Dome away from home: An open letter to the Dean E. Smith Center

To the Dean E. Smith Center —

We both knew this was coming. And don’t worry, it’s not you — it’s me. I’ve been dreading this night for awhile now, four years to be exact. I’m not sure if I will be “moving on to bigger and better things”. Frankly, I don’t know where I will be or what I’ll be doing, which makes this that much harder.

Tonight is my last home game as a student. A big one against those nasty folks down the road, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’ve spent a lot of time together the past four years and now, I’m not exactly sure when I will see you again.

I remember when we first met, and we both know that 2009-2010 was not a good look for you. But I still wanted to go to every single game as badly as I did when we were ranked number one in the nation, and as badly as I do now as we find our team somewhere in the middle of the pack during a turbulent season. Yes, those times were tough, but as a freshman, I didn’t know any better. I can still remember watching games during Christmas break, thousands of miles away, and thinking “I can’t wait to get back in those stands”.

Things started getting better my sophomore year and the groans of disgruntled fans (who expect a championship team every year) started to be replaced by whispers of hope that grew into talks of NCAA tournament runs. Those were some of the best times, where biscuits were a given some nights and the loudest cheers came when Blue Steel hopped off the bench.

I remember going to Late Night with Roy, when the stagnant air of the dome is suddenly brought back to life. Excitement about the season — did you hear about this freshman? Who do you think will start? — combined with laughter and jokes before getting down to business. Each year, Stuart Scott will undoubtedly point at center court and remind us that being part of this university is something we carry with us for the rest of our lives. Man, Carolina is a great place to be come basketball season.

Over the years, you’ve somehow found a way to embed yourself into family traditions. Ever since my very first game in the stands, I’ve sent a picture to my family and let them know my seats for that day’s game. By now, that’s gotta be close to 60 pictures, and 60 different angles of the same simple hardwood floor. What started as a way for my mom to find me on TV (yes, even when she was well aware that I was in the nosebleeds), became an important tradition.

I hope I don’t forget how loud it can be when the risers seem more like a sports-infused mosh pit and every seat from the front row to the very last is pulsing. Those are the best games, where I screamed so loud I thought I might get dizzy and afterwards I can only think, “that was so much fun”.  Hopefully though, my memory slips just enough to forget how dead silent you can be, when an unexpected buzzer beater by those damn Blue Devils spoils our day. Quieter than a pin drop — absolute stunned silence. Unfortunately, I know that memory will be hard to shake, but then again, I’m not quite sure I want to completely forget.

No matter the final score, the outcome tonight will most likely be tears on my behalf. I’ll attempt to hold it together during the pre-game video — you know, the one where more than 100 years of Carolina basketball and six national championships seamlessly transition into highlights from this season. Dunks by Jordan, Stackhouse and Hansbrough become Bullock threes and MacAdoo slams. That same video that’s already gotten me choked up before every game this season and thinking, “Damn, I’m lucky to be here and be a part of this”. I’ll try to keep my composure as one of my all-time favorites, the “I’m a Tar Heel” video, comes on the screen. I’ll watch, probably a little teary-eyed at this point, as Tar Heels past and present make the same declaration I also proclaim — I am a Tar Heel, and damn, I’m so lucky to be a part of this. Of course, there will be one more video that will get to me. “29, 29, 29 ACC regular season titles…”. I’ll spend the next few moments with my roommate guessing, “is it 9, 11 and then 14?” as we attempt to recite the video statics (We’ve gotten some practice this season and at this point, we are pretty close). “This, this, this, this is Carolina basketball.” Ah, yes it is and damn, I’m so lucky to be a part of this.

There will be a lot of time holding tears back, as expected once you start hitting the “lasts” of senior year. But once I wrap my arm around my neighbor and start the words “Hark the sound…”, I’m guarantee I’m going to lose it. There’s something special about singing the alma mater after a game and I hate knowing that it will be the last time I stand side by side with another student, who knows just how special it can be. I’ll take a look around, and maybe linger a bit after screaming a hearty “go to hell Duke!” I’m not quite ready to say goodbye.

Unfortunately, I don’t know when I’ll be back. I used to be able to pinpoint the date. As soon as whispers of Late Night with Roy spread across the internet or the most recent basketball schedule was released, I would immediately scribble the dates in my calendar — I was already eager to get back. But now, I’m not so sure when I’ll be nearby or if I’ll be able to stumble across some tickets. I know that every time I catch a glimpse of that Carolina blue center court logo on television, my heart will ache and I’ll think “I got to get back in those stands”.

Although I’m not sure when, I know I will be back one day. And I know that those honored jerseys and championship banners will still be there, perhaps with a few more names and titles. You might mean a little more to me than some others, but thanks for the memories. It’s not goodbye, but a see ya soon and God bless them Tar Heel boys!

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