Daddy and The Final Four

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.

13 Responses to Daddy and The Final Four

  1. mugley says:

    wow don’t know what to say, very sorry for your loss, also very glad that you have some good memories of being with him, may God Bless you

  2. TxTarheel says:

    THF, my story is not the same but lost my dad in spring 2002. As dark as that season was for UNC basketball, it was just much more difficult to watch or even care about the NCAA tourney that season. Whether it’s 3 years, 6 years or 20 years – good memories are always there & we all know Roy will keep bringing us some new ones. In that regard…Tarheel fans are lucky.

    I think Carolina basketball is as much about following the team as it is sharing that allegiance with those who mean so much, family or good friends.

  3. nathan says:

    beautifully written and a great way to honor your dad.

  4. Robin says:

    As odd as it may sound, 3 years ago from march 20 through april 12, I lost 3 family members…my grandmother and grandfather who were sudden..and my mother which was expected. I am sorry for your loss and share your pain and memories of such a time. especially that year when they won the championship…my celebration was very subdued… this year I will be cheering a little harder..because I didn’t lose my spirit during that time..but became stronger in life…just as the tarheels have pushed through many adversities this year…This season has been a testament to that.
    GO HEELS!!!

  5. Joe in Toronto says:

    I lost my Mom this past February 13th. She was a strong woman who grew up very poor and worked hard to make sure her kids had every opportunity. She always kidded me on my Tar Heels obsession (not too many Heels fans around growing up in Northern Ontario) but would watch the Heels with me later in life. I’ll bet she’s a FF party up there with a lot of other Heels fans like your Dad and still cheering them on.

    GO HEELS!!!!!

  6. Wade says:

    The very first Tarheel game I ever heard was with my Dad in 1957. It was Kansas (with Wilt) and we listened to it on an old am radio which kept fading in and out. We lived in Kitty Hawk then and the closest station carrying the game was in Norfolk. We drove all the way to the airport to welcome the 57 Heels home and it was my first “big” trip with my Dad. During the years after that we watched every possible game together. When I was in Vietnam, he would mail me articles and keep me up to date. He passed away in 2000. Now my sons are all over the country (Boston, Charlotte and San Diego) but we’ve been known to talk on the phone thru an entire half.

    It’s a family tradition!

  7. JPH says:

    Go Heels – for him, for you, and all of us.

  8. JP says:

    Read this over at, and I really appreciated you being so candid. My parents and all of my grandparents are still living, which is pretty amazing since I’m 28, and I cherish them everyday. My dad is the reason I love basketball and baseball, and now I’m sharing it with my boy, as well.

    There is no doubt sports plays a role in easing pain, and I just wanted to come over and say thanks for sharing this.

  9. Black Mountain Sophomore says:

    Very nice tribute, THF. My dad died suddenly in May 2005, and as silly as it sounds I remember thinking how great it was that he’d seen another championship–Carolina basketball was one of the great joys of his life. He finished at Chapel Hill in ’57, I graduated in ’82; I called him from the pay phone in front of Hectors after that game, in the middle of all that commotion, and I still don’t know which of us was more excited.
    I do wish he had lived to see Tyler Hansbrough play; I know he would have said “THAT’S what a Caroina basketball player should be,” just as he said that about Bobby Jones and George Lynch.

    Go Heels.

  10. 52BigGameJames says:

    if there’s ever any doubt about a person’s region of origin, it’s quickly cleared up when you hear them use the words, “Daddy, or Momma”… music to the ears! Your pain of loss comes through loud & clear THF, and I’m sure the unexpected nature of such an accident was even more of a gut-punch. I lost my mom at 8, and my father at 15. Sports, (and especially UNC sports) was admittedly somewhat of a refuge from the storm for me, just as I’m sure it serves the same for many others. I don’t know if you ever get over such a loss, but in my case, I am blessed with two wonderful kids, one of whom with I share a love of participatory and spectator sports. And he happens to be a die-hard UNC fan too (an 11 year old smack-talking/Duke-hating monster I’ll add, lol).
    Kids are God’s way of providing “spackle” for the holes left in the walls of our lives.

  11. hohosanta says:

    OMG that broke myheart! My Dad died April 19 2000. We always watched the games together. I read your site every day but this is my first post. Thank you for all your hard work and this website. God bless you. I miss my daddy so much.

  12. rbl says:


    I grew up in Swan Quarter and graduated from there in 1962? Did you go to Manteo High?

    My heart goes out to all of you. I got hooked on Carolina basketball in the 1957-58 season. I walked in and Daddy was watching the opening game of the season against George Washington. I asked if we were any good, and he said we were #1. I’ve been hooked ever since. He passed away in 1997 at the age of 91. He was a lifelong Carolina fan, perhaps a bit more into football.

    On another note, i’m enjoying all the crying on the Duke Message Board.

  13. Wade says:


    Yes I did go to Manteo but only for 2 years. I attended Kitty Hawk Elem grades 1- 8 and Manteo 9 -10. Looks like you were a couple of years ahead of me. We moved inland after that. Still have property on Roanoke Island but not sure I want to return. Too many tourists now. Actually been looking on the mainland side of Pamilco.

    And Duke fans need to cry-good for them! With Roy at the helm they’ll be crying for a long time.

    Great to hear from you!

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