Joe … Black numbers on dark blue jersies are IMPOSSIBLE to read.  That may be as goofy a decision as I have ever seen in sports … it ranks with State’s “unitards”.

Oh, and your stadium facilities are still the embarrassment of the ACC.  I realize you usually only have player families and a few dozen Iron Dukes octogenarians show up for games but UNC and NCSU actually bring real live fans.  Circle November 2006 – order extra porta-johns and extra concession staffs because WE’LL BE BACK! 


Swagger’s Stumper

 Who was Duke’s opponent in that Durham Rose Bowl?



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