So here we are, one week later and the black on the Kenan Stadium grass is just beginning to fade. But what are we to make of Zero Dark Thursday?
Though ZDT didn’t feature the fairy tale ending that the Heels wished for (and quite frankly, deserved), the night was anything but a failure. In what I would deem the second most important game thus far of the Fedora era (Gio’s punt return will forever hold a special place in my mind), Carolina proved that it could hang with the big boys on the field as well as off it.
Yes, the turnout for Thursday’s blackout game must’ve brought the UNC athletic department to a Field of Dreams type epiphany: if you build it, they will come. “They”, of course, being the thousands of Tar Heel fans who flooded Chapel Hill to take part in the refreshingly vibrant gameday atmosphere.
The city was turned black and blue as the Carolina faithful filled every nook and cranny from the new “Tar Heel Downtown” to Stadium Drive. Franklin Street bustled as fans poured in and out of shops and restaurants and music filled the air as nearly every frat house seemed to have hired their own party band. One would be hard pressed to find a more unique blend of sights and sounds: it was as if Halloween came to town a few weeks early. For once, the day was less about a game than it was about an event: people were excited just to be part of the experience.
The party was in Chapel Hill, and everyone was invited.
The excitement carried over from the streets to the bleachers of Kenan Stadium as the Heels enjoyed easily their best home crowd of the year. Not only was the crowd full, but it was loud. The student section in particular filled in early and made enough noise to give life to the oft-maligned Tar Heel defense.
The Tar Pit’s contributions didn’t go unnoticed. In a letter to the Daily Tar Heel, Coach Fedora commended the students for their support and claimed that the players were able to feed off of their energy.
In this student’s humble opinion, the blackout experiment was a resounding success. Kenan was rocking, the players were pumped, and the event looked spectacular to recruits. The only real question is whether this caliber of crowd support can be replicated on a consistent basis. It would be idiotic to expect each game to have the same electricity of a Thursday night primetime matchup against a top-ten ranked opponent, but I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility to have a packed Tar Pit for every kickoff.
Carolina has struggled mightily through the first half of its heavily front-loaded schedule, but even so, it’s not too late to right the ship. Faced with six very winnable games (four of which are at home), the Heels still have their sights set on a bowl. It’ll be interesting to see if the fans have similar expectations.
Students can take last Thursday’s game one of two ways: as yet another misstep in a string of disappointing losses or as an exhibit of Kenan Stadium’s true potential as a great football environment. There’s no question that the players are hungry for a win. We’ll just have to wait until 3:30 Saturday to make sure the fans haven’t lost their appetite.