More Like The Good Than The Bad
North Carolina vs. Tennessee | 30 Dec 2010 | LP Field
Music City Bowl – Nashville, TN | 5:40 pm CST | ESPN
On Wednesday, Teddy Karwacki suddenly realized that Tennessee was about to face North Carolina in Nashville the following day. That’s how strange bowl games can be to a fan – days on end that turn into weeks of inactivity, and then all of a sudden, shortly after Christmas, it’s game day. He thought he’d perhaps better set his alarm on his wristwatch just in case Thursday afternoon slipped by without a thought of turning on the television.
And, this was one of the strangest experiences that Teddy had ever had in his forty-plus years following the Big Orange. First, this was the only Vol team he could remember that went bowling with a .500 record, but he was too disinterested to actually look up the facts for confirmation. Second, there was a sense of indifference with everyone he had spoken to over the holidays. It was almost as if Tennessee had lost against Kentucky in the last regular-season game to become bowl-less. Newspaper coverage was nearly minimal. Well, there were lots of stories about this and that, but they mostly seemed unrequitedly reaching for something to say, unable to grasp onto anything meaningful.
Un-nutritional food for the football hungry.
So, Teddy searched for some insight in the wake of the winter storm that had passed through a few days earlier. Perhaps the effort alone might create some sense of heightened interest.
He read the Tar Heels have a very good quarterback, a senior named T.J. who could complete passes at a very high rate and could also extend plays, when necessary, with his ability to scramble. Also, Carolina has a very good running back. Had a very good running back, that is. Ruled ineligible for the game because of some kind of academic impropriety.
Good for us.
They also have a crack secondary and a decent pass rush. Too bad they looked to have strengths that would play to our key weaknesses.
None of this information impressed Teddy, though. This was a bowl game – an appendage onto a body of work, with no real connection to the rhythm of the body’s season. The lengthy time delay, by bowl time, could present a team unrecognizable to its own fans, for better or for worse.
Teddy thought it mostly boiled down to which team wanted to play the most. Who really wanted to play on a night in late December in Nashville? Us? Them? Both? Neither?
Tennessee would be playing for a winning record and to avert a losing record. North Carolina, already assured of a winning record for 2010, would be playing for some sense of positive closure to a season that began with great August promise and quickly turned dark with player suspensions for all kinds of infractions.
For UNC to weather such a storm and finish with a winning record spoke volumes about leadership – from the head coach on down to the players themselves. There were massive disappointments, especially the loss to N.C. State, but there was a sense of almost-fulfillment that needed a nightcap in the form of a bowl-game victory over an SEC school, even if that school had been in danger around Halloween of becoming the conference’s doormat for the first time.
But, Tennessee had seen it’s share of adversity, too, and an equal measure of leadership had been required to save a season and perhaps even a young coach’s position as an object of respect. It had been a very tense October. November was a tonic ordered by the scheduling gods.
Teddy was buoyed just enough to stay afloat at least until kickoff. He wasn’t betting on anything after that first shoe-to-ball contact. Too many intangibles that made the bowl season interesting and dreadfully formless at the same time.
Ben and Luther pulled into the parking lot of their Nashville hotel. Lots of T-flags and door magnets throughout the lot. Not much in the way of Carolina cars.
“Ready to whup some Tar Heel ass, Luther” bellowed Ben as they locked the door and headed for the warmth of the lobby.
Luther didn’t respond. He’d just listened to over 200 miles of bluster from his old friend. He knew North Carolina lay somewhere between the teams Tennessee lost to and the teams the Vols beat – there had been six good ones and six not-so-good ones. The Tar Heels looked more like the good than the bad. All of a sudden, Luther wasn’t looking forward to the long drive back to Newport on Friday.
North Carolina 34 Tennessee 23