There’s not a day that goes by when we don’t wake up being thankful for being a sports fan in North Carolina. This November, the SportsChannel8 team and a panel of peers from NC media will be counting down to Thanksgiving with the top 25 things we have to be thankful for in this great state.
First they woke the neighbors, then they woke the nation — and the entire time, they never stopped dancing.
The above picture was taken during my senior year of high school; in this image, my buddy Rob and I are in Charlotte at the 2007 Meineke Car Care Bowl (RIP), which saw Wake Forest defeat No. 25 UCONN (yes, they were ranked…somehow) 24-10 in Bank of America Stadium, pulling for the Demon Deacons. That day we celebrated Wake Forest, and today, in this space, we’ll do the same.
Everyone remembers their firsts. Their first kiss, their first crush, their first beer — whatever (and get your mind out of the gutter, jerks). Well, up and down Tobacco Road, we can also recall our first basketball game. For me, this was at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in beautiful Winston-Salem (my hometown), and it, of course, included Wake Forest. Tim Duncan, who would go on to become the greatest power forward in the history of basketball, played in the game; I’m very lucky.
ACC basketball: I was hooked, immediately.
I grew up on black and old gold hoops: starting with Dave Odom, crescendoing during those amazingly entertaining (and ultimately heartbreaking) Skip Prosser years, and running through the short tenure under Dino Gaudio. I attended their basketball camp each summer, where the served us All Sport, for some reason, to rehydrate. There were some lean seasons during this near 15-year window of time – but my god, the highs were so damn good, and so much fun.
However, to say the Deacs have fallen on hard times in recent years in the two revenue sports — men’s basketball and football — would be putting things mildly. You know, like Texas Pete.
In basketball, Wake hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since Ish Smith and Al-Farouq Aminu were trying to figure out how to stop John Wall and Boogie Cousins, but we still love them. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, Wake Forest has won only 64 games, yet they still have a special place in our hearts. For christ sake, their men’s basketball Wikipedia page hasn’t even been updated to reflect last season’s record! (Eh, can’t say I blame them here, though.) But they’re in NC, which means we’re kin.
Football, sadly, hasn’t been much better: the Deacs haven’t had a winning season since 2008, and haven’t sniffed a bowl game since the 2011 Music City Bowl – which they (*looks up score*) dropped to Mississippi State. This is a program that within the last decade defeated a Transformer en route to winning our state’s most recent ACC football championship – by a wide margin of time, I may add, too. We have to treat these men with respect!
In all seriousness, though, I wouldn’t be the basketball/ACC/sports junkie that I am today without Wake Forest. When I give in to my insomnia and stay up late watching the NBA (a nightly occurrence), I still find myself pulling hard for those former Deacons — Chris Paul, Tim Duncan, Jeff Teague, etc. — I watched go bonkers at the Joel — a building I would end up graduating from high school in. I attended every game of the magical 2006 ACC title season in football; that night game against Matty Ice and Boston College is still one of the best live, in-game sporting experiences I’ve ever had. Taron Downey and Josh Shoemaker will always be hallowed names in my family’s household. The same can’t be said, however, for Loren Woods.
I’ve attended roughly 100 Wake Forest basketball games. I bonded with my mom and sister at these games; I took my girlfriend at the time to these games; back then, we both loved cheering against Duke. I watched some of the greatest players in the history of college basketball make a dent on the floor in Winston. That stuff is special, and means a lot.
In high school, I occasionally took time off from quarterbacking the football team to state championships and making out with cheerleaders under the bleachers to record over 1,000 posts on the Wake Forest Scout message board — I’m not proud of this, but it’s true, and I’m outchea bleeding over this pen for you people.
Most importantly — I learned how winning basketball games was significant and mattered, but that there are things with way more meaning than tossing an orange roundball through an elevated circle, thanks to Skip Prosser. Seriously, that man was the best — and I miss him. He loved Wake Forest; he loved Winston-Salem, and we loved him right back. Home attendance rocketed up during his peak years; the LJVM actually became an intimidating place for road teams to play. Skip never took himself or sports too seriously; we need more guys like him in college athletics. I could talk about how awesome this man was all damn day.
I’m eternally thankful for you, Wake Forest. You taught me what it was like to follow sports: how crushing the defeats could be, and there were a lot of them (I’ve still never yelled at a TV screen more than that heartbreaking 2005 loss to West Virginia; damn YOU, Pittsnogle), but even more so, just how cool it is to become invested in a team — to follow it, care about it, ride with it. If that ship’s sinking, you go down with it. You taught me just how much fun it can be to exist within this madhouse that is the ACC. My days of cheering for WFU are long behind me, and will never return (something I’m happy about, quite frankly), but that doesn’t really matter. They’ll always be family, and I’m grateful for that.
(Although another losing season or two in football, and I may have to kick you to the kids’ table during dinner time. Colbert’s with me on this.)
“Meet me at the Quad.”