As a director for Carolina Fever (Carolina’s student fan organization) and a member of the football video crew here at UNC, I’m lucky to have had plenty of gridiron gameday experiences. While I love a fall afternoon spent in beautiful Kenan Stadium, there’s a certain excitement that only comes with leaving our familiar place betwixt the pines to see Carolina play away from the friendly confines of Chapel Hill. Having done my fair share of away-game adventuring, I’ve taken it upon myself to compile a sort of student’s guide to traveling with the Heels. Below are my tips for any aspiring football nomads:
Don’t Get Lost – Sometimes it’s good to look for landmarks to guide your way to the stadium, but other context clues are always available. Caught in traffic on the Fever bus on the way to our tussle with the Gamecocks earlier this season, we could gauge our proximity to Williams-Brice Stadium by taking note of the steady rise in the number of shirtless South Carolinians outside our window. A similar strategy can be employed in Charlottesville, Virginia, except using sweater vests and bow ties.
Know the Arena – I’ve always considered Tar Heel fans lucky to have Kenan Stadium nestled in the heart of campus, regardless of what that may or may not do for tailgating culture. In this respect, Kenan is largely an anomaly: more often than not, the coliseums of our rivals form the nuclei of giant parking lots. Maybe tailgating is the reason you love football in the first place, in which case feel free to turn the blacktop into your personal cornhole cloud nine. Just don’t expect a lot shade: you left the pine trees in Chapel Hill. Once in the stadium, don’t be surprised to find out that your seats literally induce nosebleeds: while our home bleachers occupy a gradual incline, places like Lane Stadium at Blacksburg and Memorial Stadium at Clemson have seats sloping up at what seems like a near 90-degree angle. Then again, maybe you’re not part of a group of students on a shoestring budget and can afford something better than row ZZZ. I’d bring an extra pair of binoculars just in case.
Live By Murphy’s Law – What CAN go wrong WILL go wrong, so plan accordingly. Visiting Clemson a couple of years ago, I had a friend tap me on the shoulder on the way into the stadium only to tell me that he’d dropped his ticket in a drainage grate along the side of the road. After 20 minutes of shooing away scalpers who had caught on to our plight and cursing the football gods for dealing us such a cruel hand, a couple of Clemson fans stopped to help me lower my friend into the man hole and retrieve his ticket. We’d caught a break, but our setback cost us a chance to see the Tigers’ pregame tradition of rubbing Howard’s Rock. The moral of the story: to be early is to be on time.
Dress Appropriately and Check the Weather – Really, this tip applies to home games as well, but sometimes the climes outside of Chapel Hill are harder to predict. I thought I knew cold: that is, until I went to Blacksburg for a mid-November night game in 2011. Standing for hours in 20-degree weather with a moderate breeze will make you question why you ever questioned donning a third pair of socks. Layering jackets is your best option, preferably with Carolina blue as your outermost color. Also, it goes without saying to have a rain jacket handy (unless you just have a thing for being soggy).
Know Your Fans - I’ve generally found that most fans are pretty amicable during pregame festivities (minus, of course, our friends in Raleigh and Durham). That being said, kickoff brings a different kind of energy. For instance, the same friendly yokels waving at the UNC team buses and greeting us as we arrived at Virginia Tech this past Saturday were the ones foaming at the mouth and calling for blood after Jack Tabb’s on-field altercation with a Hokie player late in the second half. Outside of situational hostility, most fan bases in the ACC are relatively tame, but it’s still probably a good idea to keep your surroundings in mind before starting any trash talk. A crowd at UVA or Wake Forest will respond to you a lot differently than, say, one at Carter-Finley.
Be Loud – You know how sometimes the visitors’ section in Kenan can seem really loud and obnoxious on gameday? Well now it’s your turn to invade. Nothing quite compares to the sense of camaraderie felt by fans brought together while shouting the same battle cries in a hostile environment. There’s just something about being outnumbered in a foreign land that can bring out the true fandom in people. Case in point: Carolina Fever’s trip to Columbia, SC earlier this season. After an extensive storm delay and a mass exodus of Gamecock fans, our busload of blue ditched the upper deck for a newly opened section behind the UNC sideline. Our 50 some odd students made more noise than the rest of the crowd for a good portion of that last eight minutes and twenty seconds of play. The boys in blue may not have won, but they certainly took notice.
So if you decide to adventure out into the world and brave new territories in support of the Heels, I hope this guide (derived almost entirely from anecdotal evidence) will serve you well. After all, there’s never a bad time or place to be a Tar Heel.