CHAPEL HILL, NC — Kenan Stadium, nestled in a forest of dazzling colors and bathed in an autumn sunshine, is the place you want to watch a college football game. Unless you’re Paul Johnson and you have come back to your home state with your first Georgia Tech team. Then, the mood turns as blue as the North Carolina cheering section. You not only lose, but you get trounced – but for a shocking 85-yard run (by Jonathan Dwyer) in the ruins of, it would have been the first time Tech had been shut out in 141 games.
The Tar Heels scored first and last and in between, and even when the Yellow Jackets showed some sign of resistance in the first half, there was no charge in their battery. The final score was 28-7, the bottom line on Johnson’s most depressing day in his first season, the worst defeat and a seemingly improbable performance. On the other hand, consider that this was only the third time the Tar Heels have beaten the Jackets in the last 11 meetings, and the first time Butch Davis has beaten them since he arrived last season.
So much for the agony of Georgia Tech defeat…. onto the ecstasy of Tar Heel victory. This was Homecoming Day in Chapel Hill, and for an old warrior who once trod these paths and studied at the feet of learned ones long since gone, it was a weekend fraught with memories. Once upon a time I toted the water, delivered the towels and lived the servile pleasure of being a part of it all. Those were the days when football was less a corporate function, and old Kenan held about 35,000 fully loaded. On this day, almost 60,000 filled these stands, and the hue of blue was overwhelming.
In those collegiate days, campus heroes were Andy Bershak, George Stirnweiss, Jimmy Lalanne, Paul Severin and other names. Names long since lost among trees of this forest in which the namesake Kenan financed the root of what has become an overwhelming arena. Duke, next door, was the bitter enemy, the Blue Devils. Carolina had a mascot of its own, a ram named Ramses, and the devilish neighbors from Duke came and kidnapped Ramses now and then, painting his horns the dark shade of Blue Devil blue. Ramses was on the grounds today, another in the long line. He basked in the sunshine, as spoiled as the Georgians spoil their UGA.
This was, of course, Georgia Tech’s worst day in the new regime of Paul Johnson. He is dealing with a higher grade of personnel than he has ever coached before, at Georgia Southern and Navy. But consider how far he has come, from Newland, his mountain hometown, and Western Carolina, where he schooled, many a wagon grease from the Tobacco Triangle. He came up the ladder rung by rung.
It was a special day here in Chapel Hill, and for one coming home again, there was a mixture of mellowness on the one hand, and the sadness of defeat on the other.