Tommy: Farewell Kenan, Hello Smith Center

Well, Saturday in Chapel Hill was more of the same. A beautiful day to watch bad football. But on this occasion, I came away from my weekend with some sense of optimism as opposed to last week's dread.

While there is not much left to say about this football season, I would like to comment on one thing that stands out.

Carolina must honor Sam Aiken in some fashion. For all Sam has done, he deserves recognition above and beyond his name in a media guide. What better way to honor him, and other Carolina record holders for that matter, than on the facade of the coming video board in Kenan? When the jumbotron is erected, make a space to honor players that don't meet the criteria to hang their jersey on the facade of the upper deck, but deserve recognition for their many accomplishments in a Carolina jersey. While there are plenty deserving, Aiken and Amos Lawrence would be the first two on my list.

Having left Kenan Stadium for the last time in 2002, I took the short stroll to the Dean Dome to check out Matt Doherty's team for the first time this year.

After winding through the usual scalpers selling ten dollar exhibition game tickets for 20 bucks (If scalping is against the law, why is it that the same ole guys are out in front of Kenan or the Smith Center ripping folks off while those that may sell a ticket once in a blue moon or sip a beverage in the parking lot get harassed by Chapel Hill's finest? And to the scalper that told me in colorful terms that I wouldn't find any lower level seats "up there," Section 101, Row R, on the aisle.), I purchased two great seats from the ticket office and headed in to see the team that has so many light blue fans downright giddy.

I'll admit, I was impressed. I've seen the freshmen play in a variety of tournaments and all-star games, but never as part of the Carolina unit. In the face of a three-point barrage that hasn't been seen in the Smith Center, since well, last year's EA Sports game, the young'uns kept their poise and came away with a nice win.

The Smith Center environment also impressed me. Having covered my share of games last season, I can say that Saturday's crowd is what these Heels will need this year. Raucous cheering high fiving folks replaced the seat hugging, arms folded, frowned up-faced regulars from last season. Come Monday night's season opener, the ‘regulars' will have something to live up to. Those with season tickets will make a difference this year, one way or another.

But, in looking at this season, I would strongly caution against the overt optimism I've seen expressed in the past couple of weeks.

Yes, the Heels will be much better than last year's team. Yes, the Heels will win some ball games. But yes, there will be speed bumps and yes there will be games that should be won, that are lost. That is the nature of the sport and when you throw in six freshmen with three sophomores and two seniors, things never go as planned.

So my advice would be to temper your enthusiasm in such a manner that the positives are lavishingly praised, while the negatives are not blown out of proportion. The fallout during and after last season from those that call themselves Carolina supporters was downright disgusting and cannot be repeated. Enjoy the season and the journey as the youngest team in Carolina history grows into the Carolina teams of old.

One thing is certain, this season, regardless of how many the Heels win (I predict 18) or who actually starts (not too many teams could match Rashad McCants as a sixth man in my opinion), Carolina will be as exciting as any team in the country. And after last season, just having excitement back in the Smith Center is good enough for me.

Tommy Ashley can be reached via email at

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