With the regular season finale in the books, Tar Heel fans have a few weeks off in which to look back and reflect on the season that was. While it was far from an ideal finish for a team hoping to build off of the momentum of last season’s unofficial Coastal Division Championship, it was a year that saw a mixing of trends new and old for Carolina football.
Many of the changes surrounding the program represent part of Larry Fedora’s overall plan to revolutionize the gameday atmosphere in Chapel Hill.
For one, the pregame festivities of Tar Heel Town were moved from their traditional home in Polk Place to the substantially smaller plaza just outside of the Kenan Football Center. With the new THT boasting a stage and amphitheater to play host to weekly party bands, the aim of the change of scenery was presumably to bring fan activity closer to the stadium and to put more butts in seats in time for kickoff. Despite the provision of live entertainment and local food trucks, however, many I’ve talked to still claim to prefer the pregame traditions of yesteryear, longing for the openness of the main quad and the familiar taste of Parker’s Barbecue.
Within the stadium itself, further changes were made in an attempt to bolster pregame excitement. Students saw the introduction of D.J. Forge (who has become somewhat of a fixture at UNC sporting events this year) to the Tar Pit as part of a movement to create more of a party atmosphere at games. On the few occasions when the student section filled in well before game time, the D.J. definitely seemed to contribute to the overall atmosphere of pregame warmups. That being said, the effect is watered down when nearly every game is slated for noon and the D.J. is spinning tunes for a bunch of college kids who just rolled out of bed.
Perhaps the most successful of Fedora’s experiments was the “Zero Dark Thursday” game against Miami. For years I’ve heard the arguments as to why Chapel Hill will never be a great football town, with people chalking it up to a lack of good tailgating locations, poor parking arrangements, bad fans, you name it. In my opinion, ZDT proved all of those arguments false. Parties and tailgates littered the town from Franklin Street to Stadium Drive, as campus was packed with fans decked out in black and genuinely excited to be part of a Carolina gameday atmosphere. Though the game was lost, the night was won as Tar Heel fans proved to critics and to themselves that Chapel Hill could play host to something other than basketball.
Of course, the most instantly noticeable alteration to gameday in Chapel Hill was more a matter of aesthetics than anything else. Unveiling brand new Nike Pro Combat uniforms at the Spring game in April, the Heels garnered a lot of excitement, predominantly from the radically different all-black getup that would be featured at Zero Dark Thursday. In stark contrast to the traditional home-blue and away-white unis, this season saw the Heels take to the field in a new uniform color combination each week. As could be expected, most students and younger fans were thrilled at the prospect of sharp new duds, while older fans lamented the loss of the classic Carolina blue and white. Honestly, I find myself somewhat on the fence. Regardless of our traditional color scheme, I love the incorporation of the black into the new outfits and think the matte black helmet in particular is a great addition. But I’ve also always been a tremendous fan of our conventional Carolina blue jerseys with white lettering. You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, I suppose.
It’s these subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) changes that Coach Fedora hopes to use to establish Carolina football as a national brand. Whether in the argyle painting of the end zones, the hosting of themed games, or even something as small as the “Always Attack” motto sewn into the neckline of each and every jersey, the program is in the midst of a facelift. This season’s poor start somewhat spoiled home attendance and fan participation for the major part of the year, so it’s hard to know what kind of effect these new tweaks will ultimately have on Tar Heel gamedays. Going forward, it will be interesting to see how L-Fed toes the line between tradition and novelty in forging a new identity for a team that holds a lot of promise for the future.