Thinking Carolina had the game in hand was immediately knocked from my mind by a crashing nightmare from 1996. To this day, that game rivals the Navy and Furman losses as the most disappointing Carolina football memory I have.
Then comes the 100-yard kickoff return. I know the stats don't bear me out, but doesn't it seem that every time a team needs a spark against the Heels, someone pops a long kickoff return?
Then I made a huge mistake. I know better, I really do, but I couldn't help it. In the middle of Carolina's next drive, I leaned over and told my wife, "CJ Stephens seems like a nice kid and a good player, but he'll NEVER see the field as long as Darian plays like this … and doesn't get hurt." The rest is history.
So now all eyes are on CJ. Durant's injury will cost the South Carolina slinger a shot at nearly every Carolina passing record, season and career -- in just his second year. Despite his fabulous numbers, many self proclaimed Tar Heel fans have called for Durant's benching repeatedly. They cannot question Durant's production, so they instead place blame on Durant for his 2-7 record as the Carolina starting QB, an argument I find quite amusing. You see, in two starts (both losses) last season, they said, "Durant did everything he could do. It was the defense that cost the Tar Heels those games."
This year, with one of the weakest defenses in Carolina history, production wise, those Durant bashers cast out a strikingly similar array of barbs that Ronald Curry dealt with last year (when it was Durant that was ‘the savior') and suggest Durant is to blame for Carolina's current predicament. Never mind the fact that almost every opposing running back has put up career numbers against the Heel defense. Never mind those stats. No, Carolina is 2-5 because Darian Durant can't get it done when it counts, they say. (Well, Bunting and nearly every assistant coach has been blamed as well, but that's another long story.)
Again, simply amazing.
So, there are more than a few out there that are finally getting their wish. CJ Stephens is the man. For the sake of the program and most importantly, for the sake of Stephens himself, I hope the Florida transplant shines. Because if he doesn't, I can only wonder where the venom spewed at Durant over the first half of the season will be directed. I wonder how long before we hear the cries of "Give Baker a shot!" ring out.
Carolina may not win another game this season. Or, the Heels could win enough to head bowling. The win over Arizona State proved UNC is capable of winning against a solid team. The Sun Devils certainly helped the Heels by throwing the ball most of the time. I'd be shocked if the Carolina defense could be so lucky again. Intercepting passes is one thing, stopping a running attack is far and away another.
The bottom line is this. The program deserves 100% support from those that consider themselves Carolina fans, especially given this season's circumstances. The players and coaches that work their rear ends off daily deserve support. No matter how big a fan of Carolina football you think you are or how badly you want the Heels to win, your investment pales in comparison to those folks that actually play and coach the game. They want to win and be successful more than you can possibly imagine. Their very livelihood depends on it.
It is easy to take the low road and join the ‘bitter bunch.' But sometimes, the easy way isn't the right way.
Have a comment? Email Tommy at firstname.lastname@example.org.