Here we are. The football world is teetering on the edge of yet another optimistic season. No matter your colors, you feel good about your team at this point. Everyone is undefeated and dreaming of the Rose Bowl. I think this week is too often the sweetest for Carolina fans, but this year the preseason is different. We hold a sterling ranking with subdued speculation in lieu of the standard hype. That is the Carolina way.
"In 2010 we will be the strongest," I already admitted to myself today. It's true. We will be ready to take on the world next year with a speedy, mature defense and developed offense. We will explode onto the national scene with a neutral-site matchup against the LSU Tigers. The 'Hoos in Hooville will lose the streak. All these things I know. 2009 is the final year of doubt.
But college football is a sport of doubt. The national favorite needs quite a bit of luck on the long road to the title. That means we need more than quite a bit of luck. Sportswriters said only twenty teams have more of a claim to Pasadena than the Tar Heels, but we do not have to beat all of them to get there. We have to win games to get there. To be specific, we have to win all our games to get there.
Last year when we were 2-0 and sitting on a 17-3 lead at home against Virginia Tech, the faithful must have wondered. Is this it? Has Butch delivered his vision that only the few of us believed could happen? I saw the score in an Iowa City bar and did not allow myself such lofty hope. Ninety minutes later my instinct proved correct. Our quarterback was out indefinitely. The backup lost the game. And worst of all, my die-hard friend sounded hardly dead. She sounded the way I felt when I saw that 14-point tease of a lead.
And here we are again. Carolina will have a metaphorical 14-point lead for the next two seasons. We only need a killer instinct to go with our athletic prowess to keep that advantage. Cue Marvin Austin.
“Just go out there and blow some people up," he said last week. "Go out there and be hunters. When they snap that ball, that ball is the issue. If you’ve got that, we will come and get you, and if your mama got that ball, we will come and get her, too.”
Shake your dreadlocks, young man. Bounce beside the Tar Pit before the game with your line. Enjoy yourself while we enjoy ourselves strolling through Polk Place, clenching our fists in time to the beat of the drum corps. We will sniff through the thick smell of hot barbecue to find the first hints of September's autumnal perfume. Little girls in cheerleading uniforms will straddle their fathers' necks down the walk while little boys pet Rameses by the Bell Tower. We will drink our beer, cook our burgers and throw our beanbags with family and old friends from alma mater who were lost to years gone by.
Carolina will be born again to us. She will come to life as poplar leaves fall to stone walls. We will hear her slow chorale on the Wilson steps and boisterously march through her hedges. We will rediscover fond memories like they happened yesterday. We will revel in old-time traditions and new found enthusiasm. We will drink from the Old Well and look to the sky when the bell tolls. We will be young and vibrant as we were with fifteen credit hours and a Thursday night plan.
It will be so good to be home.