UNC football: the variable awakening of a giant
I haven’t slept very well lately. It’s not an obvious fuss, not the kind of awakening where it’s best to get out of bed and do something productive with the cold hours between witch hour and the first blush of dawn. It’s been a kind of turnaround, lingering for far too long in that liminal space that should just be a quick stop on the road to better, more restful sleep. Perhaps it is the change of the seasons, this disorienting shortening of the days; it may simply be work-related stress, compounded by an inability to cut off the connection to the computer that is still in the next room; maybe it’s just my internal clock broken. Whatever the cause, it’s frustrating; I’m sure everyone can agree with this.
The North Carolina Tar Heels came into play this season on a wave of hype, with Heisman’s hopes for quarterback Sam Howell backed by a promise to return to production. Even those talented baseball players lost to Sunday paychecks over the summer did little to quell the wave of excitement that made the Heels contenders for the CCA throne. I call myself pragmatic, and in general, I’m proud that I can help but indulge in the Carolina blue lobster that lives somewhere close to my heart (except when I’m leaning in for a comedic effect) . Even with all of my stated self-control, I look back on the preseason and can clearly see that I have been blown away by the forecast of the rising tide at Chapel Hill.
The only problem with the waves? They crash. The slope of the shore forces the water column higher and higher until the wave rocks under its own weight, descending back to Earth with raw power capable of spilling the ass of unconscious tourists on the kettle with all the tenderness. of a giant who doesn’t know his own strength. The power generated by the momentum of the water dissipates slowly somehow and suddenly; the water disappears into the sand, leaving the shells or the children it was carrying high and dry. The sound is soothing, of course; Often times I’ve found myself pulling a recording of crashing waves as a sleep aid on nights when I feel like I’ve exhausted my other options.
The Chapel Hill football team has often been referred to in the national media as the “Sleeping Giant”. It’s a favorite pastime of people who get paid to talk about college football and wonder exactly why this giant keeps slumbering. On the face of it, the argument goes, there’s no reason the Tar Heels aren’t the best football program in the state. A flagship university with an international brand; a southern school that can be proud of incredible success on the national scene in multiple sports (thanks to the women’s soccer and field hockey teams); there are a lot of signs indicating a power station on standby. Other teams in the state have their own hurdles blocking their ascent to national relevance: My Appalachian alma mater is remote, cold in the winter, and plays a specific brand of football (which I really like, don’t get me wrong) . East Carolina fired Ruffin McNeill for whatever reason and will recover from that mistake for years to come. Wake Forest is a small (formerly) private Baptist school in Winston Salem, Duke has all of these years to contend with, and NC State is an unknowable amount of varying quality, apt to self-immolate with little to no warning.
There were rumblings that the giant began to stir. The transcendent recruiting of Coach Brown and his staff could have been mistaken for a massive eye starting to open. Sam Howell’s emergence as the game’s dynamic quarterback over the past two seasons has been seen by some as the necessary wake-up call to finally wake the giant. The Heels were dark horse contenders for the college football playoffs leading up to this season, riding the aforementioned wave in a preseason Top 10 ranking. Even the season opener loss to Virginia Tech could be partially ruled out; it was the first game after the strangest season in memory, the first time to play in front of a college crowd for large chunks of the current roster, and the Hokies were simply better than we thought. Similar to a wave breaking the shore before gathering strength for the final push to shore, the Heels kept rolling after that first setback, easily sending off the next two opponents.
A loss to a surprisingly good Virginia Tech team doesn’t stop Carolina from keeping the promise of the offseason hype. Two conference losses (so far) in the average-to-best ACC this year, though? Here is the crash. McKay wrote an excellent article on readjusting expectations after last week’s disappointing trip to Delta’s largest hub in the world, and counting on us being dropped off at the waterline on the beach with the wave coming in. made us fall quickly into the hot sand.
I haven’t slept very well lately. A nap on a beach somewhere east of where I am right now sounds great, my ears filled with the constant muffled roar of waves like giant footsteps crashing into the sand, one after the other. This is the best part of the waves, however; there’s always another coming, and eventually the tide will follow them. The water level will rise, wave after wave and crash after crash, until the tide hits your chair.
When that water hits, it may even be enough to wake a sleeping giant.