Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"The Seeds of the Evil Empire have been Sown into your Soul"

Anson Dorrance is the coach of the women's soccer team at UNC. Since 1979, he's won 20 of 28 NCAA national championships, including the last two in a row. His winning percentage is an astounding .963, and he's compiled over 700 career wins. He's arguably the most successful college coach of all time.

Yesterday was "University Day" at UNC. It's a celebration of the founding of the school, and classes are canceled in the morning. My reporting professor gave us an assignment to write a story about the mini-holiday, and my idea was to quiz prominent figures around the campus and town on UNC's history. That meant calling them up and dealing with a lot of media go-betweens. Some were nice, some were rude. My favorite quote came from an officious little man in the Chancellor's office who spoke in a disapproving tone and said "I don't think you appreciate the demands on the Chancellor's time." Probably not, bud.

But most of the folks I called eventually agreed to take the 10-question quiz I devised. The dean of the business school, the dean of the law school, and a librarian all scored perfectly. Undergraduates typically got 4 or 5 correct. The mayor of Chapel Hill got 9.

At some point I decided to get someone from the athletic side of things. The football people were nice, but said that the timing was bad with all the NCAA distractions, and that nobody had time to talk to me. The basketball coaches weren't around. So I went with my next bet: Coach Dorrance. One of the questions on the quiz was 'which UNC sports team has won the most national titles?' It was a bit of a trick, and about half the people fell for it, picking basketball. But I thought Dorrance might appreciate this, and that he'd at least be willing to talk.

So I called up, and he answered the phone himself. Except I didn't realize he answered the phone, since the connection was a little buzzy at first, and I assumed I was talking to another PR person. I made my pitch, confusingly, and the person on the other end said that he could only see potential embarrassment coming from this story. I laughed and told him that it was pretty innocent, and he asked whether any story, or indeed any journalist, could ever be innocent. The tone was lightly mocking, and though it was genuinely funny, a part of me was thinking 'just fucking put the coach on the phone.'

At some point I realized it was Coach Dorrance himself, though, and I almost choked. But he was engaging, so we talked some more and I kept trying to convince him. I had the feeling (dead wrong, it turned out), that he was having some fun but was on the verge of agreeing. I even gave him two of the easier questions, including the one about his team's national titles, in an attempt to lure him in.

But he seemed more interested in my background. "Where did you get your undergrad journalism degree?" he asked. I told him I was an English major at Duke. Predictably, that set him off. He wouldn't speak with a journalist, he said, but definitely not with a Duke journalist. To be fair, I told him, I was a UNC journalist now.

"Yeah," he said. "But the seeds of the evil empire have been sown into your soul."

Needless to say, I loved this. I tried in vain to convince him some more, but it wasn't happening. After ten minutes, I said goodbye. I was surprised he said no, but I liked him so much I called him back a minute later with a new proposal. He could take the quiz off the record, I said, and if he didn't like the results he could keep it off the record. If he was happy, I'd publish it.

"You seem trustworthy," he told me. "That's my guess. But let me tell you my favorite off the record story." When he was the UNC men's coach early in his career, a bad refereeing decision cost his team a 1-0 loss to UConn. He said all the right things to the Hartford Courant reporter after the game, but when the reporter asked him off the record how he felt, Dorrance said that if he'd had a gun at the moment of the call, he would've blown the ref's head off. The next day's headline reflected that sentiment, causing him embarrassment and leading to numerous apologies.

So he wouldn't take the quiz off the record. But he did proceed to talk with me about religion. He told me about a study he'd just read where in a survey sent to a random sampling of Americans, atheists and agnostics actually knew more about all the religions than any other group. I told him this made some sense, since it's typically more of an active choice to be a non-believer, something not typically inherited but that must be learned. "I think they're cerebral people," he said. I tried in vain to think how this new topic related to anything, but I came up empty. Coach Dorrance told me he was a Mormon, and that he was glad to see that among the religious, Mormons were the best informed. I asked why. He thought it was the youth education system.

