I’m going to have to start this recap, which I can already tell is going to be an unconventional one, with a confession. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I didn’t watch one pitch of the Pirates’ opener. At 5 o’clock, I was hoping to nip home and catch the end of the game while my friends attempted to find a spot in a bar on Franklin Street for the National Championship game. I fully assumed that it was too late to find anything resembling a good spot and I’d be safe to watch baseball until someone told me that we were going to someone’s apartment to watch the game. Literally, just as I began to pack my computer up, my phone rang. My friends had found a fairly empty bar, they had spots saved, and if I made it down quickly they thought they’d have a seat for me.
After some quick mental considerations, I realized that the only thing I could really do was go to the bar (this is the way great stories always start, isn’t it?). This was, in all truthfulness, the right decision. As hard as I try to prolong my scholastic career, there are only so many chances a person gets that are on par with a chance to be in downtown Chapel Hill as UNC plays for a National Championship. As a sports fan, it’s not the sort of opportunity I can turn down.
And so I went downtown, sat in a bar, drank beer, ate pizza, and joined in the massive crowds that took to the street after the UNC victory. And do you honestly know what made me smile more than anything the entire night? Having my eye on the bottom line and seeing the score of the Pirates game click from 4-3 Cardinals to 6-4 Pirates, then quickly realizing that Jack Wilson had hit a bases loaded double that brought in the go-ahead runs.This probably sounds a little bit insane.
As soon as the buzzer sounded in the basketball game tonight, people rushed out of the bar and in to the streets. Despite having been in this situation before on Carson St., I was almost immediately and hopelessly separated from my friends. This really wasn’t such a big deal; I’m not a six-year-old lost in a supermarket and really on nights like tonight, everyone had several thousand friends. I moved with the crowd and headed for the main intersection in town, assuming I would eventually find someone I knew there (and I did). During my walk, me and a few hundred others surged around past a college-age couple, locked in a victory kiss, like they were stones in a stream.
Seeing those two and looking around myself, it suddenly dawned on me that all of the people around me were much, much happier than I was. That’s not to imply that I was unhappy, because that was certainly not the case. It’s just that as a grad student, I don’t have the same connection to UNC that an undergrad that’s a Carolina native is going to have. For a second, I looked at all the people around me and kind of scoffed; Carolina had just won a championship in 2005 and certainly every person in the streets with me was old enough to remember it. Thinking on it for another minute though, I realized what I was missing. This win was their win. Most of the kids in the street were in high school in 2005. Just like the Steelers’ Super Bowl XL win resonated deeply with people my age because we finally had a Super Bowl of our own to celebrate, this win is one that the students at UNC now don’t have to share with anyone else.
Walking home from the celebration, I attemtped to somehow put all of this into context in my head. Most confusing of all to me was why my reaction to seeing the Pirates score changeover in the bar became even more positive when I realized it was Jack Wilson who’d gotten the game winning hit. I certainly don’t wish anything ill on Jack, but any long-time reader knows that Jack’s not exactly my favorite player and a lot of it has to do with him just rubbing me the wrong way on and off the field.
The reality is that for the same reason that a UNC National Championship means more to some people than it does to me, I was happy for Jack Wilson yesterday. You can say what you like about Jack Wilson, but very few people understand the unique frustrations of being a Pirate or a Pirate fan as well as Jack Wilson does. The true joy in sports is derived from building a connection with a team so that when that team wins, you somehow feel a part of it. For the most part, this connection is built through common suffering. The pure joy that Super Bowl XL brought to Steeler fans my age came not just from the stories of the Steel Curtain in the ’70s, but also from the numerous near misses of the 1990s and early 2000s. Jack Wilson isn’t my favorite player and he’ll never be close to my favorite player, but he’s also the one player on the team right now that’s been through nearly as much crap as the fans have.
While everyone on the streets in Chapel Hill reveled in Tyler Hansbrough’s win, I was sort of wishing that I’d been able to see the end of the Pirates game. I realize that makes me weird, but I’m OK with that.