Like many who post here I no longer live in North Carolina nor anywhere in the Southeast. This is the fourth year of my entire existence that I haven’t lived in the Old North State, with it being my third year in Texas. While I miss being in NC deeply, it’s days like this that the feeling of disconnect for those of us out of state and out of region is a double-edged sword.
Back home what was most enjoyable about rivalry games was the banter, the back and forth between State fans and Chapel Hill alumni and fans (often they are mutually exclusive) leading into game day. It fueled the ramp up to the week...made every little update...every sly word said in a press conference feel like a grave insult that, of course, showed the lack of class of the other side. It would lead to bets (some more ill-advised than others) that made the feeling of victory, or of getting revenge a year later, that more enticing. This year though, considering both COVID and being away from the region, many of us will escape the full brunt of the wrath of their fandom when losing 48-21 while ranked #23 in the nation. We will escape the face-to-face mocking of how a team from Chapel Hill could out physical a team from a land grant university. I will escape my students on Monday playing the UNC-CH fight song on their phone as I walk in or a co-worker who went to UNC-G wearing light blue to our job (when they didn’t even watch the game). On that end it’s a good thing...we can move on quickly and, especially going into a bye, ignore CFB coverage for a week and focus on other things (like I don’t know, work or something?). It’s easier to get that feeling of “we’ll get them next year at home when we’re healthier” or “let’s run them out of the gym in their most beloved sport in the Spring” when no one is in your face and when no one you actually interact with regularly even cares these schools exist during football season.
All that said, this is also the loneliest time to have to reflect on a bad loss. Those with kids or a significant other who is from the area or went to State may have a support system, but those of us that don’t, well we are just stewing in our own juices. Even when your current significant other wants to support you after a loss like this, they never truly understand. Sure there might be fellow alums in the area, but its a crapshoot how invested they are and with COVID it’s likely you won’t see them anyways. Friends who aren’t from NC, are oblivious to what you’re dealing with and at best, can give you some variation of “that sucks” when you really want to go off about how that first INT changed the whole game. When its a win, reading quotes, watching coverage, rewatching highlights, or just channel surfing other games can occupy the rest of your day. When it’s a loss, there is this aimless feeling of “well what do I do now?” especially after a noon kickoff. So while we know to ignore the snarky texts and stay off of social media, from miles away there's no going to a bar or to a friend’s house to wallow in pity, debate the outcomes for the rest of the season and inevitably laugh, joke about our lot in life with others who are imbibing in solidarity with you (cause WWJVD?).
Look, I am optimistic we will close out our regular season in a proud fashion. This is a resilient team with talented, passionate kids and, despite some faults, professionals in the coaching booth. Win or lose, unlike the those guys down the road, I’ll proudly walk into work or the store next week with my NC State mask and/or shirt...and, outside of longtime Houston Cougars fans, will receive no comments, no vitriol, no snickering and no stares as to what I’m wearing. But the isolation is still real...so for those of y’all fortunate enough to be around the Wolfpack community this weekend...embrace our family, find something to enjoy, celebrate our success in the season thus far and be comforted in the fact that we still have real degrees.