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Reflections on the 15 Year Anniversary of Hodge Sending State to the Sweet Sixteen

Connecticut Huskies v N.C. State Wolfpack Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The first time I saw the “Wolfpack” hand signal was as a kid watching the greatest form of entertainment known to mankind in pro-wrestling. It was widely used by real-life friends in the industry called the Kliq who eventually worked for rival promotions and continued to brandish it as a marketable wink to one another across the airwaves. I always thought it was a cool handsign (for them it was called the “Too Sweet”), and after enrolling in NC State I found it awesome that we were the innovators of it (I mean it a wolf). In college sports it was uniquely our thing, something you could hold up as someone drove by you from the car window or walked by you in the street, it was just plain cool. But at no time was it as cool, or as meaningful for many people’s fandom, as when on this date in 2005 Julius Hodge found his camera and loudly exclaimed “WOLFPACK!” after hitting the winning shot against UCONN to send us to the Sweet Sixteen.

For those of you fortunate enough to have grown up fans or been in school during our boom periods in basketball, this had to have been a proud moment that may have lost significance over time in comparison. For those who grew up as fans or were in school during our years in the wilderness, this had to have been the celebration of the long build to this magical moment that in light of what we had been through stands tall. For many of my contemporaries though, this was thought to be a sign as to what NC State is and would be for the foreseeable future. Can’t all be right, can we?

I was born and raised in North Carolina but grew up a Georgetown basketball fan. As a kid, I cried when Ray Allen’s UCONN beat Allen Iverson’s Hoyas in the Big East tournament final but after John Thompson retired my care for college basketball gave way to the NBA. It wasn’t until I chose NC State that my interest for college athletics really began and interestingly enough it was during a time where Kay Yow was still on the sidelines, Phillip Rivers brought us in the national conversation and Julius Hodge was winning ACC POY. For someone who had no knowledge, no emotional connection to either the good times or the bad times this prominence seemed like the norm. So when Hodge sends us to the Sweet Sixteen with that “WOLFPACK” there was immense joy but no release. This was supposed to happen.

I recall sitting in Fountain watching the game as everyone inside, including staff, held on to every moment, and when victory was sealed, the celebrations on West campus from all who had watched it happen. Toilet paper being tossed, the fight song being sung out and folks all over excitedly replaying/imitating Hodge’s “WOLFPACK!” motion and exclamation. We knew the country had not just seen a massive upset but had seen our passion and culture represented in that one shining moment. I will never forget that moment for what it was and what it would mean. Not only did it seal my fandom (my fate?) in this program, but it gave me (what became) an irrational baseline as to where our basketball team should be.

So since then of course the ebbs and flows of fandom have worn on. Not long after, I felt the real pain you do as a fan but also got back that the feeling of joy AND this new feeling of release. Sid’s improbable run to the ACC Tourny final. Gott’s debut team being the last one called and getting past my childhood squad Georgetown to make the Sweet Sixteen. BeeJay’s hook shot to beat LSU leading to Villanova and Gott’s second trip (I mean what the **** WAS wrong with Obama, man?). I believe sincerely that the best is yet to come...but for me and many of us that hope was all sparked when we were initiated into the fraternity after that game in 2005. When one player who found his camera used the coolest hand signal in college athletics to let the world know that being a part of NC State was just too sweet.