The senior class of 2001 was deprived the chance to see Dean Smith roam the sidelines, but few of the 22,050 fans in attendance at the Smith Center on the night of Feb. 5, 1998, will forget UNC's win against Duke and the off-the-glass-alley-oop-that-almost-was with Ed Cota and Vince Carter.
These same seniors filled Kenan Stadium on Saturdays as freshmen to watch Mack Brown's Tar Heels. Most even came an hour or two early.
A scene like the one at Kenan on Nov. 8, 1997, might never be duplicated. Undefeated Florida State vs. undefeated North Carolina. Students lined up outside Gate 5 all day, and as many were pushed over the turnstiles as walked through them.
A lot has happened here in the last four years. There have been three different basketball coaches, three different football coaches and tons of memorable moments and images. There are some, though, that will stick with me that happened outside the public eye.
Let's begin with football coach No. 2. If there ever was a man of his word, Carl Torbush was him. He released a statement to the media the day he was fired and said he would be happy to talk to the media once a few weeks had passed.
Torbush could have disappeared, but he made good on his promise. Torbush was open, he was honest. And, as usual, he was candid.
Torbush, asked how much his finances would dictate his decision to take another job, proposed having a garage sale at his house in Chapel Hill.
"Carolina-blue pens for five cents apiece," he said. "You think I'm kidding. Wait until the time comes. If somebody wants a good article, come on out."
Torbush dealt with his disappointment in a humorous fashion. Matt Doherty let pure emotion take over.
After UNC's loss to Penn St. in the NCAA Tournament, Doherty sat in the media room and tried to make sense of his pain despite a fine year.
"It's hard for me to sit here and feel satisfied right now," Doherty said. "As you put distance between a loss, you do get to see a bigger picture, and you know, the only thing I'd tell you is ..."
Doherty paused for 19 long seconds. It gave him of time to reflect on his first season. It was also enough time to conjure up tears before finishing by saying, "I gave it my best effort."
Across the Superdome hallway,
270-pound Julius Peppers sat in the locker room with his head up but eyes lowered. Outside of a two-foot radius, he was inaudible. Orlando Melendez sat alone in one corner, his 6-foot,
8-inch frame crammed into a locker. With his knees pushed up against his chin, Melendez's eyes were barely visible. But they showed so much hurt.
Not all of these memories are of disappointment. As Anson Dorrance addressed the media after UNC won the 1999 ACC women's soccer tournament, senior Lorrie Fair limped by a window in the McCaskill Soccer Center while carrying the championship trophy.
Dorrance has built a dynasty, but facing a season's worth of adversity, his team still walked away with a title.
Men's basketball and football generate the most fan support, but something genuine and unique can found elsewhere. There's PA announcer Dave Lohse's trademark "Carolina Goal!" calls at Fetzer Field. At golf events, where galleries consist of teammates and family members, associate athletics director Beth Miller trudges behind to watch the Tar Heels play hole after hole.
The drama that transpires on the field before large crowds is remarkable.
But what goes unseen or unnoticed by most can be just as memorable.
Bret Strelow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.