A New Blue Dawn

Senior Day against Maryland was a pretty typical game for the 2012 Tar Heels. The Terrapins, perhaps motivated by the decision to leave the ACC in favor of the Big Ten, served as a mediocre but spirited opponent. Carolina fans had obvious reasons to be frustrated, as the Tar Heels repeatedly allowed big plays on the defensive side of the ball. The special teams performed particularly poorly, fumbling a kickoff return just before halftime to allow Maryland to take a 28-21 lead, and then gave up a touchdown on the kickoff to start the second half because they only had ten men on the field. The Tar Heels fought back in gritty fashion, though, with Bryn Renner throwing for two big touchdowns in the second half, leading to a 45-38 win. Overall, the defense was pretty bad (excepting one big interception on Maryland’s first drive), the offense was pretty good, Gio Bernard was brilliant (27 carries for 163 yards and a touchdown), there were some troubling mental mistakes…but the Tar Heels managed to emerge victorious. Sounds pretty familiar.

The inconsistency of the Tar Heels in any given game modeled their season as a whole. There were some clear highs this year: Gio Bernard’s late punt return touchdown to beat NC State for the first time in six tries, setting the record for points scored in a single game by a UNC squad in the 66-0 win over Idaho, four Tar Heels making 1st Team All-ACC (Bernard, Jonathan Cooper, Sylvester Williams, and Kevin Reddick), and winning the ACC’s Coastal Division on a tie-break over Miami (had either team actually been eligible to win anything). There were also some obvious lows: Losing to Duke for only the second time in 23 years, giving up a record 68 points at home against Georgia Tech on Homecoming, and getting blown out in the first half against Louisville come to mind most easily. It has been a season of unpredictability, to say the least, its meaning hard to define because of the postseason ban and the implementation of a totally new coaching scheme.

I’m really at a loss for words to describe how I feel about this team and this season. It happened. I was there, and I experienced the good, the bad, the ugly, all of it. Sure, we didn’t go to a bowl game or the conference title game. We didn’t go undefeated. But it was still special. Every season has its moments and memories that you will always carry with you, and this one was no different. Ultimately, I’m glad we’ve completely closed the door on the Butch Davis Era and can finally move forward as a team and university. There will be no bans, no asterisks, no drama as we look to next August. A new Blue Dawn, at last.


