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Powder blue skies

Rama Gottumukkala | Tuesday, April 5, 2005

The last time I got teary-eyed about a sporting event – discounting Irish football of late for obvious, sentimental reasons – was when the 1997 North Carolina team lost in the Final Four to Arizona. That was a team for the Carolina ages. Headlining the act were Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison, whose stars are still shining brightly in the NBA. And filling in all the necessary team details were 7-footer Serge Zwikker, Shammond Williams with his long range bombs and Ed Cota, a pass-first gem in an era of score-first point guards. I maintain it was a crime that Cota went undrafted in the pros.Picking Carolina to win it all has killed me in every one of my March Madness pools since 1997, except for in 2000, when I was one of the two people outside of UNC students who picked them to reach the Final Four as an eighth seed. And that’s how it’s gone the last few years – pick Irish football and UNC basketball to buck the odds and bring home the championship. And finally, after many March nights of picking up the pieces of my shattered dream, the Tar Heels have fulfilled that wish. The stage was set for a terrific finish to an immensely satisfying NCAA tourney. The storylines were all zingers. Roy Williams trying to end the “Williams curse” by finally winning the big one? Check, as unstoppable as a well-run Carolina fast break. Carolina facing off against a dangerous Illinois team that has been the consensus No. 1 team for months? Another check, as timely as a McCants dagger trey. A team loaded with talent, with five probable NBA lottery picks, finally coming together and realizes their potential? As sure as a Felton fast-break lob to May.I’ll be the first to admit I was extremely paranoid Illinois would make another improbable 15-point comeback when they tied up the game late in the second half. And just when I couldn’t metaphorically chew my nails any harder, the much-maligned Carolina defense stepped up. Big time. Not allowing a single basket over the final two and a half minutes of the game, the UNC “D” erased any doubts they were the team to beat during the tourney and the year, at least in terms of potential.These Carolina players will be remembered in Chapel Hill and college basketball fans’ fond memories for years to come. But I’ll remember it as a beacon of hope for a sports fan embittered by 31-point poundings by USC and heart-breaking losses to Boston College. When I wake up to headlines across the nation that scream cheesy one-liners of Carolina’s greatness, such as “Heeling Power” on ESPN.com, I’ll be able to smile and wait knowingly for the next of my shattered dreams to come to fruition. After learning from my Carolina misses, I’ll have no qualms with picking ND to win it all every year from now on. So don’t be surprised if the college football skies bleed Irish blue and gold next year. Just as soon as the downpour of Carolina power blue subsides.