In Spring A Young Man’s Fancy …..

May15/ 2000

In Spring a young man’s fancy turns to Football!:  Driving home from Saturday’s UNC Spring Football Game,  my mood was upbeat and positive over events of the prior 24 hours.  Then the voice and e-mails started.  Determined not to over-react I laid my opinions aside to simmer.  Those opinions now emerge hopefully objective and entertaining.

I am always upfront with my opinions here.  Simply parroting the chirps and prattles of the nitwit brigade …. I would just be another prattling nitwit.  If I bought the glossed-over Pollyannisms of the image-crafters there would be no need for you to check in here at all.

As a “fan”, a critic, a curmudgeon, a mildly-interested third party ….. beholding to no one other than each of you, I give you my most honest (and hopefully entertaining) observations.  “Sports” is so superfluous that to get all worked up over it’s ebbs or flows would be ridiculous …… but superfluousness has its place.  This be such a place today.

The occasion was a by-invitation-only dinner at The Kenan Football Center Friday night.  A 100 or so folks with connections to Tar Heel football were guests of The Pale Rider and Prince Tassel Loafer.  Attending this annual gathering for most of the past decade I knew the drill – Familiar faces, a few new ones and save room as you move thru the buffet because the prime rib man waits at the far end.

The thread uniting the attendees is that each one “lettered” in UNC Football over the past 50+ years. …… from the leather helmet guys from the 50s thru the most recent.  The 60s-70s dominated for a while.  I see that changing gradually.  “Gradual changes” are a reality in every human endeavor.

With prodigal son John Bunting there was a decided uptick in interest.  John was “one of us”.  He too had stood at Morris Mason’s dutch door and received his “socks, jocks and t-shirt”.  The Bunting Era ran aground.  In comes The Pale Rider with nary a notion who Morris Mason was or much interest in finding out.  His ambivalence to his current surroundings was both apparent and widely unappreciated.

His ambivalence to his surroundings was both apparent and unappreciated.

Successive trips to The Meineke Bowl have slowed the unappreciation but the wound still oozes.  Inability to defeat a certain local rival is of noticeable concern.  Butch got off to an unnecessarily rough start with this particular support group.  That reality is now being addressed.

Now he wants to tear down THE #1 symbol of Tar Heel Football to many …… “The Old Kenan Field House aka “The Alamo”.  A key element to Butch Davis’ Master Plan for Carolina Football is “Suitening Kenan Stadium” consistent with the pampered accommodations recently added to Carter-Finley and Wake’s BBT Field ….. and at many other “we want to be a contenda too” stadiums across America.

The well-publicized BlueZone Project involves demolishing The Alamo and constructing premium seating with assorted other facilities inside the structure.  These new facilities will primarily benefit Olympic sports as well as academic support areas.   Financing for this project will come from volunteer contributions NOT from taxpayer pockets.  UNC officials are confident that there is sufficient interest in UNC foorball to make this happen.  I suspect they are correct.  Thirteen of the twenty suites have been “leased” at $50,000 per season (plus the game tickets).  It’s the going rate to play BCS football poker.

There is predictable yadda yadda that this is irresponsible and detracts from the #1 objective of higher education (i.e. ideological indoctrination ? ).  Such yadda yadda is a given …..

The fans anteing up millions for The BlueZone will be, as always, the much maligned “fat cats” who basically pay all the bills so the goggle-eyed loons can piss & moan about the width of stripes on pants, entry music, and what heinous fate best suits obviously incompetent Off & Def Coordinators.

Friday night we were given a full video presentation of The BlueZone project.  The presentation, and project, is quite impressive.  I have no doubt it will come to fruition and Tar Heel followers will be very proud of the result.  The folks heading up the Blue Zone sales campaign for The Rams Club are experienced pros – Monty, Matt & Karleton – veterans of similar projects at other schools.  They know how to get it done.  The project will be sold and built in time for the 2011 season.