Your Boys Are Playin' Scared

And it wasn’t even halftime. In fact, we were only down 22-0 at this point. This observation came from a head shaking, sympathetic UL fan as I rode up an elevator in Papa John’s stadium amidst the Tar Heels’ first half from Hell versus Louisville.
My elevator partner wasn’t being a smartass; he seemed genuinely disappointed that his Cardinals weren’t getting tested. Once the first half ended, I tried to imagine what he might have said to me had I climbed aboard that same elevator with my team down 36-7? “Why did you bother to make this trip?” or “This is ACC football? Really? Are you Serious?” or “Your boys aren’t just scared, they are whupped!”
Stuff like that. And he was right. The level of domination was staggering. 19 first downs. Louisville had kicked off eight times in the first half. Eight!?! The Cardinal offensive line was opening up holes large enough to fit a Churchill Downs starting gate and Louisville’s quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, looked like the second coming of Johnny Unitas.
As I sheepishly strode to the concourse at halftime in my low-key Carolina hat and subtle blue/dark blue shirt, I glanced around at the joyous red faces around me. It was as if I had walked out of a wake and into the wildest, bestest afternoon party ever…“Hey buddy, sorry for your loss” (all the while shaking head trying to hide a grin) “…uuh how ‘bout them dadgum Cards? That was some kinda whuppin’ wasn’t it?”
“Yessir, yes it was.”
Fortunately, Papa John’s stadium sold beer. And lots of it. And by halftime, the Cardinal-red faithful had put a significant dent in the supply. No doubt, the Tar Heel loyalists, who decided to make this trek to Kentucky, could also drown their sorrows with multiple $6 brews…and certainly that was my plan.
(BRILLIANT IDEA OF THE DAY: I’d like to propose that the North Carolina state legislature make beer sales legal during UNC football games when the home team either falls behind or jumps ahead by 20 or more points; hereafter called, “The Papa John Rule.” Imagine the crowd involvement! “They kick this FG and it’s Papa John time fellas” Think of the potential revenue! And all for a good cause…to calm the nerves of the Carolina faithful and to benefit higher education; everybody is a winner!)
As I staggered back to my seat for the second half, still numbed by 36 points and multiple cold Bud Lights, the Cardinal “drive to 55” (points, that is) continued as the offense methodically marched into Tar Heel territory on its first possession. Somehow, someway, the Heels managed to stop UL on a 4th down with nary a point.
To the surprise of many, including this writer, the Heels proceeded to put together a very respectable touchdown drive to make it 36-14.
For me to claim that I could sense a Tar Heel comeback brewing would be an out-an-out lie. Honestly, I was just glad to see that Coach Fedora and boys had decided not to “mail it in” for the second half.
On the Cards’ second possession, the Heel defense assumed a “bend-but-don’t-break” strategy (as opposed to its first half “bend-and-keep-on-bending-‘til-they-score-a-TD-so-we-can-get-the-ball-back” strategy) and gave up only a morale boosting field goal.
Even when the Heels managed to put together another solid touchdown drive and “narrow” the gap to 39-21 early in the 4th quarter, I could not let myself jump on the “I had better quit downing these tasty cold Bud Lights or I am not going to fully appreciate the greatest comeback in Carolina football history” bandwagon.  Not yet.
And yet, the defense held (again) and, lo and behold, with 8:36 seconds left in the game, UL had to kick its first punt of the game, and wouldn’t you know it, the good guys in light blue blocked it. Next play we scored. And, uh-oh Cards’ fans, who were now thinking that they might be witnessing the greatest collapse in UL football history, it was 39-28.
Hmmm…well, now…you know, if we could just… (no, no…don’t do this to yourself. Just be thankful the Heels didn’t embarrass themselves and are making a respectable showing.) I know, I know, but if we could just stop ‘em one more time, kick an onside kick and…(no, don’t do it!)
BUT, it did happen. UL forgot how to run, Carolina remembered how to tackle and the offense scored…again. All of a sudden we were down by five measly points and going for two to pull within a field goal.
Conversion missed and down 39-34 with the time dwindling…”oh well, it was a nice comeback, wasn’t it?” Carolina deserves a lot of credit for making such a great comeback. They have nothing to be ashamed of with this effort and – what? They did what? UL fumbled the kickoff? Carolina’s ball? What the…?!?! We could win this thing? Are you kidding me? Any room on this bandwagon?
Well, all I can say about the rest of this game is that if God were truly a Tar Heel…
  • Highsmith would have held on to that fourth down pass from Renner,
  • I would have witnessed the greatest comeback in Carolina football history, and
  • My grandkids would have heard how I was there to witness the dawning of the Fedora era that would eventually result in those two consecutive National Championships of 2017 and 2018.
Instead, I was left with another “what could have been” game…albeit one that was one of the more remarkable near-wins I have watched.
Some losses are certainly better than others, and judging by the fans leaving Papa John’s stadium, some wins are worse than others. If our boys can build on a game like this and walk into enemy territory without playing “scared,” then perhaps it was a “good” loss.
We shall see. We shall see.

