Wolfpack Can Learn From Mistakes

Following NC State's disappointing (yet oddly encouraging) 20-16 loss to Virginia Tech on Sunday, some Wolfpack fans took Chuck Amato to task for what they deemed to be too many "stupid" or "boneheaded" penalties.

These things happened way too often last season, they said, and Amato had an off-season to correct these problems, and thus they should've been fixed.

And you know what? They're right.

Conversely, other State fans came to the defense of the coaches and players, barking off the positives from the contest: 438 yards of offense vs. Tech's 232 ... QB Jay Davis passing for over 300 yards ... a solid defensive effort ... and a fake punt against a coach that perfected the fake punt. These fans liked what they saw from just about every position on the field; some unfortunate mistakes shouldn't overshadow a tremendous effort on a national stage against the team that many experts think will win the ACC.

In other words, it's just one game.

And you know something else? They're right too.

While it is true that the Wolfpack missed out on a golden opportunity to knock off the defending ACC champion Hokies, the fact remains that this is the kind of loss a team of State's caliber can learn from.

That goes for the fans too.

I must admit I often cringe when Amato refers to his fan base as "you people." (Just ask Ross Perot what that saying can do for a career.) Usually Amato throws around "you people" in sentences like "We need you people out there early for the Walk of Champions," or "I want to win as much as you people do," or the variation "our people have been terrific." Often, however, those two words make their way into a sentence directed at fans that Amato believes don't understand when or when not to cheer.

"You people do a great job of getting loud when the other team has the ball," he might say. "Our people just need to learn to be quiet when we have the ball."

What Amato has touched on is the football culture at NC State. It, like the facilities and the talent on the field, is a work in progress.

Before and after Sunday's game against Virginia Tech, some discussions among Pack fans, either face-to-face or via email or message boards, centered on the same theme: State supporters have done their part; the ball is in Amato's court now to get to that next level.

As one person told the News & Observer recently, "if Chuck doesn't go at least 8-3, we're not getting the coach we're paying for. The people have given him support. They've given him the facilities, given him the things he asked for."

And that's coming from a State fan.

The first game of the season could be a barometer, depending on your point of view. But just as silly penalties set back that progress, so do some of the things that happen at State games.

There are certain things that I've just come to (begrudgingly) expect at home games. I anticipate that at least once during the course of a game fans will collectively turn their heads and crane their necks to follow the state troopers or yellow-clad stadium security officials as they venture into the crowd to break up some sort of fracas or argument that's ballooned out of control.

I fully expect to hear - in the presence of children, mind you - the kind of language that you hear in the new movie "The Aristocrats" - but coming from a normally-stable husband or father that feels like he can vent his frustration on opposing fans, the referees or - heaven forbid! - his own team and fans.

I also expect to have the game's most electric, goose bump-inducing moments to be buzz-killed by an advertisement on the video scoreboard. I love "I Want You to Want Me" as much as the next guy, but I'd rather hear the "Power Sound of the South" perform it than to hear it in a TV station commercial.

On Sunday evening, I had the pleasure of sitting almost right beside the Virginia Tech band, basically in the VPI section. I understand that visiting fans, no matter what school it is, tend to stick together when they enter someone else's house. But I was impressed with how almost every Hokie fan - both young and old - followed the band. When the band members jingled their keys (for a "Key Play" - yes, I know it's, ahem, hokey), the fans did the same. Even when the band did its cheers that were chock-full of sexual innuendo, the fans mimicked and played along. And perhaps more importantly, the Tech band played all the time. It was a great college football environment. Maybe the State band did too; I was either in the wrong place to hear it or it was drowned out by "Crazy Train," "Radar Love" or the theme song from the "The A-Team." I hate to use this term, but the Tech fans, band and team had synergy.

