Thursday, February 9, 2012

How I feel about losing to Duke

I went to the Dean Dome last night and saw my favored Tar Heels lose to the Duke Blue Devils after earning a falsely secure 10-point lead with 2:38 to play. The comeback was the result of a perfect storm of missed free throws, turnovers, a player control foul and an own field goal. Duke escaped defeat with a 3-pointer only after the game clock had expired.

A mere 20 seconds earlier I had calmly explained to my mom that Tyler Zeller's first made free throw, which extended our lead to 2, meant nothing unless he also made the second. I knew that Duke would shoot a 3 even if they trailed by 2. Zeller missed his second. Duke rebounded. Austin Rivers dribbled down the clock while he enjoyed a mismatch with Zeller that eventually gave more than the space he needed to release the game-winning 3-pointer with less than a second on the clock. The backboard light went off a millisecond before the ball slipped through the rim like it was greased with Crisco.

It took the wind out of me. I felt like the bottom of my stomach had opened so that the cheese fries and Yuengling inside could spill to the concrete floor and onto the rows in front of me. I acted as cool as I could and sensed the rest of the 21,000+ fans doing the same, but I could not look. I was too miserable to be willing to see anyone's misery.

"We did not deserve to win," I said to my mom before I left. The walk up the hill, which I had expected to be a celebratory sprint to Franklin Street only minutes before, was laced with frightening screams of frustration from passing cars and high dormitory balconies. In any other situation I might have dialed 911. We walked in silence to Franklin Street. Disappointed students still filled the coffee shops and bars. The rush was off.

This game and that shot will be on ESPN Classic every time we play Duke, I thought. I will have to watch that shot on TV again minutes before we play them in Durham. 

I will close my eyes.

"I'm over it already," I lied to my fiancee to make her think I was more together than I was. We drove home. I read the few already published stories to try to understand what had happened in the last two and a half minutes of the game. I sent an e-mail to my closest Carolina friends to ask whether this was the most brutal loss in series history. I felt like I had to know. The e-mail's subject was "Honest question. Read when calm." I knew I would wonder whether my memory was a dream the next morning; I dreaded that futile moment of hope. My head hit the pillow, and I was almost asleep three hours later.

Morning was unkind. My alumnus carpool buddy canceled, so I drove the half hour to work with only my thoughts. I tried to count all the Duke fans I saw on a daily basis and was pleased that I could only think of two. I decided to be the first to mention the game to each one so they could not catch me off guard. Mike and Mike on ESPN Radio made only a brief mention of the game. They were more excited that Will Ferrell announced the starting lineups at the New Orleans Hornets game. The audio made me laugh, so I decided to e-mail the YouTube video to my closest Carolina friends. I could not imagine any of them smiling until at least noon, but maybe they could if I could. I worried about some of them. None had replied to my e-mail. Perhaps none had been calm enough to even read it.

We were on the better end of a game like that against Duke in 2005, I thought as I pulled into the school lot. But now I realize that even that game did not have a do-or-die buzzer beater without the calming influence of a timeout. This game was jarringly offensive. This game made me angry.

My instinct all day was to not talk about the game. My friends must have felt the same. A colleague who approached me about Carolina football's National Signing Day results last week barely glanced in my direction today, and that's fine. The only person with whom I discussed the game in person was a Duke fan at work. I congratulated him with a rough half hug.

You might wonder why I am writing about this. Of course Duke fans might read this and foam at the mouth, but that's fine too. I am writing this for Carolina fans who feel the same way I do. We all talk about how we come together during the game, but now we will stick together after the game. That is easier for me if I know someone else feels the same way I do. I should probably call those friends who did not reply to my e-mail.

Roy said the best thing about last night's loss was that it should tick off the team and make them more determined to work harder. The best thing about it from a Carolina fan's perspective was that it made the impending second match-up one of the biggest in the rivalry's history. Carolina fans will be way up for the game in their homes or out with friends. The world will not see that; they will have to settle for Cameron Indoor Stadium, which Duke students struggle to fill. The last two minutes of last night's game spilled gasoline on Tobacco Road. Now it is up to the Heels and us, their fans, to light a match on March 3 at 7 p.m.

I hope this video will make you smile in the meantime.


  1. I understand that you have to take the high road but for you not mention a couple of key non calls is disappointing. I know that Duke had to make the shoots regardless if the refs blew the whistle or not and they did that's why they Carolina didnt win the game. The calls I'm referring to are the Curry traveling violation and the Zeller push in the back on the tip in.

  2. Thanks for this. You just described my last 24 hours perfectly. I've relived that game over in my head all day, couldn't go to sleep last night, and I still have a hard time believing/accepting it ended how it did. It wasn't supposed to be that way. Truth is, we ARE the more talented team. But even more talent can't always win against some factors. Anyway, thank you for the laugh. I needed it. It was a long day. But as I told someone earlier, some days are better than others, but it's never a bad day to be a Tar Heel fan. Can you imagine cheering for any other team? I sure can't. Carolina fans need to rally around our boys right now, and around each other. They'll come back, and we'll delight in Duke's misery again one day, sooner or later. (Hopefully sooner.)
    Thanks again for this.

    1. Thanks for the comment. You asked if I could imagine cheering for any other team. Of course I cannot. I mentioned to a coworker that as bad as it feels to lose to Duke, it must be worse for Duke fans when they lose because they have to deal with each other's crap. Good people can be miserable for a bit and come out of it better. Miserable people being miserable is something I am thankful I can avoid.

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  4. Thanks. I needed this.