Since I can remember the Carolina Tarheels were a family tradition. Basketball season was the best time of the year. Decked out in Tarheel blue from head to toe sitting around the TV with the couches slid as close to the TV as possible.
I believe my greatest memory of the Carolina Tarheels was watching them win the National Championship in 2005. I was in 5th grade, I stayed up way past my bedtime to witness my first memorable championship and celebrate with my Daddy. My heart was racing as the clock ran down against Illinois, the confetti poured down and Sean May, Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, Roy Williams, and the others cut down the net piece by piece as we tuned into Woody Durham to narrate the entire thing. (Also I’m pretty sure I had my face painted half white and blue for school the next day).
I have awesome memories of games in Chapel Hill growing up. Spending the afternoon walking around Franklin Street. Getting the free face tattoos from Johnny T-shirt. Having the pre-game meal in the dungeon of the Rathskeller, then making the hike to the Dean Dome for a fun-filled evening of basketball.
When the ACC Tourney rolled around it was even better. I loved it when my dad would sign me out of school just to watch the Carolina game (I had other friends who got to do the same, it was tradition in our state). On the other days the teachers would always roll in the TVs and have the games playing in class. Everyone got into the games because everyone in the state of North Carolina was pulling for someone in the ACC. It was the epic rivalry of Tobacco Road. Sunday afternoon was always more enjoyable if UNC was in the ship, but even if they weren’t it was always a nonnegotiable to watch the game.
March Madness is about so much more than basketball and sports in general. Where I come from March Madness is a tradition. It is the kick-off for Spring. It is the icing on the sports cake to hold us all over until football season rolls around in August. March Madness brings people together, families, friends, strangers pulling for the same team, and even a good ole’ fashioned Carolina-Duke rivalry for good measure. March Madness is a culmination of heart, passion, and competition.
Today is redemption Monday for the North Carolina Tarheels. A second chance at victory. I know what it is like to be a college athlete. The sacrifices it takes to accomplish your dreams. Even though I never played on a stage as great as the Final Four, I know it takes more heart, passion, and mental stamina than most people could ever imagine to get there, and to ultimately win. Tonight is not about redemption for victory, it’s about redemption for the athletes, for the ones who put their entire heart and soul on that floor to make all their dreams come true. I promise you when those boys walk out on that floor in a few hours they are going to be prepared to put out the fight of their life. They will make every late night, early morning, pain and suffering their bodies have endured to be worth it. Win or lose, everything will be left on the court.
It’s not just about winning a basketball game, it’s about accomplishing dreams a part of something greater than yourself, it’s about teamwork, character, and heart. This is March Madness, and tonight is for redemption.