And with that, my first (but hopefully not last) conversation with the greatest college coach in history came to an end. I asked him if I could use the Duke quote, and he agreed. "I'm a quote machine," he bragged. But I realized afterward that there was no way to fit it into my University Day story, so I'm using it here.

Okay, there's no more avoiding it. Cliff Lee has made me look like a fool.

The guy is basically a modern Sandy Koufax, and here I am talking about how his style may actually hurt his team. Well, I'm done equivocating, and I'm done doubting Cliff Lee. That's a promise. He was unbelievable yesterday, even better than Game One. I still think he should have pitched on Sunday, but it's hard to argue with the results. Spike pointed out to me last night that he now owns two of the four all-time 10 strikeout 0 walk postseason performances. In 7 playoff starts, his team is 7-0. Lee's ERA is 1.44. He's allowed more than 1ER exactly once, in game 5 against the Yanks last year. He has 54 strikeouts in 56 innings. He's a stud.

And Texas is a good, nearly great playoff team. I mentioned it before, but it's worth saying again: we're so, so fortunate the Rays took this one to 5. With Lee pitching Game One on Friday, we'd be in deep doodoo. Not that we couldn't win; we survived the same scenario last year. But the last thing you want is your best starter getting beat by a hot pitcher on a hot team when they have homefield advantage. Instead, it's unlikely we'll see Lee before Game 3. But he could pitch Game 2 on 3 days' rest, a possibility which will likely set off the same debates all over again. Will he take the ball early? Will it depend on the result of Game One? Should Washington have saved precious pitches by bringing Feliz out for the 9th?

We'll see. In the meantime, this story practically made me cry. Josh Hamilton, the AL batting champion, has fought the dual demons of drug and alcohol addiction, and for obvious reasons he can't take part in the team's champagne celebrations. So last night, CJ Wilson and the equipment manager supplied everyone with ginger ale. When Hamilton came in to change, they doused him with soda so he could be part of the celebration.

And I'm supposed to root against CJ Wilson on Friday?

Seriously, how sweet is that? I don't want to get sappy, but this is one of those small moments where your heart just breaks for how kind and thoughtful people can be in the face of another person's weakness. The gesture probably meant more to Hamilton than he could ever describe. I know something like that would bring me right down to my knees.

Man, is Texas a team of destiny? Is that what we're looking at? Are my beloved Yankees just another chapter in the dream season? NO! This cannot be allowed. Wipe the tears away. This is baseball. Baseball is harsh. Baseball is life. Come Friday, the mask of ferocity will cover our faces.

Until then, though, I think there's time for a few more goosebumps.


  1. Good Work...I love the quote "The Seeds of the Evil Empire have been Sown into your Soul" For off-the-cuff, that is pretty impressive (and accurate)...double whammy Duke AND trust there! That's about how I always pictured Dorrance to, witty, self-assured...didn't know Morman. good idea on the quiz...can you post the questions...I'm curious how I'd do after being long-term student now gone for 3 years.

  2. John, thanks, it was an interesting conversation. Here are the questions for the quiz:

    1. In which decade were classes first taught at UNC-Chapel Hill?

    2. Who is the current Chancellor?

    3. To the nearest thousand, what is the total enrollment at UNC (all schools) for the Fall 2010 semester?

    4. Which UNC sports team has won the most national championships?

    5. Who is 'Polk Place' named after?

    6. Which piece of UNC architecture is based on the Temple of Love in the Garden of Versailles?

    7. Who founded the University?

    8. What's the name of the statue erected on campus in memory of UNC students and alums who died fighting for the Confederacy?

    9. State law requires what percentage of the freshman class to be NC residents?

    10. What is the name of the school's alma mater?


  3. 1. 1790's I think
    2: Holden Thorp
    3: Guess 30k
    4: Futbol with girls
    5: James Knox Polk
    6: Guess Old Well
    7: Blanking...I should know this
    8: Silent Sam
    9: 18% If I remember right
    10: Hark the sound

  4. Oh, and by 18%, I meant 18% out of state! so 82%

  5. 9 of 10, well done! William Richardson Davie was the founder.

  6. Ah yes, can't believe I forgot Davie to miss perfection! Well 9 right, 1 for each year I was a student there!