What If?

State has not won the ACC in basketball since 1987 and in football since 1979 which, consequently, is the year I was born. Dare I make that parallel? I’ve been oft troubled that State’s prolonged flirtation with mediocrity is my penitence for not having my priorities in order. After all, it’s just sports.

But what if the last 20 years at State had been pleasantly different; as fans we weren’t perpetually frustrated and traumatized by the disappointment, missed opportunities, and unfulfilled expectations of this year, which at times has been downright laughable. Would my personality be somehow less palpable or genuine because I haven’t suffered through the turmoil of being a State fan, oft ranting in the most maniacal and errant of ways?

What if all the tribulation could all be traced back to one instance, one distinct period or instance where the future was being foreshadowed, and yet we were too reluctant, too complacent, or far too arrogant to see it?

What if Charles Shackelford and Chris Washburn had actually scored above 600 on the SAT and then actually went to class and studied just enough to maintain the minimum 1.6 GPA required by the NCAA to remain eligible? Then would the intense mistrust by the academic faculty for the athletics department have never developed? And what if Jimmy V had run a clean program and there had never been a shoe scandal and the local media hadn’t launched a malicious attack on the program and he had never died from that horrible cancer?

How different would the 90s have been if we hadn’t lost Chuck Kornegay to Villanova because of the aforementioned increased academic restrictions and Donald Williams and Jerry Stackhouse had followed up on their verbal commitments and signed with State? Would we then have coasted through the 1994-95 regular season, won the ACC Tournament with style and finesse, and made a Final Four run – dare I say, National Championship run – with a roster consisting of Kornegay (PF), Stackhouse (F), Williams (SG), Todd Fuller (C), and Ishua Benjamin (G) starting, with Clint Harrison (PG), and the invariably valuable Lakista McCuller (SG), coming off the bench.

Unfortunately, it is asinine to ponder just such a scenario. Instead, Les Robinson came and cleaned up a much-maligned program – the program he loved so dearly – and stepped aside when the appropriate time came. After starting 0-8 in the conference in 1997, Herb Sendek orchestrated victories over Top 10 teams Clemson and Wake Forest in February and ultimately split the second half of the schedule and had us at a surprisingly respectable 4-12 going into the tournament, where, it would seem, we had no chance whatsoever as an eight-seed. Just imagine, if you will, that Damon Thornton’s hip had been healthy that March and Justin Gainey, Jeremy Hyatt, Clint Harrison, Ishua Benjamin, and Danny Strong had not been physically drained from four straight days of remarkable basketball and we defeated Carolina and completed our unparalleled tournament run that fateful afternoon?

Suppose, if you can, Damien Wilkins in fact had been the Next David Thompson and Damon Thornton hadn’t got that technical at College Park in 2000 and we didn’t slip into a 0-for-February skid, but instead went into March with one of the best backcourts we’d had in a decade? Without the looming pain of that astonishingly disheartening season, would Herb Sendek – hate him or not – have become the dividing force of the State faithful that he is today?

And we can forever speculate, inane as it may be, on whether or not Philip Rivers would have won the Heisman Trophy once or twice had Norm Chow stayed in Raleigh just two more years. It is equally ridiculous to fancy Greg Golden making that interception against Georgia Tech to keep us unbeaten in 2002; surely we would have then proceeded to harness the momentum of that play into a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia, which subsequently would have begun our period of national prominence under Chuck Amato The Legend rather than Chuck The Clown (who might or might not have replaced Mike O’Cain since Chris Coleman would have likely gotten into the end zone against Carolina that damp, chilly Thursday night in Charlotte in 1999).

