Quacko decided it was best for us to move across the aisle to some empty seats, partly for more legroom but mostly because the Jayhawks around us would soon become very annoyed.
It was his fault we were even in St. Louis, and we both knew as we worked out the plans, only minutes after that bleeping Selection Show, it was a horrible idea – far worse than when we reserved tickets to Charlotte before the Maryland game in 2010. After all, that was just football. This…this was our chance, finally, to return to the glory days that with each passing year become fleeting memories.
We’d trailed by as many as 10 late, but down only one with 43 seconds left, Kansas turned over the ball. Now, if you didn’t endure the futility of the 90s and the false hope of the new century with dogged resilience, then you simply can’t fully appreciate the stress-inducing enormity of this moment. We’d lost to Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 in 2005, but that just wasn’t the same. That program had peaked a week earlier when Hodge hit the game-winner against UConn, and we all knew it.
This, here on this night in St. Louis, was different. We had several chances to win it in the final 30 seconds, but came up just short against the eventual national runners-up. The difference: Every one of us who saw the game knew our story, for too long a tragic one, was finally changing. Sure, we’d lost a heartbreaker, but within seconds of the buzzer, while Kansas fans were still shaking their heads in relief, we were already looking ahead. We knew if Leslie returned, then we’d be really good this season.
And it seems pretty much everyone else agrees (including ESPN The Magazine).
I’ve already admitted that, thankfully, I was wrong about Gottfried. He’s clearly well-liked and well-respected by his former ESPN colleagues, and he deserves much of the credit for very quickly shifting the national media’s perception of N.C. State Basketball in our favor. He’s embraced our culture and proud heritage, and so far he’s showing himself to be an elite recruiter, a solid tactician, and a man smart enough to surround himself by coaches who compliment him. Plus, he talked Leslie into returning and has molded a team that believes in itself.
Sure, we didn’t win anything last season, but in less than two years in Raleigh, Gottfried has renewed the hope of a fan base where the passion never wavered. The reason we’re so excited isn’t supernatural. We return four starters from a well-coached team that played its best in March, and did so with a proud intensity and purpose we haven’t seen in quite a while.
Are we overrated? Perhaps. But keep in mind, it’s not us driving all the hype; it’s the national media. Consider this, if we can get through Miami (OH), Puerto Rico and UNC-Asheville unscathed, then we’ll go to Ann Arbor for a Top 10 match up, which hasn’t happened for us since the late 80s (maybe longer?). If nothing else, we can enjoy how much all the national attention irritates Carolina fans.
No sleep ‘til Atlanta.