As a fan of North Carolina basketball for over 30 years now, this time of year has always been one of the most exciting and anticipated for me. Aside from my overall love for college basketball and March Madness in general, the fact that Carolina is a perennial Final Four contender usually raises my level of excitement to an even higher level.
All of my life, so many people have known me, first and foremost, as a North Carolina basketball fan above all other things, even though I was a kid from New Jersey with no ties to the university at all. When they would win games, tournaments or championships, congratulatory e-mails, texts and phone calls would flow in from friends and family members.
My dresser drawer is still filled with Carolina t-shirts and my basement has jerseys on the wall, a championship banner hanging in a corner, and a shelf of other memorabilia. Even the color of my basement walls seem as if they were painted Carolina blue.
However, over the course of the last four years or so, something inside of me has changed. Carolina games are not life or death like they used to be. There are games that I don't even watch all the way through. Whereas, during games in the past, I would scream violently at the TV, pound on tables, throw things around the room and sometimes drink myself into oblivion.
My wife even mentioned to me the other night as we watched Carolina beat Duke how we used to have to rearrange our schedule or not attend certain events just so I could watch even the most insignificant of Carolina games. Conversations like that and me just watching games this season have forced me to look deeper into the reason why I have gone from such a rabid fan to one that is now somewhat indifferent.
It all started in 2003, when Carolina hired Roy Williams. At the time, I had mixed emotions. On one hand, Carolina was in the toilet amidst the scandal and losing the Matt Doherty Era and clearly needed someone to come in and return the program to the glory days. Hiring Roy Williams definitely would solve that based on his love for Carolina and track record at Kansas, even though he had never won a title.
On the other hand, as someone who never was exposed to Roy Williams as a Carolina assistant coach and didn't care much about his ties to Carolina, I always despised him as the coach of the Kansas Jayhawks. His teams always seemed to fold when it mattered most, I didn't like the system that he ran, and I couldn't stand his "aw-shucks" attitude. Something about him just rubbed me the wrong way even though I knew it was probably the best move.
So Roy was hired, and in two years, he brought Carolina back to glory and, on a personal level, won his first national championship as a head coach. That 2005 championship team was an all-time favorite for me.
The players on that team were heavily recruited, struggled on and off the court under Matt Doherty, and then rose from the ashes to win a title. They were talented, but they played with great heart and determination. It was a great time for Carolina and all was well with the world even though I still disliked the head coach with a passion.
Around this time, I also discovered the Carolina Basketball Message Boards. This was my first real exposure to the message board world. My thought was that it would be great to read about the team, get the inside scoop on recruiting, and just be amongst other extremely passionate Carolina fans.
What I came to discover, though, was that the majority of the people on the Carolina message board (and pretty much every other team centric message board) are basically just partisan homers with no ability to have a rationale conversation regarding Carolina basketball. In their eyes, most other coaches are cheats or terrible human beings, other players are overrated, referees cheat against Carolina, and no one can fairly beat the Tar Heels on a basketball court. People would fight like children, call each other names, and generally acted like total jack asses. This led to a growing dislike for Carolina fans in general.
It seems implausible, though, that a highly successful coaching change and a foray into the seemingly harmless message board world could somehow diminish my love for Carolina basketball. I can't say that I have not been shocked by the outcome myself, but I have searched deep within and realized that these two events are directly responsible.
As long as Roy Williams is the coach, I will always have some bit of animosity towards him that will bleed over into my feelings about the team as a whole. And, even though I no longer go onto the message boards, the feelings of disdain I have for certain Carolina basketball fans (and other 100 percent partisan sports fans in general) still remain.
Since I am the type of person who loves sports and love my teams, I would never switch my loyalties. To me, once you have a team, that should be your team for the rest of your life regardless of geography, friends, family or any other circumstance. If someone told me that their level of fandom diminished for the reasons I mentioned above, I would probably say that they were not truly a fan.
That's why this change is as shocking to me as anyone else. It actually makes me sad more often than not. I used to love how passionate I would get and how invested I would be in each and every game. In fact, I still love the level of passion that I have when I watch my teams in other sports. I just wish it would come back for Carolina basketball because dearly I miss it.
As the ACC and NCAA Tournaments approach, I am going to watch the games as I normally would and will be rooting for Carolina to march to the title. All the while, in the back of my mind, I will be waiting for those past emotions to somehow resurface. Maybe a byproduct of a few too many beers during a closely contested game will be the eruption of what I know still exists deep down or maybe I will still be somewhat sedated. I have no idea. It's March, though, so I guess, as we have seen in years past, anything can happen.