Undoubtedly, Football Jesus, having won back-to-back Heismans under Chow, would have declared for the NFL draft after his junior season and been selected by Cincinnati, ahead of runner-up Carson Palmer and would be leading the resurgent Bengals atop the AFC North this season. Consequently, Jay Davis would have sucked as a sophomore in 2003, when our defense wasn’t even remotely spectacular and we had no real chance anyway without Rivers under center. Thus, Davis – or hell, Stone even, as a freshman – would have learned from his mistakes and would have become a solid-enough quarterback to do just enough to let the nation’s number one defense carry us back to the BCS for the second time in three years – it sure would have been fun to have spent New Year’s in New Orleans.

Naturally, that is the ultimate What If scenario that would have left most of us complaining anyway because we were 12-0 and had defeated Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Miami, Auburn (convincingly), and most importantly, Carolina. But because D-IA college football doesn’t have a playoff system, we were the odd man out. Of course we’ll play USC next weekend; just name the time and the place.

And we’d be the front-runners in the Atlantic Division again this season and we’d all be complaining that we’re on the outside of the BCS looking in, again, right behind Alabama. I swear, if we were Notre Dame we’d be up there right now – I mean, we’ve won 25 straight games.

But alas, no matter how the story is told, the stark reality is that Julius Hodge will have always fouled Caron Butler in the Second Round in 2002 and we will have forever blown that 16 point lead to Duke in the 2003 ACC Championship. Josh Powell will have always left after his sophomore year, for whatever reasons, and he wasn’t here when we could have really used him in March 2004 and we will for eternity have blown an 11-point lead over Vanderbilt with under four minutes remaining in the Second Round that same season. And while it will likely be a point of contention for many years to come, Rick Page will have always convinced Jim Knight that T.A.’s knee was in fact down before he crossed the goal line in Chapel Hill and that the points were to be taken off the scoreboard. God bless the line judges.

And as it is being written, we are suffering through another season of penalties and turnovers and a bitter and disdainful loss to our most hated rival yet again. And we continue to hear the pleas for patience and support. And we’d love to just be able to give up completely. Which might seem a lot easier when I cut that $600 check for LTR and WPC dues in December.

Yet, as stubbornly loyal State fans, we have never relented, wholeheartedly anticipating next year, resigning ourselves to our misfortunes, reluctant to look back and draw energy on what could have been, opting instead to keep our hope in next season, when it finally might be our turn.

And of course, it could always be worse: Philip Rivers could have gone to Auburn to play tight end.

Lucas’ Uniform Theory of Winning

I know why we’ll never win a national championship; actually, it’s just a theory really, but a working one, and the great thing about a theory is that is can neither be proved or disproved.

I have defined it as the “We’ll Never Win a National Title Because We Do Not Wear Traditional Uniforms Theory,” but laymen commonly refer to it as the “Style Over Substance Theory.”

The principle behind the theory is really quite simple: With few exceptions, only teams that sport a traditional uniform over time will ever win a national title. In the last thirty years, twenty teams have won at least a share of the national title:

Alabama – 1992, 1979, 1978 (split)
Brigham Young – 1984
Clemson – 1981
Colorado – 1990 (split)
Florida – 1996
Florida State – 1999, 1993
Georgia – 1980
Georgia Tech – 1990 (split)
LSU – 2003 (split)
Miami – 2001, 1991 (split), 1989, 1987, 1983
Michigan – 1997 (split)
Nebraska – 1997 (split), 1995, 1994
Notre Dame – 1988, 1977
Ohio State – 2002
Oklahoma – 2000, 1985, 1975
Penn State – 1986, 1982
Pittsburgh – 1976
Southern Cal – 2004, 2003, 1978 (split)
Tennessee – 1998
Washington – 1991 (split)

The underlying commonality between each of these teams is that they each wore what could be classified as a traditional style uniform when they won the national title. And by traditional I don’t necessarily mean “plain,” as is the case with Penn State, Notre Dame, or Alabama, but rather “time-honored,” as with Southern Cal, Oklahoma, or Florida State.

With the exception of Brigham Young, who let Nike butcher one of the most stylistic uniforms in college football, and perhaps Washington, which has switched between gold and purple helmets over time, very little has changed with the aforementioned teams’ uniform designs.