Greatest Comeback EVER… Almost

It was Sept 15, 2012. Not March 2, 1974. This time Walter Davis missed. OK, it would never have supplanted “8 down with 17 seconds to play” regardless. 
It was not in Carmicheal. It was in a stadium named for a pizza mogul in a city more famous for a horse race. It was not against Duke. It was against Louisville and only remnants of a crowd of 55,000 were there at the end.
(Did you know that Papa John Stadium is the ONLY college stadium in America where all 55,000 seats are individual chairbacks? Bubba, can we do that in Kenan some day?)
Speaking of chairbacks…. our Good Sports pre-game show on WCHL Saturday was “Best Ever” with Shows One & Two being tied for second just a smidgen behind. Catch it in archives somewhere on this website. You can skip over Chansky’s parts.
By last count, 138,662 die-hard Carolina fans were in Carmichael in March 1974. That number will go up after this. Every time I ever write about “8 down with 17 seconds to play” I hear from yet another “I was there”…. or “my dad was there and he swears that….”. 
BobLee, Carmichael only held 9,000. Yeah, I know. You tell those other 129,000 who have ticket stubs swearing they were there. Many of those 138,000 were also in Wrigley Field when Babe Ruth “called his shot” versus Charlie Root too. 
Did I channel Charles Dickens’ one week to soon. Surely Saturday in Papa John was “The Best of Halfs – The Worst of Halfs” or vice versa. I’m assuming most reading this are fans of the team that scored 34, not the team that scored 39. 
Carolina lost the game. Let me make that clear. Carolina lost the game. Larry Fedora did not come to Carolina to almost win football games. Larry Fedora did not come to Carolina to give “Don’t get your daubers down men. You played hard. You gave it your all. We’ll get’em next week by golly” post-game speeches. 
To paraphrase George Patton, Larry Fedora came to Carolina so the opposing coaches will give “we’ll get’em next week” speeches.  Make those other SOBs give up their lives for their cause….. Larry Fedora came to Carolina to WIN (and build character, integrity, yadda yadda yadda….) and in Louisville on Saturday last his team did not win. Larry is not a happy Fedora today. 
If a tie is like “kissing your sister” and a “moral victory” is another way of saying “we lost” then an incredible comeback that just falls short is still an L in a young season that now has two of those Ls to just one W with the Purple Pirates coming to Kenan next Saturday.
I watched the entire game. Yes I was flipping back & forth across the plethora of color & pageantry available “on any given Fall Saturday” but I was watching until 00:00. Were you? 
That’s a rhetorical question to which I don’t expect an honest answer.  If a third of the Louisville fans left Papa’s at the half, how many of “our fans” hung around in TV Land to watch Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse scalp Custer’s 7th Cavalry. I mean REALLY! 
So sue me. I like to watch massacres. Besides my sock drawer was already sorted and my car was already washed or whatever most of you chose to do around 5 PM on Saturday. Hey, I don’t blame you. 
The last time TeamRamses went into Papa John was October 2005.  That one really was a massacre – 69-14 in favor of the home team.  That one was two of yesterday’s first halfs without a second half.  Ouch. The only sound we “harked” that day was that damn train whistle those goobers blow after every score. 
As our boys trudged off the Papa John greensward yesterday I “harked” a sound of the seed of optimism germinating.  Optimism that Larry Fedora is “the man” to lead the Carolina Tar Heels to many more Ws than Ls in the months and years to come.
Whatever he said at halftime worked…. almost. “Almost” means “not quite” but gosh-darn it I liked what I saw in that second half. 
I like Larry Fedora a lot and I’m sure glad he’s the head coach of my alma mater.
Bryn Renner had great stats yesterday. OK, stats are for losers but five TDs and 363 yards is a lot. 
In the pantheon of UNC QBs, Bryn Renner had a whole lot better week than Matt Kupec did. 

It Would Be Hog Heaven!

The University of Arkansas has a perfect solution to its problem with philandering football coach Bobby Petrino. Fire him and hire Butch Davis.

Think about it. Davis is an Arkansas grad and former player there (until injured early in his career) and has since been a coaching “fixer” for problem college and pro football programs.

And Davis has some recent history with Arkansas, leveraging an alleged opportunity to return there after his first season at Carolina (2007) to get a $291,000 raise and contract extension. Some people said it was a head fake by Davis’ new agent Jimmy Sexton, but nevertheless it proved effective enough to extract the contract bump following an inaugural 4-8 record with the Tar Heels.

And the head-coaching careers of both men run strangely parallel.

Petrino was 41-9 in four seasons at Louisville, then hired by the Atlanta Falcons where he quit in the middle of his first season, which star quarterback Michael Vick missed after being suspended for his role in an illegal dog-fighting ring in Virginia. He bolted the Falcons to take the Arkansas job, and left a livid locker room behind.

Petrino was hailed as the savior of Razorback Nation and has challenged Alabama and Auburn in the murderous SEC West, going 20-5 the last two seasons. But his career is in serious jeopardy after covering up that he had a 25-year-old woman employee of the football program on the back of his motorcycle when it crashed in rural Arkansas last weekend. Petrino, 51 and married with four children, has since apologized for an “inappropriate relationship” without elaborating further. The story seems to get more damning for Petrino every day. 
Davis’ first head-coaching job was at Miami, where he cleaned up a probation-laden program left to him by predecessor Dennis Erickson. By the time he fled five years later, Miami had been ranked as high as No. 2 in the country, played in the Sugar Bowl and had a roster of stars that would win the national championship in 2001 under his successor Larry Coker. Davis then went to Cleveland in the NFL and left midway through his third season amidst a maelstrom, his players saying the same uncomplimentary things about him as the Falcons heaped on Petrino. In 2006, Davis arrived in Chapel Hill as the savior of Carolina football, and you know the rest of that story.

Davis did not have the success on the field that Petrino has had at Arkansas, but he signed great recruiting classes and won eight games his last three seasons. His controversy, the NCAA scandal that led to his firing last July, also involved a woman in her 20s, the infamous tutor Jennifer Wiley who wound up in the middle of UNC’s academic fraud while also employed by Davis and his wife as a private tutor for their teenage son Drew. At worst, you can call Davis’ relationship with Wiley as “professionally inappropriate” and nowhere near what could turn out to be the case with Petrino and former Arkansas volleyball player Jessica Dorrell.

