With a duffle bag containing every UNC clothing item I own, I filed into a rented 12-passenger van headed to Phoenix. Only 10 of us occupied the vehicle’s compartment, which made the 32-hour drive slightly more spacious.
However, with no over-night stops, my friends and I had to make do with the black upholstery as our beds for the next two nights. I soon realized this would mean I’d be more contortionist than nighttime sleeper.
Through Oklahoma fields and the when-will-New-Mexico-end slump, we arrived at our final destination at 2 a.m. Saturday. We caught a short five-hour rest in an actual bed, but reentered our temporary home/van to acquire front row seats to the UNC vs. Oregon game.
Amid a low-70s day with Carolina blue skies came the surreal feeling that we did it — I was there, standing outside the University of Phoenix Stadium. The excitement escalated within me.
Streams of journalists and videographers from every major network circulated the student crowds, asking a few questions and getting clips of them screaming for the camera. My friend joked that we’d need to stay grounded through our newly acquired fame.
Six hours later, standing front row off-center, I watched as our boys battled for a spot in the championship game. The arena was tense with anticipation and nerves until “Final” was projected on the screens. A flood of elation and relief crashed over the student section as we jumped and embraced our classmates.
After a celebratory burger and fries from In-N-Out, we pumped the Clef Hangers’ “Blue and White,” a Carolina remix of “Black and Yellow” (yes, that really does exist), and drove to the friend-of-a-friend’s house where we were staying. The knowledge that we would be back on Monday circulated in our minds.
On Sunday, we jammed to “On the Road Again,” which had become our custom with every new drive, and drove to the Grand Canyon. With water bottles, PB&Js and off-brand potato chips packed, we found a rocky lookout to picnic for an hour. After days of close quarters with little sunlight, my friends and I soaked in the expansive and breathtaking view of this wonder of the natural world.
A day later, we found ourselves in the line for the championship game, placed conveniently across from the Gonzaga fans — who continuously hollered and cheered, making clear their status as first-timers. As we waited, I painted the faces of my friends in Carolina blue and white and my friends decorated posters making puns off the name of Gonzaga’s head basketball coach, Mark Few. “Few Cookouts,” “Few G.O.A.T.s,” “Few Titles” were just a Few (pun intended).
Then came the climax of the previous month’s madness, UNC vs. Gonzaga — a fight for the title. Oscillating between heart palpitations and cold sweats, I felt like the game lasted a century.
But as Joel Berry hit the final free throw, our position as winner was secure. A mixture of tears and shouts of joy filled the stadium. The energy was palpable. Confetti fell, the net was cut and the sound of Tar Heel voices rang clear and true.
A more than 4,000-mile road trip was completely worth it. A dream became a reality, and in the car ride home, we partied like it was 1924, 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009 and 2017.
Welcome to the 2020-21 edition of The Daily Tar Heel, now in our 128th year!
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