If you are going to the Four Corners tonight, you had better step lively.
In fact, if you're not out on Franklin Street right now, this sports page and the Charlotte Observer's in one hand, and Ken Rapoport's classic tome Tar Heel Basketball in the other, you can forget about snagging a seat at Chapel Hill's favorite watering hole.
And if you do manage to squeeze in, you won't be able to spell out A-L-W-O-O-D, it'll be so crowded and noisy. Half the state will be at that bar, watching the beloved University of North Carolina basketball team end 24 years of frustration by finally winning a national championship.
Every James Worthy jumper and every Jimmy Black steal will raise the roof. Every time Dean Smith--the finest coach in the nation--shows up that scofflaw Bobby Knight of Indiana with a strategic gem, the portraits of former Heels Bobby Jones and Mitch Kupchak and Phil Ford and Walter Davis will rattle on the walls.
The rest of North Carolina won't be at home, either. Everybody else--except the poor souls who go to school in Durham--has made the trip to Philadelphia where Carolina meets Indiana in tonight's finals.
These are the same people who came out 10,000 strong to great the squad at the airport after it lost to Marquet'e a few years back. These are the same people who have packed Carmichael Auditorium ("Blue Heaven") to capacity every home game for the past umpteen years.
These are real fans, not frontrunners. Sure, they'll go bonkers when Wood or Worthy or Cecil Exum or whoever else cuts down that net after taking the title, but they'll give a nice hand to vanquished star Isiah Thomas, too. These are the fans that gave Maryland's Tom McMillen a Standing O just for wanting to go to Chapel Hill (too bad his mom wouldn't let him).
As a Carolina fan since Dennis Wuycik and Bill Chamberlain played their hearts out in a semi-final loss to Florida State a decade ago, I wish I was in Philadelphia, too. But even more, I'd like to be at the Four Corners. To watch the nation's finest squad with the nation's finest fans would be an honor I'd never forget.
I'd love to be there when the starting five is introduced, when the team that was supposed to go nowhere jogs out on the same Spectrum floor with Knight's mighty Hoosiers. I'd love to hear Al McGuire's voice on television, incredulously describing Carolina's success as a packed house at the Four Corners revels in it all. You see, McGuire coached that Marquette team that beat the Heels, and he's never quite forgiven Dean Smith for almost stealing his thunder.
Most of all, I'd love to be there when Carolina wins. I want to see grown men cry, college students scream, I want to be there for the night-long parade like they had after stopping Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas in triple overtime to win back the title in 1957. And I want to be one of the thousands waiting at the airport the next morning, shouting as the national champions step off the plane.
Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't turn down a ticket for the finals. Going to the Spectrum tonight would be magnificent. If you're flying to Philadelphia and you have an extra ticket...well, the number's in the phone book, and my checkbook is open.
Yes, Philadelphia would be great. But on the whole, I'd rather be in Chapel Hill.