Minor design changes were made to Miami’s uniforms – green pants, green jerseys, weird patterns – but most of this has come only during their most recent span of success. They won four national titles with the basic orange jerseys on white pants, as well as the well-recognized “U” logo on the helmet.

Clemson has made slight changes over the years, throwing in some purple jersey/pants combos, but the Tiger paw and a basic orange-on-white design has remained the staple of their uniform. Florida State has flirted with garnet and white pants, but only on rare occasions.

Nebraska, Tennessee, Florida, Florida State, and Colorado have all tested different striping patterns on their pants for short times, but otherwise my research has shown that there have been almost no changes made to any of the other teams’ uniforms over time.

My research has led me to postulate that these schools rely on substance rather than style, which must be quite the conundrum to certain coaches and fans that believe that the only way to build a winning program and land top recruits is to show an aptitude for trendy styles. The underlying theme among the national champions of the past thirty years is that they don’t bend to the marketing whims of Nike and Adidas every other year to keep national exposure on their program; they rely, oddly enough, simply on winning.

On the whole, these programs consistently maximize the talents of their players and win consistently based upon superior coaching and hard-nosed, disciplined, and error-free football. What kind of ridiculous strategy is that?

The common theme among so many college football pundits and fans is that recruits can only be landed through flashy offensive schemes, blaring intros, and trendy uniform designs. And yet, over the past thirty years, this philosophy just doesn’t add up. Teams like Southern Cal, Nebraska, Michigan, and Ohio State continue to win consistently without any of the flair or pizzazz.

State should cut out the fireworks and big screen intros, put on white helmets – with red block “S,” of course – red jerseys, white pants, and go out there and hold onto the ball – and not the receiver – and act more like Barry Sanders than Terrell Owens, and simply play football. We’ll define our own traditional style and get our winning ways started.

But I guess it’s the old chicken or egg argument: we have to land top recruits to win and we can’t land top recruits with bland football. I just don’t buy it; winning takes care of itself, no matter how bland it is.

Until then, my theory holds true.

NBC17 to Re-Air Classic Wolfpack Game

GOPACK.COM – In an effort to remind Wolfpack fans of a time when expectations were soaring, the future looked promising, and Chuck Amato was still likeable, NBC17 will offer an alternative to ESPN’s live broadcast of NC State’s game at Georgia Tech tonight.

At 8pm, NBC17 will re-broadcast the 2003 Gator Bowl victory over traditional powerhouse Notre Dame. The Wolfpack completed a historic 10-3 season with a 28-6 victory over the Fighting Irish in Jacksonville on New Years Day in 2003.

The arrangement was made between Athletics Director Lee Fowler, in conjunction with Wolfpack Club President Bobby Purcell, and NBC17 Station Manager Bill Smith.

Fowler commented from the Case Athletic Center that “[State] hasn’t won in Atlanta since 1988 and it’s highly doubtful they will tonight, so we thought it was a good opportunity to give our fans an alternative viewing choice. They can turn to the 2003 Gator Bowl on NBC17 and be reminded of how promising the future at State looked after that season – Philip was coming back for his senior season, we had one of the best recruiting classes in history, and the schedule was set up to make an incredible statement – and then they can flip to the live game against Georgia Tech on ESPN and be reminded of the grim reality they’re facing as fans, and that all those expectations were decidedly unfounded. Pipe dreams, really. But then we hope they flip it back to NBC and get all unnecessarily excited again, because that’s when the checkbooks come out.”

“It just makes good sense,” said Purcell over the phone. “We really played up that Gator Bowl victory – as overrated as it now seems – and set record sales for season tickets the past three seasons. That 2003 highlight video was a hot item as well and we should really try to market it again. But now that Chuck Amato is a total joke coaching a bunch of circus monkeys, we decided that it would be a good idea to play off our fan base’s nostalgia and keep the money flowing in, so the arrangement was made, I’m happy to say.

