THE FRONT ROW with MARK NELKE: The highs and lows of fans, near and far



Watching the match itself was quite painful.

The chart then made the situation worse.

“First win in UNC history shooting less than 30 percent.”

Unfortunately, we are not talking about the University of Northern Colorado here.

The graphic appeared after North Carolina defeated Boston College 58-47 in an ACC men’s basketball game the other night.

North Carolina. The legendary Tar Heels.

I caught the second half of the replay on one of those Bally Sports Network channels.

I barely recognized what I was seeing.

The Tar Heels, perennial national title contenders for decades, struggled to think, let alone shoot, against a fairly ordinary opponent.

They used to have guards who could knock people off the dribble, wings who could shoot, big guys who could dominate.

There was none of that that night.

In the name of Phil Ford, what’s going on here?

Michael Jordan? Dean Smith?

Both teams played hard, but the only reason North Carolina won was because Boston College couldn’t shoot either. It was a win for the Tar Heels, but nothing to be proud of.

Which got me thinking… what happens when the teams you grew up on aren’t so good anymore?

NORTH CAROLINA.

Georgetown.

UNLV.

UCLA.

The Tar Heels became an acquired taste, thanks to a friend who appreciated their selfless style of play. They were playing in the Final Four long before anyone called it the Final Four, and have maintained that level of play for decades.

North Carolina won a national title just five seasons ago, beating the loveable Zags.

It seems so long ago.

Georgetown games in the 1980s were a staple on TV, especially when Patrick Ewing was playing there, and even for a few years after that.

But, aside from a few seasons when his son coached the Hoyas, once John Thompson stepped down as coach, Georgetown all but fell into oblivion. Not even Ewing, now head coach, can restore the Hoyas to relevance.

We are left with only the memories, the characters from the faded VHS tapes – Michael Graham, Mark Tillmon, Victor Page…

UNLV was the Runnin’ Rebels long before it was beneficial to be the runnin’ anything – back when there was no shot clock, no 3-point line.

But it turned out that UNLV was only relevant when Jerry Tarkanian was a coach, from the 1970s to the early 1990s. When he left, the Runnin’ Rebs all but disappeared from the college basketball map. .

During the Freddie Banks/Armon Gilliam heyday of the 1980s, someone made a spin-off video of “Walk like an Egyptian” by The Bangles. It was called “Walk like a Tarkanian”.

(… “All the cops at the donut shop say ‘Re-bels, Re-bels… Re-bels, Re-bels…)

There are no such videos these days.

UCLA was never going to continue at the level it was in the 60s and early 70s, winning 10 national titles in 12 years. But the Bruins have at least remained somewhat relevant over the past few decades, winning a national title in 1995, making it to a few Final Fours a decade later, and were the other team in that thrilling national semi-final with the Zags. Last year.

Some people say it’s boring when the same old Blue Bloods win every year – that the emergence of “New Bloods” is nice for the sport. That would partly explain the nation’s love affair with Gonzaga, which is good. While college basketball in general has gotten worse with all the one-and-dones, Gonzaga has somehow improved and passed most of the pack and is now, year after year, considered a contender. nationally.

That would come as a shock to ’80s and early ’90s Zag fans used to seeing their lovelies make their annual early exit from the conference tournament.

Now they are NCAA Tournament darlings.

Guess I don’t mind when a few “New Bloods” pop up on the college basketball scene.

Butler was a cute story a few years ago, but is no longer relevant.

Gonzaga, on the other hand, isn’t going away anytime soon — much to the chagrin of most other West Coast Conference teams, who think they’ll continue to be beaten by the adorables for another two decades.

But it’s just as good when the Blue Bloods are good, like in other sports.

When USC football is good, it makes the rest of the Pac-12 look good. When Notre Dame is good, whether we like them or not, their games arouse more interest.

It’s more fun knocking the Yankees out of the playoffs than beating them for a .500 season.

Who doesn’t cheer for the Cowboys – or want their team to beat them?

Some people might encourage the Patriots to get back to their Tom Brady level, just for the satisfaction of beating them.

HOW does this apply locally?

Coug fans are unwaveringly loyal, win or lose…mostly lose.

When their teams are good, it’s almost like they’re waiting for their Cougs… well, you know…

They’re happy to beat the Huskies once in a while in the Apple Cup.

Vandals fans are also loyal. A new football manager means new enthusiasm – optimism for a return to the glory days of the 80s and early 90s.

Especially after things didn’t go to plan during their 22-year detour in FBS – although they did win three bowling games during that time, which was fine, but just seems odd compared to the rest of this sequence.

With a new arena for basketball, there’s similar hope for a return to the good times in the sport as well – even if that was decades ago too.

Zags fans have been doing it these days.

During this two month period, the question is not “Will they win?” but “How much will they earn?” A 16-point win is apparently nail-biting.

Most of their tough matches take place in November and December, then resume in March – when perhaps this year the lovable Zags bring home that first national title, with the parade in early April.

I even know some Oregon State fans.

Born in Salem, I grew up a beaver fan. Used to listen to OSU football games while raking leaves in the yard on Saturday afternoons. One of our neighbors said he knew Dee Andros – it raised him a peg or two on the neighbor scale.

But the football team went about three decades between winning seasons. They once played their rival to a scoreless tie.

The basketball team was among the best in the country for a few seasons, but that was in the early 1980s. Every once in a while, like last year’s Elite Eight race, they tease us again.

“Well, at least our baseball team is really good” doesn’t get many “Amens” at parties.

BACK In college, the West looks better when UCLA and Arizona are good. Even when UNLV was good.

(The adorable Zags seem more of a national curiosity that just so happens to reside in the West.)

Beating Kansas doesn’t make as much sense when many other teams beat them too.

Same with Kentucky.

Same with Duke and North Carolina – well, maybe not Duke. Any win over Duke would be cause for a parade. When the Zags finally had the chance to put one on North Carolina a few years ago at The Kennel, the Tar Heels were just a shell of themselves. But that didn’t make the victory any less important for fans of the adorables.

Outside of the people of Waco, as well as Zag fans, will anyone remember who won the national title last year?

In the end, Blue Bloods or New Bloods, we will continue to watch.

But hopefully they shoot better than 30% in their next win.

(Naturally, a few days later, North Carolina snagged 100 from NC State.

Such is the fandom.)

Mark Nelke is sports editor for The Press. He can be reached at 208-664-8176, Ext. 2019, or by email to [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @CdAPressSports.

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