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February 14, 2007

SCS.comIf you’re reading this article, you already know that college fans are a different kind of fan. Loyalties to their respective teams extend far beyond the playing field or court. Whether it's season tickets, a tattoo to show your preferred college, or even naming your children after a former player from your favorite university, college fans - and college basketball fans to be specific - are one of a kind. I was fortunate enough to get to experience this loyalty and spirit first-hand at the Wake Forest/North Carolina game this past weekend.

If you have read any of my other columns, you know that I am a huge college basketball fan. And as any college basketball fan is, each has their favorite team, mine being UNC. I am a typical UNC fan with a sincere dislike for anything that resembles Duke blue. I have had the experience of being on historic Franklin Street after a National Championship (although bonfire jumping isn’t my thing). I have stood in a line after a UNC game to get an autograph or two from UNC players and coaches. I consider myself to bleed Carolina blue. So I was excited to be able to watch UNC play this past weekend.

The Wake Forest vs. UNC game was not just another basketball game. In fact, the game itself was not the main event. With Wake going through some pretty tough times, it was almost a given that the Heels would run over them. But the main event of the day was that the 1957 and 1982 Championship Teams were in the building for their 50th and 25th Championship Anniversaries, respectively. I got to the game early and stayed a little while after the game, and there are a few things that I saw that exemplify not only UNC basketball, but what college basketball as a whole is all about.

I got to the Dean Dome about three hours before the game. Collecting autographs is something that I enjoy, and I was hoping that getting there early might allow me to do this. While I was waiting outside, there were a lot of students lining up outside one of the gates. These were the students who were allotted tickets to sit on the risers right behind one of the goals. If you know anything about student seating at UNC, you know that it is terrible. I don’t have enough space to write about the problems with it, so we’ll just leave it at that.

As I said, this was a good three hours before the game, and these were students who were wide awake and ready for the game. A group of students came running around the corner, chests painted with the ’82 teams starting lineup. It was freezing outside, and here are a group of students half dressed, showing their appreciation for what their favorite team had done in its history. All over the country there are students who do this for every home game, and it was fun to see it first hand at UNC.

Once inside, I went down to where the UNC players come out of the locker room. A lot of younger kids were standing there waiting for autographs, and I just wanted to see how players would react to it. The first player out was the very popular Wes Miller. Miller, on scholarship last year, gave up his scholarship this year so another player could have it. He has lost playing time due to the talent that was brought in this year, but he has continued to work hard and is a valuable player to the Tar Heels. The first thing he did as he walked out of the tunnel was sign every autograph for every kid standing there. Deon Thompson, Quentin Thomas, Surry Wood, and Wayne Ellington also did the same thing. This is always impressive to me, that these players seem to have kept a level head even though they are one of the topped ranked teams in the country.

As I was sitting there watching the players warm-up, the voice of the Tar Heels, Woody Durham, came out. As he was walking by, he spoke to one of the security men and had one of the best quotes of the day: “We’ve really got some talent in this building today, don’t we?” What is amazing about this statement is that this could be said almost any day in the Dean Dome with the current Heels lineup. But today there was an added bonus, with former players like Lennie Rosenbluth, Joe Quigg, James Worthy, and some guy named Michael Jordan in the building.

As the game began, I ended up standing behind the student section, which was also where the two championship teams were sitting. As the past players came out to sit, the student section applauded and cheered them as if they themselves were about to play. This was the true atmosphere of college basketball. Not to discount professional teams, but I don’t think you see this much appreciation when a former professional athlete visits their former team. Some appreciation is given, but it is more out of politeness and courtesy. When a college athlete who has gone to the professional level comes back to their alma mater, fans are truly thankful that they are there.

During the game, Lennie Rosenbluth was walking around like he was just a regular fan and signing autographs for who ever wanted one. Late in the second half, Sam Perkins got up and walked to the top of the concourse and took pictures with whoever asked. By the way, if you have never seen Perkins in person, he is a mammoth of a human being. Most of the players acted as if they were just another UNC fanatic and not some big shot celebrity.

At halftime the two teams were recognized on the court. As they made their way onto the court, flashbulbs popped as if you were at the Final Four. A video was shown for each team, and each player was introduced. Michael Jordan and Dean Smith were the last two people to be introduced and the place went crazy.

The players returned to their seats, the game finished up with UNC breaking the 100 point mark and making Bojangles fans happy. (When UNC scores 100 or more points, fans can buy two biscuits for $1.00 the next day at Bojangles.) I made my way outside and watched as the championship teams' players made their way to the bus, signing autographs along the way. Many of the current Tar Heels also signed autographs as they were leaving.

I have no doubt that other colleges that bring back former players and championship teams have fans who show their support with the enthusiasm that was seen in Chapel Hill this past weekend. This game exemplified what college basketball is all about.

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