This past weekend, my son Matthew and I attended the Pitt vs. UNC football game at beautiful Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC. It was a beautiful day – albeit a bit hot – but there is nothing like attending a college football game, particularly a game at Kenan Stadium. The pageantry, the facility, the campus, the colors, the traditions, and the entertainment make a spectacle that is incredibly special.
Kenan Stadium has been an important part of my life. I was a four-year starting quarterback for the Tar Heels in the late 1970’s. We won a bunch of those games. In fact, enough where I still rank as the co-leader (with Jason Stanicek) for the most wins won as a starting UNC quarterback!
And later after graduating, I led the fundraising at UNC for 21 years and attended every home football game as part of the job. I loved to bring donors down to the sidelines for part of the games. Donors loved it and so did I! There is nothing like watching a game from the sidelines. Football is a tough, physical sport!
I had not been to a game at Kenan Stadium in six years. But as Matthew and I approached Kenan, I felt like an old warrior returning to the sight of many hard fought and victorious battles (although I did throw a bunch of incomplete passes and a few interceptions!). It truly brought back so many great fond memories.
But what is it that makes Kenan Stadium such a special place to attend a football game? As I sat there during the game with Matthew, I asked myself that question. I know the answers for many will vary, but I thought I’d give you a few of the reasons that make Kenan Stadium so special to me:
- The Location. Kenan Stadium is located exactly in the middle of campus, smack right in the middle! It is rare that any campus stadium that occupies a similar location in the heart of campus. And the beautiful stadium is built into a valley surrounded by pine trees and academic buildings. And the Bell Tower – the iconic UNC benchmark – can be seen outside the North end zone. So, take that Notre Dame and your Touchdown Jesus!
- The Pageantry. Football games at Kenan are incredibly well choreographed and scripted. From the entrance of the marching band, to the ceremonies during breaks in action, to the announcer leading the crowd to cheer “first down Tar HEELS” after UNC gets a first down, the atmosphere is alive and electric.
- The Passion. One of the things I have always admired about UNC is the incredible passion and loyalty the alumni and fans have for the school. It is passion unlike any other place I have been. Just looking at the Carolina attire the fans were wearing, the many painted faces with a Tar Heel, and how the fans immediate jump to their feet and sing and clap when the marching band breaks out into the school fight song are just great reminders of the Tar Heel passion.
- The Carolina Blue Colors. I am old school on this issue. I think the Carolina Blue is the most beautiful color of any University. And differentiating. Who else wears Carolina Blue? The Citadel, Rhode Island, and Columbia are the three that come to mind. You don’t see them every week on television! So, Carolina has such a unique branding opportunity that makes it so special and provides instant identification! And it matches the Carolina blue sky!
- The Game. The Tar Heel faithful have long been frustrated by the underwhelming success of its football teams. There have been very few ACC Championships earned and the long list of smaller bowl games illustrates this lack of great football tradition. Heck, the last major bowl UNC participated in was in the 1940’s when Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice was a legend. But here is an interesting fact, UNC is ranked #28 in all-time football wins among Division I (FBS) schools (see blog: (https://bit.ly/2MZPIN3) . And the Tar Heels regularly place its players in the NFL. There are currently twenty-one former Heels playing on Sundays. So, the quality of play and completion is good. Matthew and I noticed that the Tar Heels have a number of big-time players who will be playing on Sunday.
- The Crowds. The attendance at the game was the only disappointment of the afternoon. There was an announced crowd of 44,168 (wink, wink) in Kenan on Saturday although the obvious number was more like 32,000. Sure the Tar Heels are 0-2 and coming off a disappointing season last year, but one would have hoped to see a bigger turnout for UNC’s home opener.
But I encourage the Tar Heel faithful to come on out to Kenan and enjoy the electric and beautiful atmosphere and root the Tar Heels on. The Tar Heels are going to contend for the Coastal Division title in the Atlantic Coast Conference this year! Mark my words!! And a bunch of those games are going to be won in Kenan Stadium in an afternoon experience you don’t want to miss!!