At every home game, Charles Kuralt’s iconic quote is played from the speakers as the band walks out onto the field at Kenan Satdium, but on no other day is it as moving as on Homecoming. Returning alumni wear their emotions proudly on their sleeves, as the thrill of cheering for one’s school and seeing old pals overtakes all else. Nothing is as important to me as the interpersonal connections that I have made here at Chapel Hill, and in that respect, UNC will always be the “University of the People” to me. Many others probably feel the same way.
It is appropriate, however, that Kuralt did not mention football in explaining the mystique of the University of North Carolina given the performance of the Tar Heels on Saturday. Coming off a bye week and a huge win over NC State, many UNC fans were expecting an easy victory over a Georgia Tech squad that has struggled this season. Instead of a happy Homecoming, they were treated to “the most boring 68-50 game in the history of college football,” to quote the guy standing beside me in the Tar Pit.
As bad as the rush defense was, the pass defense wasn’t much better. The defensive backs, particularly Tre Boston and Gene Robinson, gave up several deep completions on play-action fakes that ultimately led to Yellow Jacket scores. Not to be outdone, the special teams allowed a 100-yard kick return touchdown and were stopped on a botched fake where punter Tommy Hibbard decided to try to run for a first down on 4th and 10 from the Tar Heels’ 25 yard line. Giving up 380 rushing yards makes it hard to win, and playing poorly in other phases of the game certainly doesn’t help.
There were bright spots for the offense, though, as might be expected in such a shootout. Gio Bernard continued his dark-horse Heisman campaign with two touchdowns, including a dazzling 78-yard reception where he broke several tackles and threw some wicked stiff arms on his way to the end zone. Romar Morris and AJ Blue looked like capable replacements should Bernard declare for the NFL draft, with three touchdowns between the two. There were several nice grabs made by Quinshad Davis, who has displayed flashes of brilliance that suggest he could be a serious downfield threat for the Heels for next season. In short, not all was bad.
Then again, Georgia Tech lost to Middle Tennessee State by the score of 49-28 earlier this year.
In a season that will be defined by Gio’s punt return to claim an emphatic victory over the Wolfpack, most Tar Heel fans will probably forget the 2012 Homecoming Game. As the seasons turn and basketball begins, the annual ritual of neglecting football is upon us. With no chance at an ACC title or a bowl game, it’s not hard to see why the excitement is gone. There are still some positive elements on which to build, some sparks that could ignite the team going forward, though. And thus the refrain of a Cleveland childhood echoes through my mind: Things will be different next year.