Yesterday’s discussion about Roy’s advice to Sid propmpted me to think a bit more about rivalries (particularly vs. UNC in basketball). I have pointed to Matt Doherty as the ideal UNC coach for State fans (incompetent, easy to hate), and Roy Williams is pretty much the anti-Doherty – which kind of sucks for us. Or does it?
First, let’s state the obvious – UNC isn’t going to keep a grossly or even partially incompetent coach for very long. As much as we hate to admit it, UNC will always be one of the “Golden Three” mens’ basketball programs (UNC, UCLA, Kentucky) – i.e., a program that has intrinsic advantages that more or less make it impossible to wallow in the muck for very long. So, to count on an endless procession of Doh’s is simply unrealistic, which is why you really needed to enjoy that 20+ loss season when it happened.
Those of us that came of age as State fans in the 70s or 80s (or even earlier) remember State/UNC as the rivalry. Pretty much every kid in elementary school was either a State or Carolina fan. David Sedaris (hilarious Raleigh author, for those of you not familiar with his work) opened one of his recent books with a chapter outlining this phenomenon perfectly. Note that Roy Williams also shares this perspective, as best evidenced by his bewilderment (he “will never understand as long as [he] live
“) over his players’ failure to match NC State’s passion for the rivalry game earlier this year.
I can also remember the miracle ACCT run during Sendek’s first season. I was in law school at the time, surrounded by UNC fans (also my strongest allies during the quarterfinal upset over Duke). As one of them told me after the final – “I said ‘Go to hell State’ today. And you know what? It felt GOOD.” There was no real malice there, just an acknowledgment that he liked having State as a major rival, as the two teams squared off in a very meaningful game for both. It had been a long time coming.
Since we can’t realistically expect a putrid Carolina basketball program with anything more than Haley’s Comet (sp?) frequency – isn’t that the best we can hope for? Two fierce (but with no personal malice) rivals, going at each other full throttle, with both programs relevant in the ACC and nationally. Perhaps in a eagerly anticipated national TV matchup, with both teams in the Top Ten. Despite being told how “unrealistic” our expectations are, we don’t have to dominate (or even win more than half of) such matchups. All we ask for is to win at least 30-40% of the time, with some memorable victories in clutch spots. You might know this as the “V standard.”
The events of this season (and those past) show how Roy’s tenure at UNC is compatible with this ideal. Roy doesn’t like NC State, and wants to beat us badly (ask anyone with access to Ram’s Club events, if you want confirmation on that front). It might seem strange to “outsiders”, but every Pack fan will take that in an instant above patronizing, nonchalant ambivalence. But, as he showed in his reaction to Sid’s health issues, it’s not evident of personal animus. When it’s over, he can sit down and have a beer with State folks (at least metaphorically) – and so should all of us. After all, every last one of us diehard NC State folks have some friends and/or family with baby blue degrees and/or loyalties. And most (if not all) of them are decent people at their core – just a bit misguided, in our view. In the end, fans on both sides should be enormously proud of their respective co-flagship institutions of the UNC system. Telling jokes or ending fight songs calling for the other to “go to hell” is just a fond, traditional part of a great sibling rivalry.
I look forward to many more intense, no-holds-barred battles between Sid and Roy – especially when Sid has a few more bullets in his gun (starting next year, hopefully).