On the other side of things, just about every aspect of the NC State program is at a crossroads. The talent is obviously improving. The facilities are about as good as you can get. And progress is being made. A decade ago, most Pack fans would've been thrilled at the thought of a four-point loss to a top 10-caliber team on national TV where State actually had a chance to win it at the end and probably would have had it not shot itself in the foot. That's not the case anymore. State fans expect to win the big games now.

In fact, the same fan that criticized Amato in the News & Observer, Reef Ivey, also admitted that the program "would not be where we are if we had not gotten Chuck."

The State program has also gotten where it is because of its supporters. Folks with the names Murphy, Vaughn and Dail, among others, have reached deep into their pockets to improve the program, as have the thousands of fans who purchased the right to watch Pack football in person. They are all to be thanked, just as the corporate sponsors who support the Pack.

But somewhere along the way, NC State football needs to figure out what it wants to be. Does it want to have the collegiate atmosphere where the marching band and the cheerleaders and students lead the way? Or should the atmosphere be dictated by what happens on a big screen TV on one end of the stadium? Should it be a place where opposing fans are intimidated to visit because of how good the team on the field is? Or should they be scared away because of how bad the action in the stands is?

I'm not sure what the solution is. Situations like these are full of Catch-22s. For instance, the corporate sponsors pay good money to get their brand name on the video scoreboard, yet the introductions on the scoreboard have raised the anticipation level of State pre-games. And while it appears that lifetime rights may prevent some young alumni from being able to purchase season tickets, those same lifetime rights owners have injected the program with the financial ability to vastly improve Carter-Finley.

There must be a middle ground somewhere. Perhaps the solution is realizing that "you people" are really "us people." Only then would it appear that everyone associated with NC State football is in it together.

ACC Football Rankings - One Man's Unimportant Opinion
1. Virginia Tech:
The Hokies were almost in mid-season form against NCSU.
2. Georgia Tech: Sure, Auburn's QB was horrendous. But anytime you can end a team's 15-game winning streak - on their field - you're doing something right.
3. Clemson: Impressive out-of-conference win against Texas A&M. But Little Bowden needs solid QB play.
4. NC State: Pack went toe-to-toe with Virginia Tech on a national stage.
5. Florida State: Finally! A field goal miscue goes the other way.
6. Miami: Don't expect the Canes to stay around the middle of the conference for long - not with that D.
7. Virginia: Wahoo fans have high expectations - especially after doubling Al Groh's salary.
8. Boston College: Eagles won't sneak into the ACC. The Eagles are good, and everyone knows it.
9. Maryland: There's a reason why the Terps don't play the Middies that often.
10. North Carolina: Tar Heels will scare some people before this season's over.
11. Wake Forest: There's no shame in losing to an SEC team - oh, wait. It was Vandy.
12. Duke: Blue Devils missed a golden opportunity to start the season of on a good note. Instead East Carolina was the only North Carolina team to come away with a win last week.

This Week's Predictions
Virginia Tech at Duke:
Tech dodged a bullet in Raleigh on Sunday, but even the shortened week won't affect Beamerball. Hokies 35, Devils 10

Clemson at Maryland: This one could be a toss-up, but Clemson just appears to be more confident than Maryland. Clemson 28, Maryland 21

Army at BC: Eagles Coach Tom O'Brien is an Annapolis guy. 'Nuff said. BC 45, Army 13

UNC at Georgia Tech: Believe it or not, this one could be closer than some folks would believe. The Jackets are coming off an emotional high after beating Auburn; Carolina, on the other hand, is an unknown. Tech 27, UNC 24

The Citadel at Florida State: Ol' Bobby would probably have you believe that having a game on Monday and then having to play again on Saturday is a disadvantage. Usually that would be the case. However, this ain't one of those times. FSU 54, The Citadel 3

Wake Forest at Nebraska: Jim Grobe's team will learn from its loss to Vandy. The Huskers, meanwhile, are reeling. Wake 27, Nebraska 21

Last year's record (based upon picking the correct winner): 44-9.

Pack Pride Top Stories