Carolina lost to N.C. State by a point in the final game of the regular season. The Tar Heels looked excellent in their previous four games, winning at Virginia Tech and Boston College and at home against Duke and Miami. I went to the State game with two friends. It was my fourth consecutive loss as a traveling fan.
Carolina athletes and fans generally agree that State fans are the worst in the ACC. I had no opinion until the fourth quarter when Carolina defensive end E.J. Wilson injured himself with minutes to play. When he stood up after about a minute, a chorus of boos rattled through Carter-Finley Stadium.
"Why are they booing?" I asked my friend. Everyone guessed that State fans booed because they thought Wilson was trying to stop the clock when Carolina needed more time. That pathetic argument disappeared when State milked the rest of the play clock after the referees set the game clock back in motion.
I had never seen fans of a team boo an opponent's injury. Apparently it was business as usual for Wolfpack fans. I was sort of enraged at and sympathetic for this immature group of 50,000. They had problems beyond losing football games. My friends who watched on television said the announcers had to comment since the booing eluded network censors.
We had by that time blown our 10-point halftime lead and missed a potential game-winning field goal. I was feeling almost as bad as I felt in Charlottesville in 2008. The walk of shame back to the car was tough, but not as tough as some. Our friends dodged beer bottles thrown from recreational vehicles. I dodged one belligerent fan who told me to "enjoy the tampon bowl." I think he meant the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, which is the best Carolina fan experience in any sport because of its proximity to campus.
Another fan told us to "go back to Chapel Hill." That was good advice.
But of all the dodgy State fans I saw, none upset me more than a guy I heard on the radio the following Monday who thought he was a Carolina fan.
"It's no big deal to lose to State," he said. "All you have to do is go to the RBC Center and look at the empty rafters. We win championships in Chapel Hill."
I immediately placed this fellow into one of two categories. The first category struggles with losing so much that it cannot confront the emotion of disappointment with any honesty or resolve. The second honestly thinks basketball championships mitigate the pain of losing to State's inferior football team three years in a row. This latter category of people does not contain true Carolina fans. The former category is just childish.
We lost to those sad souls three years in a row after a decade of the opposite, and it hurts more than any loss to Duke. State and Virginia are both on next year's hit list. I can feel myself winding up already.