Three years ago.
I have written about Daddy before and the relationship we had as it pertained to watching Carolina play basketball. And anytime UNC gets to a Final Four is carries a slight edge of sorrow for me considering I lost him the last time the Heels made it this far.
It was three years ago today.
It is interesting to note that after UNC won the title in 1982 and as I was coming to the age where I watched more UNC games with him that they had a nine year run of missing the Final Four. That streak was broken in 1991 and in 1993 I was a senior in high school. We watched most of the games that season and I clearly remember him proclaiming UNC would comeback when Dean called timeout with under 10 minutes to play versus Florida State and him saying Brian Reese was “going to be the goat after all” when he stepped on the sideline near the end of the title game versus Michigan. We sat around laughing about Nolan Richardson’s pregame comments after the Heels dispatched Arkansas in the Sweet Sixteen and we both nearly fell apart against Cincinnati in the regional final. The journey the Heels took to the title that season was a journey for us as well. A father and son bonding over Tar Heel basketball, drawn together to cheer UNC to another title.
I left for college a few months later and according to Mama, Daddy watched Carolina play a little less after I was gone. I guess my not being there made it less meaningful to him. This was understandable but he did watch them at tournament time and we shared the 1997 and 1998 Final Fours together though they were not as happy as the 1993 one had been.
There is, however, a cruel irony surrounding his death and how it came on a weekend UNC was in the Final Four which should have been a chance to renew that bond. The irony was thick even during the regional final when I called him on the road back from my in-laws house and asked him if he was watching the game against Wisconsin. He had not been instead he had been out riding his ATV. The same ATV that would cost him his life six days later. But prior to that, on Thursday night, I talked to him on the phone, about various topics and UNC’s Final Four trip being one of them. Maybe Roy can get it done this time we said and I lamented the fact the late starting time precluded us being able to watch the game together. So we were denied one last game together by circumstances that kept us at our respective homes that day and the fact he would go out for a ride on his ATV and never come back. I was made aware of his death a little past 7 PM that evening and drove from Raleigh to my childhood home 45 minutes away. There sitting among families and friends who had come upon hearing the news UNC played Michigan State dealing the cruelest irony of all. Sitting in that room where he and I had shared so many games I watched in a daze the Heels rally to beat the Spartans. And I could not help but think how odd it was I was there and he wasn’t.
The other irony, if you will, is the degree to which the timing of his death magnified the meaning of UNC winning the title for me. So many times in tragic situations we are told how it minimizes sports and certainly I am the first to decry the ESPNs of the world attempting to ascribe a team winning something as some sort of healing salve for a community in crisis. However on a personal level, when Raymond Felton was fouled with nine seconds left I cried for probably the 45th time that day and I was struck at how special it was to see UNC win a title despite the tragedy that had beset my family. Yes it was bittersweet and the timing of his death forever altered how I feel about UNC playing in the Final Four. However during the 2nd half of that title game in 2005 I watched the game as he and I always watched the game, complaining
So this weekend when the Heels take the floor versus Kansas my I will think of Daddy, wish he could be there to see another UNC Final Four and hopefully another national championship.