But Arkansas AD Jeff Long may find himself in the position where he has to fire Petrino if, according to a clause in the coach’s contract, he “negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the (university’s) athletics programs in any way.” I would say Petrino wiping out on his chopper with a girl half his age riding shotgun and then apologizing to everyone in sight violates that contract.

What is it with these multi-million-dollar coaches who do such stupid things? And I do not include Davis in that group, because his sins may have been more of omission than commission in overseeing a program that is now on a three-year NCAA probation.

How can they be so dumb to put themselves in a position that could not only jeopardize their careers, but their families? From the late Joe Paterno to the still very-much-alive Rick Pitino, errors in judgment occurred that makes you wonder whether some coaches believe they are either above the law and/or rules or oblivious to them.

Google “coaching scandals” and the list runs from household names to less-known coaches who were no less stupid. Petrino is the latest, and whether he keeps his job or not the respect he has built in Arkansas will be largely eroded. How many times will he have to confront the question in the homes of recruits?

That could cause Long to fire him, after all.

If Long then hired Davis, who has since taken a nebulous job with the Tampa Bay Bucs because he wants back in college coaching someday soon and would be a hero coming home to rescue the program, it would be a win-win for him and his old school. As the new head coach at his alma mater, Davis would let UNC off the hook for the $1.8 million in severance pay he is still owed.

Hog heaven for everyone except Petrino.


“Aerotropolis.” Is it for us?

“Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

Yogi Berra’s seemingly contradictory wisdom could be a subtitle for a new book about airports and the surrounding landscapes that grow up around them.

“Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next” by John D. Kasarda and Greg Lindsay, catalogs the world’s major international airports, explaining which ones work well, which ones do not, and why. Kasarda is director of the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at UNC-Chapel Hill and an early proponent of North Carolina’s Global TransPark.

The authors examine the rising cost and looming shortage of petroleum and the unquestioned detrimental environmental consequences of carbon emissions and pollution. Then they argue persuasively that, not withstanding these factors, the world’s mega airports are here to stay.

Not only here to stay, but also they assert, these large airports and the urban areas that surround them are destined to be the world’s most important centers of population, employment, commerce, industry, enterprise, and creativity for the foreseeable future.
Older airports like Los Angeles, Chicago, and London’s Heathrow demonstrate how such operations can be amazing economic generators and how they are being choked by their very success.

For example, say the authors, “LAX [Los Angeles International] is a case study for how airports are incubators for trade and the cities that spring up to seize it. And then there are the side effects.”

Not only Apple but also “Intel, Hewlett Packard, Sun, and Cisco—long ago began outsourcing work … across the Pacific,” they continue. “Now they wait for airborne freighters to land in Los Angeles with the first samples of their latest holiday smash in the hold.”
Although LAX is booming, “The sprawl encircling it has calcified, and traffic on its interstate arteries…is the most sclerotic in the region.”

Still, the authors say, “LAX will get busier. Its many missteps will be mitigated but never rectified, and the crush on its crumbling infrastructure will worsen until—from a competitive perspective—it finally implodes.”

Newer airports, like those at Dallas, Denver, and Washington’s Dulles avoided some of these problems. More efficient systems inside the airport, better-planned connections to nearby businesses and surface transportation, and room to expand give them the ability to steal economic development potential from their older competitors.

Closer by, and maybe easier to understand, are the economic booms that the airports at Memphis and Louisville created. With Federal Express and UPS making these airports their principal transfer hubs, these cities became ideal locations for distribution centers of “overnight” sellers like Amazon and the warehouses of “just-in-time” manufacturers. As a result, these two cities are “in bloom” again, maybe explaining why the record crowd at the Kentucky Derby last weekend looked so prosperous.

The efficient airport operations and the attraction of related businesses at Memphis and Louisville give clues about the concept of the strange word in the book’s title: “Aerotropolis.” But there is more to it than just an airport and its city. According to Kasarda and Lindsay, an aerotropolis must be “a superconductor, a piece of infrastructure promising zero resistance to anyone setting up shop there.”

This “frictionlessness” is “the product of a whole host of attributes, many of which are invisible: tariff-free zones, faster customs clearance, fewer and faster permits, and a right-to-work workforce that knows what it is doing.”

These things and a surrounding efficient infrastructure “combine to cut costs and red tape for corporations, often at the expense of their employees and the taxpayers, in exchange (theoretically) for greater gains for all down the road.”

Where can these things be brought together? In places like China or Dubai, where decisions can be made overnight by fiat. In the U.S. and other democracies, the pathway to the ideal aerotropolis may be too steep.

And if the aerotropolis is to be the key to future competitiveness and prosperity, we may find that our beloved democracy is an expensive treasure.