In the wake of yet another disappointing basketball season with yet another lackluster ACC Tournament one-and-done, I got to thinking about some of the current students, younger alumni and fans of NC State — and how much I feel sorry for them because they have rarely if ever gotten to feel the absolute joys that being a Wolfpack fan has afforded me through my lifetime. Sure, a few wins against Carolina and Duke in hoops, a Gator Bowl in football, Philip Rivers, a few other things, but nothing like beating UNC in the finals of the ACC Tournament. Nothing like beating the most-feared basketball team of its era in UCLA. Nothing like standing in the Brickyard watching a huge bonfire, celebrating with thousands of other students and fans knowing that NC State had won a very unexpected but well-deserved national title in hoops. When Lorenzo Charles put in the winning basket for his team in 1983, it wasn’t just for them…it was for all of us, his fellow students. It sure felt that way that night, out there on Cloud 9. And today’s kids…well, they’ve never come anywhere near that moment. It’s as far away as Jupiter for them.
For me, all of those things were an integral part of my childhood and student life. For today’s younger Wolfpackers, they’ve never gotten to experience anything remotely close to it. At the rate things are going, they will probably be my age — squarely rooted in middle age — before it becomes even possible for them to see the things that we old farts saw and celebrated.
Think of it this way: a current undergraduate student was about two years old — or not even born — the last time NC State won an ACC Tournament.
If a fan is twenty-five, they weren’t born when NC State won the second of their two national titles in basketball.
If a fan is thirty years old, they’re too young to remember the last ACC title in football. Jimmy Carter was still president of the United States.
That’s a long time, folks. Too damned long if you consider that NC State is the largest university in the state of North Carolina and that it has a huge number of living alumnae in this state who give millions of dollars to help their beloved Wolfpack compete.
I recently had an exchange with a 26 year-old alumnus who said
“I am proud of my Pack no matter what. They have their moments and you know what if they win tonight [against Maryland] I’ll be extremely happy . They then play WF, which they have played before and beat once out of the two games. If State goes to the NIT who cares at least they are getting some post season play. I am a young fan and no I was not there for the 73-74 team i wasn’t even born and I was only 1 during the ’83 team. State has a tough time closing the deal on most games. You know what I do tune into the Wolfpack radio because I support my team win or lose and I will continue to support the Pack no matter what.”
I know that in her heart of hearts, this young lady loves NC State every bit as much as I do. I know that she goes to the games, or listens on the radio or watches them on television and cheers just as loudly as I do. Thing is, she’s never gotten the payoff for her loyalty, even if she is young. She’s never seen State’s players laughing while they cut down the nets, not even in the ACC Tournament. She’s been conditioned to believe that an NIT berth is a “good season” for hoops. In my day, getting dumped into the NIT was a booby prize not to be valued with much regard at all. If she remembers 1989, it is through the eyes of a six year old. You get old enough, and memories like that start seeming like a dream you had a long time ago that you can only remember glimpses of now. She doesn’t even have that.
So I feel sorry for her, because her University has let her down. She has to cheer for a school whose administration cashes her checks but gives her lip service to excellence in return. She undoubtedly had to work as hard as any of us did for her degree, but unlike me, she cannot expect that the athletic teams that represent her school will reflect the excellence that goes on every day in the classrooms across campus.
And that is wrong. She deserves better.
It is unfortunate that the school doesn’t see it that way.
She deserves better because she keeps the faith even when it seems hopeless. I respect that beyond measure — a fan who stands by their team through times thick or thin. That’s what a “true fan” is…not some Johnny-come-lately who jumps on the bandwagon when a team happens to have success.
Like I said, she deserves better.
For those young fans, I wish I could say it would be better soon, that State was on the cusp of a golden age. Unfortunately I can’t. All I can say is that I hope you live long enough for things to change and for new blood to take over that actually cares as much as you do.