The Big Blue Gorilla

March15/ 2009

I didn’t see it until a Wuff and a Deacon both pointed it out.  Some of the recent empty seats in Greensboro were indeed HDTV casualties but most were because The Big Blue 500 lb Gorilla had left the building”.   Love’em or Loath’em ….. Royz Boyz and them what follow’em are a significant factor to Little Johnny Swofford & to the suits in Bristol.

I’m a UNC alum and a Carolina Tar Heel sports fan as long as I can remember and will be one so long as the coaches / players behave in a fashion I can tolerate relative to the ever-evolving social mores of our times.

I don’t harbor intense dislike for any other collegiate sports programs in the area   (that includes Duke,  State and even ECU!).  I’m in a minority with that.  I strive on being different!  There ARE programs around the country that I “do not like” based on my perception of significant compromises they make to be successful from a Win-Lose standpoint.  I might be wrong in my perceptions but I don’t think so …. otherwise I would not hold those perceptions.   DUH!

I do not believe my team is as pure as many of my fellow Tar Heels deem to imagine, but, relative to other programs, I accept those imperfections.  Big Time College Athletics is a very very dirty bizness PERIOD.  So is “politics”.  Both are here to stay.

Sports fans tend to live in the past.  Depending upon one’s age ….. the “good ol’ days” are the prism we use to define the present. If there is some aspect of our respective “good ol’ days” we particularly liked, we clench it tightly in our fist as the inevitable winds of change become gale-force.   “Long baggy shorts” for instance are here to stay until they change.  They WILL change some day.  In my lifetime?  I can only hope!

At the recent “gathering of the ACC clan” in Greensboro, every seat for every session was bought and paid for well in advance.  That is assured when a “small” arena like Greensboro or Charlotte is used.  Divide the 20,000 seats by 12 and send them to the dozen schools to distribute to their 1,600 most generous “boosters”.  Even Boston College has 1,600 loyal fans eager to ante up for the way over-valued ducats.

Once the NCAA field expanded, the life/death intensity of the weekend changed considerably.  There is still the occasional “Cinderella” ….. This year Roy’s Cinderellas never shed their tattered rags.  Sid’s Kids sorta did until reality stepped in on Saturday.

The empty seats in the upper deck in Greensboro from Fri-Sun were apparent to me because I notice such things as an analyst of the evolution of sports in society.  When UNC fans “left the building” there were no others eager to buy their unused tickets.  Had UNC been advancing, the losers’ limping home would have quickly sold their tics to eager UNC fans.

No other ACC school fan base has the sheer volume as UNC – FOR BASKETBALL.  Football is a totally different ballgame.  VaTech, Clemson and FSU fight it out for FB fanaticism.

The success of UNC BB matters to lots more than just Sons & Daughters Of The Old Well.  ESPN is now THE most influential voice in “$ports”.  ESPN does not “ask”.  ESPN “tells”.   ESPN does not say “may I” or “please”.  The national interest in UNC BB is as critical to the ACC as is FlaState success in FB.  Prolonged tarnishing of either brand MATTERS.

It is not a simple matter of having refs “helping out” here and there.  The teams must be legitimate contendas on a national level and attract eyes to those HDTVs.  Eyes on ESPN telecasts all across the fruited plain.  The attention span of national sports fans is short.

Through Matt Mess and blips of success by various programs and Duke’s sustained success The Big Blue Gorilla has been a factor in the room to be dealt with 99% of the time for 50 years.  Their occasional pratfall was noteworthy by its unexpectedness.

Even the most embittered Tar Heel Hater sees this recent Oh Me Oh My as an anomaly to be followed by a quick return to the rarified air of  “elite programs”.  If we are sitting here a year from now convincing ourselves that being in the NIT semi-finals really was a tremendous honor ….. then a lot of over wrought UNC fans will have jumped off ledges.  We lost a few to such fate after that Duke wolloping in Cameron.

Historically, “elite programs” at Kentucky, UCLA, Indiana, Arizona and Kansas have had longer “down” periods than has UNC.  For varying reasons.  Kansas gambled with an unknown assistant in the late 80s that worked out pretty well.

Carolina is The Big Blue Gorilla because (1) there is a large, engaged upscale alumni base across the country ….. (2) there is a high number of active alumni (and bandwagon fans) up/down the East Coast.  (3) The popularity of UNC “gear” is well-known.  (4) Fortune magazine recently named Carolina Basketball as the #1 College basketball “business” in America.  (5) A lot of that is due to Dean and to Michael and to 50 years of sustained success by all those “in the rafters” and otherwise.

Carolina Basketball’s success legacy may not sit well with rival fans (duh, ya reckon) but it’s true.  I’m familiar with all the yadda yadda about compliant media, the J-School, the alumni politicians, the myths over the cover-ups of the warts blah blah blah …… if the teams had not been consistently successful on the court all the other real/imagined elements would have been in vain.   That those other factors create digestive disorders with rival fans is a bonus.

That UNC’s success is so taken for granted is the fatal flaw.   Current general expectations of a quick rebound are as potentially heart-breaking as has been the previous three months.  The real guarantee is that there never has been any guarantee ….. and there are none now.

GO HEELS ……. please!

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