Sure, the primary reason for all this is to impress easily impressed 17 year olds.  “Bright shiney bling” does that.  A reality of Big Time college football.  …. And generate much needed revenues to feed the ravenous beast of Big Time athletics.  Yum yum …. eat’em up!

I was surprised at the verbalized opposition to demolishing the old field house.  The negative comments to the BlueZone Project are tied to Butch’s inability to “connect” with this particular faction of UNC supporters.   Viewed as a callous mercenary by more than a few, he has work to do in mending needlessly damaged fences.  The first step in conflict resolution is acknowledging the conflict.  We seem to be into Step Two now ….. after three years.  The all-navy unis for the FSU game being a particularly unsavory moment in that evolution.

Butch’s lively Q&A Friday night was highlighted by comments about “the right kind of kids”.  Specifically, how their overtly-aggressive natures are “managed”.   The realities of football preclude “normal people” doing it.  Football hurts.  It is most painful if one is the less aggressive combatant in an on-field collision.   Harnessing overtly-aggressive tendencies into a campus community is a challenge.

Butch Davis is a very competent Football CEO.  Like Roy, he is not intimidated by the big names or big venues of his sport.   He understands the realities of the business perhaps even more so than Roy.   Butch  finally seems to be realizing that becoming a “Tar Heel”, or pretending to do so, will only further his own objectives …… if I am any judge of the situation.


The much-ballyhooed “Spring Game on ESPN” was interesting.  Tar Heel fans rallied at Butch’s request to show ESPN viewers their passion for Football.  The guesstimates of 30,000 or so is accurate.  I was there.   The North Side was packed as was the West End Zone.  Admission was free but attending on a beautiful Spring Saturday required a commitment.   Many so committed.

UNC officials did an overall fine job of planning the event.  Signage and support personnel were in abundance throughout the campus environs.   I did not bother with the peripheral events.  I shared BBQ with friends from the night before and stopped by the Shadow of The Bell Tower tailgaters.

Make no mistake, this was an ESPN manufactured event.  ESPN is THE single dominant force in American sports.  Yes, more than Nike or the Geico lizard.  The obvious plan was to fill the North stands so the ESPN cameras in the South Side press box showed packed stands.  Showcasing UNC fan support was the reason d’être.  Hopefully those afore-mentioned 17 y/os were tuned in and not to The Masters like most of America.

Kenan’s North Side is, alas, the (very) “sunny side” at 3:00 PM in April.  Ergo 30,000 “we came like you asked us to” fans were herded into bleachers like baked sardines ….. staring across at a totally empty “off-limits” shady South Side.  Wasting “enthusiastic fans” in the comfortable shade of the camera-blocked South stands defeated the purpose of the fans being there at all.  More than a few baked attendees figured this out.

A “Spring Game” is intended to be a casual comfortable outing enjoyed with pals, paying scant attention to the mundane scrimmage while “spring quarterbacking” the state of the program (as in “will we EVER beat State or UVa?”) ….. NOT crammed in cheek by jowl under a baking sun and told to “be enthusiastic at the camera”.

I left after 45 minutes.  Controlled scrimmages are as exciting as rain-delays in NASCAR.   Yes, the new QB “looked good”.  Being “free”, a number of parents chose the opportunity to expose “youngsters” to the Carolina football experience.  That is a very good thing.  There is a genuine excitement to a large crowd in a beautiful stadium on a pretty day …… baking for the benefit of ESPN cameras notwithstanding.

In future Springs, hopefully lots of folks will come again, sit in the shade and enjoy the experience even more.    Am I being unreasonable on this?  I don’t think so.  Butch “owes” 30,000 fans for their sun-baked sacrifice to help him promote his program.

Hopefully over the coming year Butch will resolve his inability to defeat NC State and UVa ….. and become more of a Tar Heel.   Lettermen and baked fans alike will like that a lot …… as will Butch too I presume.

Go Heels!
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