Coach Amato was available for comment, as always, never one to shy away from attention. “I want a big red nose, I want some floppy shoes. I want to squirt a flower, squirt it on you; like all the bad clowns do. I want to juggle bowling pins in the sun. I want to join the circus; the circus looks like fun. I’ll sit and work the gates, or I can guess your weight. I’ll even sell the corndogs; I don’t care, as long as I am there (state fair). I’ll hand out baseballs at the dunk tank; I’ll ride my funny car laughing all the way to the bank. I’m a Carney Man.”

Why I Don’t Hate Carolina

I am a State fan. There is a plausible sincerity to these words, an earnestness that rings poetic.

To mention these words is to seemingly reveal your character, the very essence of your soul. It is shameless and self-affirming, an unabashed sense of pride about whom you are, even somewhat arrogant, while devoid of elitism. To state these words is to affirm that your loyalty is absolute and unwavering; you have laid claim to a title that commands respect because you are genuine – a flailing sense of dedication is not tolerated. There is a subtle swagger in the way you say it, a bluster that only another State fan can ever entirely comprehend.

And still yet, as a State fan, you are not exactly teeming with bliss, but rather a desperate longing for satisfaction, appeasement. There exists within you an undeniable complexity, a dichotomy to your nature, common among the State culture.You are patient and forgiving and generally loyal to a fault, but you are marked by a looming forlornness of unfulfilled expectations and dashed hopes. Yet somehow you are decidedly resilient, having borne the stigma of the 90s and shunned any accompanying shame.

And of course, you hate Carolina. Right? It’s a black and white issue. It is inherent: You cannot be a true State fan and have even the slightest inkling of any tolerance for the team O’er the Hill. That is undeniable, scientific fact.

(I’d like to state right now for the record, before I go any further, that I think Emily Crawford is the Greatest Person Ever and in no way do my ensuing statements indicate anything less than total admiration and respect for her, as a proud alum of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.)

I hate Carolina. There’s a solemn sincerity in these words as well, although they are not quite as poetic. I hate them with such a fiery passion that while I’ll leave at halftime of a blowout game against Eastern Kentucky, I’ll be stricken with delightful giddiness for every last second of a blowout against Carolina. I so despise losing to them, that when we do, it ruins my week and takes days off my life. My vengefulness is so deep that I like to see them lose as much as I like to see State win.

But do I even know why I hate them so much?

I don’t hate Carolina because they’re perpetual media darlings or because everyone gushes over their storied and hallowed tradition or because they have a legendary coach that unified them for decades or because they have won five (still counting) national championships and countless ACC titles.

I don’t hate the Well or the Bell or the magnificent beauty of picturesque Kenan Stadium.

I don’t despise the fact that even when we are better than them they usually beat us or that Ishua Benjamin always seems to get bumped out of bounds with less than a minute to play leading to a puzzling jump ball call or that there’s always a Jim Knight around to take points off the scoreboard at a crucial moment.

I don’t deplore them for hanging the jersey of anyone who ever plopped his sweaty ass on the bench in the rafters and I could care less if they have a storied rivalry with Duke and act indifferent towards State.

I don’t hate their pseudo-elitist personas and I don’t hate the media-bias in favor of them from Manteo to Murphy.

I don’t hate that anywhere I’ve ever been I could find a Carolina hat or that people that move to North Carolina always cheer for them because of “how good they are.”

I don’t despise the fact that I cringe whenever someone says “Tar Heel State” and that when I’m governor I’ll have to pretend I’m excited that they won a championship when they visit the mansion.

I don’t hate that Carolina fans have no idea what it’s like to endure true frustration because after two years of mediocrity they solve the problem.

I don’t hate them because we’ll never be close to where they are in basketball and will never consistently dominate them in football.

I don’t hate Carolina for any of the aforementioned trivial reasons.

Wait, yes I do.