TO THE EDITOR:
Back in the spring of 1993, I was 16 years old, and my parents let me borrow their car so I could drive from Durham to Chapel Hill to watch the national championship game between UNC and Michigan being shown on a big screen in Carmichael Arena. I went by myself because all of my friends growing up in Durham were Duke fans. But I didn’t care that I was going alone. I just knew I wanted to be around thousands of other Tar Heel fans to experience something I knew I might not ever experience again.
After Chris Webber called his infamous timeout, the place exploded. I marched down to Franklin Street with all of my newest friends. There was a light rain that night, and I just walked up and down Franklin basking in awe at the celebratory energy that exudes from college kids whose team won a national championship. A college girl came up to me and gave me an unexpected and much appreciated kiss of pure joy. Someone else gave me a beer (this was before open container laws). As a 16-year-old, it was probably the most memorable night of my life to that point.
While I was a student at UNC, the Heels made the Final Four in ’97 and ’98 but never made it to the final game. I was living in Colorado for the championships in 2005 and 2009, and while watching and celebrating with old college friends and fellow Tar Heels was certainly fun, the energy and excitement quickly dissipated whenever we left the bar where we were watching to mill about amongst people who couldn’t care less about UNC.
I eventually returned to my roots on Tobacco Road, and last year, I watched the heartbreaking championship game with friends. After being away for so long, I thought that watching the game with close friends was the best way to celebrate what could have been my first Tar Heel national championship back in N.C. Villanova obviously had other plans.
But this year felt different. I felt that we were marching toward the championship game with the winds of destiny at our back. Just as in 1993, rain was in the forecast, and it seemed that the stars were aligning for a night to remember.
So, I drove to Chapel Hill by myself again to watch the final game of the season being shown in the Dean Dome this time. Nowadays, I actually have friends that are Tar Heel fans that could have come with me, but we’re all getting older, and Tuesday morning comes pretty early after a 9:20 p.m. tipoff. But again, I didn’t care that I was going alone. In fact, I thought it was actually better luck if I went alone. I just had an eerie premonition that now, almost a quarter century after the 1993 championship, I would be able to relive the memorable experience I had back then.
When Justin Jackson dunked with about 10 seconds left, the place exploded again, and we all marched down to Franklin Street again. Unlike in 1993, the rain held off, and there were no free beers given out on the street this time. If I had been with my wife, who was at home in bed with our baby, I would have kissed her, but instead I watched hordes of overjoyed college kids kissing each other, parents walking around with their kids on their shoulders, old folks cheering and high-fiving and everyone enjoying a night that very few ever actually get to experience.
After leaving Franklin Street to walk back to my car, I walked by Carmichael and looked into the gym where I watched the Heels beat Michigan back in ‘93. Being there at Carmichael at the end of the night brought everything full circle for me, and for one evening, everything was right in the universe for a UNC alum and lifelong fan.