Gang, it's time to get serious about UNC football. You know I started to dally with the boys in Powder Blue* in the pre-season, and then pulled back in anger when the suspensions came out.
*(most sexually questionable start to a sentence I've ever written)
But sweet fuck, did you see that game on Saturday? I mean, did you see it? That was one of the most heroic efforts I've ever witnessed on the gridiron. UNC was so depleted from the suspensions that they basically had to gather fans from the street to suit up and play. They went down 30-10 on some super sloppy football, and then came roaring back in the second half, making one of the SEC's best schools look like a deer in headlights, only to fall short when sure-handed Zack Pianalto, the tight end, dropped two straight potential game-winning tds in the final ten seconds.
Make no mistake: the suspensions cost UNC the game. The defense, missing 7 starters, wasn't awful, but the lack of speed and talent on special teams allowed LSU's Patrick Peterson to pile up 257 returning yards and one TD. That wouldn't have happened with the starters involved, and the Heels would have come out on top.
But that's life. I couldn't help but be happy with the result. Maybe I'm not a big enough fan yet, but in my book Butch Davis' squad should take a lot of pride in that loss. And then there was TJ Yates.
Yates has a lot going for him already, in my book, mainly because he wears my high school number. He was excellent on Saturday, going 28/46 for 412 yards with 3 TDs and no picks. And he had one pass that just blew my mind; I can't find it on any highlight reels, since it was early in the game and didn't result in a touchdown. But Yates was rushed, stepped up in the pocket, scrambled forward, and absolutely zipped a ball downfield. It had to have traveled thirty yards in the air in a tight spiral, and it just cleared a deep linebacker's outstretched arm. Then it kept going, on a bee-line, all the way into a slanting receiver's bread basket. It was a thing of beauty, and easily the best pass of the day.
The two other great ones were his 97-yard bomb that hit his man in stride (the ball was 55 yards in the air), and the corner fade pass to the RB running a stop-and-go wheel route into the endzone. Both of those can be seen in the ESPN highlights linked above.
So I'm on board, Yates. And so is my buddy Rick, who deserves his own mention in this blog entry. I've known Rick for only a month, and in that time he's proved himself to be a smart, funny, interesting dude. I say that now because I want to get it out of the way; this story involves none of those qualities. Rick is also a die-hard UNC fan, far bigger than me, and Saturday was my first experience watching a game with him. My buddy Nick was with us too, and later he summed up Rick's behavior with a pitch-perfect description: "party on wheels." We started at a place called Pantana Bob's in Chapel Hill. It has an outdoor patio area with tvs around the perimeter, and seems like it would be an awesome place to watch a game. Unfortunately, it was a bit littered with businessy types, and short on passionate fans. The general bearing was one of casual interest.
Rick was not "casually" interested. From the very beginning, he was screaming at the television. His targets were wide-ranging, from coaches to players to unlucky fate. He even got pissed at the other fans in the bar, particularly ones who blamed TJ Yates for everything (which, I have to admit, got to be almost epidemic at Pantana Bob's...apparently Yates wasn't so hot last year, and now most UNC fans will blame him for almost anything, including the school's tuition hike). But it quickly emerged that there's a super-villain in Rick's world: John Shoop.
Shoop is the offensive coordinator and QB coach at UNC. To put it mildly, Rick does not like John Shoop. Nick doesn't like him either, because he used to the OC for the Chicago Bears, and Nick is a Bears fan. But Nick's anger is more subdued, even amused. Rick's anger was raw and thriving, and he hurled invective and abuse at the man all night while pretty, highly-composed southern girls gave him horrified looks and their boyfriends (seersucker shorts, tucked-in polos, belts with dolphins, annoying hair) sat with tight-lipped smiles.
When the score was 30-10, we went to a house party where we knew the game would be on. Rick disappeared for a while, and when he came back out, Nick had a brilliant idea. He and I and our other pal Josh love coming up with nicknames. So far, we've come up with a few for our classmates and ourselves: The Rocks, Houdini, Ole '52, The Pro, Quick Eyes, Dr. Pong, and Cheney. The explanation for each name is incredibly stupid, and our philosophy is the dumber the better. The girl we call Cheney, for instance, has VP as her initials. We took that bit of info, and quickly decided that Cheney would be the worst possible vice president to be named after. Voila! Cheney.
So when Rick came out from wherever he'd been hiding, Nick had a nickname ready. All I'll say is that involved a pun on Rick's last name and the word "Shoop." Rick's eyes lit up, and he turned on Nick. "No!" he yelled, pointing an emphatic finger. "Oh yeah!" Nick replied. Then a tense silence. I watched the gears turning- Rick was not happy. He started to envision a reality where his nickname was directly tied with the man he hated most in the entire world. He knew he had to take extreme measures.
He immediately put Nick in a headlock. This move shocked everyone at the party, but what happened next will be etched in our memories for all eternity. Unsure how to proceed, Rick again considered the nickname. He knew a headlock wasn't good enough. His objection would have to be made beyond reasonable doubt, otherwise he'd be saddled forever.
The plan he hatched was one of the most disturbing, hilarious things I've ever seen. He was so intent on avoiding the nickname, so hell-bent, that he actually put his finger up Nick's nostril.
I'm not going to sit here and judge anyone. I'll just tell you my reaction: intense laughter. And that was Nick's too. Don't get me wrong, he looked horrified; he had a dude's finger in his nostril. But we were well gone by that point, and all he could do was laugh hysterically. Everyone else at the party, though, got pretty silent. I think they were wondering whether they should intervene, call the cops, or just flee the scene.
"Don't call me that! Swear you won't call me that!" Rick shouted. Despite his drunkenness and aversion to the nickname, you could see that the reality of the situation was starting to dawn on him. He had his finger up another guy's nose. The situation was not sustainable.
Finally the stand-off ended. On one side, it's pretty clear that Rick is free of the hated nickname. So that's a win for him. On the other, I don't think anyone could've handled the situation better than Nick. He behaved like a true gentleman with another gentleman's finger exploring his nasal passages. Granted, there were a few moments in the direct aftermath where he looked like he'd been violated, and we all worried for his psychological health, but I think it's fair to say he came through it unscathed. All in all, the world is now a better place for everyone involved.
The three of us soon left for another bar (Speakeasy) and were going nuts in a room full of people who really, really didn't care about the football game. By this point, Nick's girlfriend and mine were on the scene, and they were incredibly embarrassed as we screamed and high-fived and groaned. Then Pianalto dropped his two passes, and we played foosball for an hour until our girlfriends made us leave. Rick is quite good at foosball.
1) I'm on board, UNC Football. That was a classy comeback.
2) TJ Yates is the man.
3) Whenever possible, I will be watching UNC games with Rick.
4) But seriously, don't fuck with that guy. Payback will not be ordinary.
By the way, I've got an incredible story developing from last February. Look forward to that, and a season preview from Nick E., Duke basketball correspondent, in the near future.