By Nolan Stout, Staff Writer
April 24, 2013
With the Hurricanes hitting the wall, the Bobcats being the Bobcats and my N.C. State Wolfpack making an early exit from the NCAA Tournament, I’ve started thinking about how hard it is to be a sports fan in North Carolina.
Oh boy, it’s difficult.
Let’s start at the bottom. It’s a pretty well known fact that the Bobcats are arguably the worst franchise ever in modern professional basketball. They’ve even got the worst season of all time to prove it when they went 7-59 in the abbreviated 2011-12 season. What’s worse is that they didn’t even get the number one overall draft pick out of it.
And there’s never been a good Bobcats history. In 2009-10, they made their only playoff appearance in franchise history, just to be swept by the Orlando Magic.
Think it can’t get worse? Think again. Back in 1996, when the Hornets resided in Charlotte, they drafted Kobe Bryant only to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac.
A small step up from the Bobcats are the Charlotte-based Carolina Panthers. Since coming into existence in 1995, they have made four playoff appearances.
Unlike the Bobcats, there are a few high points in the Panthers’ past. However, their highest point is accompanied by heartbreak. Carolina reached Super Bowl XXXVI in 2003, but lost to the Patriots on a field goal with four seconds left.
In their last playoff appearance in 2008, the favored Panthers imploded against the wild-card Arizona Cardinals. Five interceptions and one fumble by Jake Delhomme made even the most loyal Panthers fan cringe, as Carolina fell 33-13.
The Cardinals went on to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLII.
Another step above, and one of the most exciting sports in North Carolina is college basketball. College sports in the South, and North Carolina, are pretty big. Personally, I’m biased towards N.C. State.
And, oh, does the Wolfpack love to break my heart.
Things went surprisingly well the season before last leading to, you guessed it, a heartbreaking 3-point loss to Kansas in the Sweet 16. That led to this past season.
Entering the season as the Preseason AP-Poll number 6 basketball team in the country, State was favored to win the ACC for the first time since 1989. Wolfpack fans had high hopes for once in a long time.
Alas, the high expectations probably doomed the team. The Wolfpack got demolished early by Oklahoma State, barely beat UNC-Asheville, lost buzzer beaters to Virginia, Miami and Maryland and were dismantled by Wake Forest. It all came crashing to an end with a first round NCAA Tournament exit against Temple.
The most successful professional team in the state is the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes. They are the only professional sports team in North Carolina to win a championship and only the third team in the Old South to win the Stanley Cup.
But it’s not all fun in Raleigh. While the Canes tend to make the playoffs every few years, they’ve had heartbreak too. The year before the Panthers lost to New England in Super Bowl XXXVI, the Canes made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals and even won game one against the Detroit Red Wings. However, they then lost the next four games and the cup went to the Red Wings.
Four years later, they reached the finals again and this time won the cup in seven games over the Edmonton Oilers.
They are also the only NHL team in the modern era to miss the playoffs two consecutive years after winning the Stanley Cup.
The Hurricanes will make you give up on the season in the first half of the year, losing upwards of 14 games at times. Then, in the second half of the season they’ll go on crazy win streaks only to lose the last game of the season and finish in ninth place, just a few points out of the playoffs.
So why do we continue to support our teams when they let us down time and time again? Why do we still tailgate for a hockey game after we’ve been eliminated from playoff contention?
Well it’s fun. Not to lose, but to go to games.
There’s an atmosphere that has developed around sports in North Carolina that I attribute to what I call “The Spirit of Tobacco Road.”
It’s the spirit, devotion and dedication of the people that grow up in that deep-seeded rivalry between Duke, N.C. State, UNC, and Wake Forest. The professional sports teams bring all those fans together and unite that college basketball atmosphere in our professional sports. We tailgate for hours before games. We still manage to sell out games during losing seasons.
We know there’s always next year. We get a chance to compete for a championship every now and then, even the Bobcats did once. Sometimes, when we make it, we make magic happen. Want to see? Go search game four and game seven of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Hurricanes and the Devils. Be amazed.
We may not always win or have consistently great teams, but as fans we have fun. And, in the end, isn’t that what sports are supposed to be about?