I grew up in a big white house on a farm, about 45 miles west of Washington, D.C. We didn’t get satellite until I hit high school. To watch weeknight college basketball, our antenna — moved by one of these — would have to pick up UPN or another random station out of the city.
UPN mostly broadcasted ACC games. My area staked its fanhood in the teams from Tobacco Road. We were too rural for Georgetown, and Virginia Tech never made national broadcasts. You had four choices: Maryland, Dook, UVa. or Carolina.
I chose Carolina.
There were four main reasons for the choice. One, my first life memory was Christian Laettner’s shot in 1992, and I’ll hate Dook until I die. Secondly, most of my friends rooted for Maryland. Also, my father went to Tech so UVa. is never an option. Plus, my neighboring brother-in-law bled powder blue, and my brother — who was in college in North Carolina — had friends who loved the Heels.
When I fell in love with Carolina, Dean Smith was the coach. Ed Cota handled the ball. They ran and dunked and rocked and rolled. Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace threw it down. Then, Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison did the same. The Heels were talented. The Heels were fun. The Heels were my team.
I always hated Dook, but I grew to loathe Maryland nearly as much. On Tuesday night, I sat in my office. The only TV we have gets basic cable. I flipped through the guide and saw Carolina’s last definite meeting with the Terrapins on UPN. It was a flashback to my childhood and our antenna. It didn’t take long to fully recall the details.
There is something about rivals that changes all thought processes. When the Heels took an early 12-0 lead, it kicked in. Against the Dooks and Marylands, wins are great. But, that spurt where the momentum starts to swing gets you out of reality. Suddenly, it’s a dozen-to-zero and you look at the red in the house that Dean built, hoping for 150-0.
My friends loved the Terps. They loved Juan Dixon and Steve Blake and Lonny Baxter, and if you mention those players with them at a bar, you hear legendary tales of how great they were. I quietly observe and say nothing. I actually rooted for those teams quite frequently, as they always found a way to play Dook in an important game. There’s nothing to do when Dook plays except root against them.
ACC fans are like SEC football fans because they think it’s the only game that matters. No one misses other games to watch Indiana and Michigan State. Unlike SEC football, the ACC doesn’t have a stranglehold on everything anymore. Still, the dyed-in-wool fans never lose sight of the standings or who the conference tournament match-ups may be. They also don’t accept Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame as members yet. I don’t know if they ever will.
These ACC fans are not sorry that Maryland is leaving. No one really wanted them around anyway. The Terrapins — to their credit — always found a way to be a thorn in someone’s side. Gary Williams and his teams brought nightmares to the rest of the conference when on their A-game. When they weren’t, you wanted your team to kick them as hard as they could while they were down. The legendary fan support — as nasty as it was — at Cole Field House only added intensity.
If Maryland thinks the Big 10 is the place to be, good riddance. Not one twinge of sadness crept up inside me as this year’s mediocre Carolina squad missed free throws and still held the Terps at arm’s length. I’m a firm promoter of nostalgia, and I couldn’t find one spot in my heart that needed to miss Maryland.
In fact, when Brice Johnson ran down the lane and launched for the exclamation point two-handed slam with two minutes left, I thrust both fists in the air. That was the fury of disliking a team so much you can’t wait to kick them out the door. It was the culmination of years of hating Maryland, their fans, their teams and their successes.
Johnson slammed it like they used to do on the snowy channels. He did it with authority, almost Stackhouse-esque. He did it like he was stamping the passport, deporting the Terrapins forever.
The Heels aren’t great this year. They will likely lose in the second or third round of the NCAA tournament. It didn’t matter Tuesday.
When Johnson flushed out Maryland for good, the kid in me was petty enough to celebrate Carolina’s ownership of the last laugh. The last eight consecutive laughs, for those scoring at home.
Only two Roy Williams’ victory signs — a la Lefty Driesell — as he walked off the floor could’ve made it sweeter.