First Person: Tar Heel Touchstones
When you follow the Tar Heels as closely as I do (and you too, probably), it’s a fact that the thread of Carolina athletics is going to run through pivotal moments in your life. There’s rarely at time when I’m not checking a score or trying to keep an eye on the game. Like me, you’ve probably snuck out to find a television during a wedding reception, or kept up with a score on your phone. Just now, I asked my wife for the date of my cousin’s wedding almost ten years ago. “October 8, 2003?” she guessed. “It was the date of the Arizona State game.” Close. It was October 18, and we’d constantly refreshed my old flip phone for updates only to see the Tar Heels drop a heartbreaker to the Sun Devils.
This past November, within minutes of waking up from a colonoscopy, I asked my wife if field hockey had won. “Just log on to Twitter dot com slash UNC Field Hockey,” I told her, helpfully.
With that dedication in mind, it was somewhat odd that I didn’t recall the details of last year’s men’s basketball game in Tallahassee. You may remember it vividly: Carolina committed 22 turnovers against just eight assists. The Tar Heels shot 38 percent from the floor, including 4-21 from three-point range. Meanwhile, the Seminoles’ Deividas Dulkys himself was 8-12 from behind the arc on his way to 32 points. The 33-point loss was the worst suffered by Carolina in the Roy Williams era.
I didn’t see much of that game. On that Saturday, January 14, 2012, I spent most of the day at my grandmother’s bedside. I caught glimpses here and there of the basketball game, but the contest was the furthest thing from my mind. That night, I’d only been back in Durham for about an hour when I got a phone call from Farmville telling me that Grandmother had passed away of congestive heart failure. The next day, my grandfather, John Turner Walston, suffered a heart attack.
Over the next six weeks, we visited Granddaddy in two hospitals and rehabilitation center. When he wasn’t napping or doing a crossword puzzle, there was usually a game on. Three weeks after that Florida State loss, we watched the Tar Heels take on Maryland in College Park on a hospital television.
Around that time, I had the opportunity to broadcast several Carolina baseball games on GoHeels.com and ESPN3. On the very first weekend, the threat of Sunday rain forced a doubleheader with Xavier on Friday and the series finale on Saturday. The weather was bad on Sunday, but it meant we could visit Granddaddy at a rehabilitation center in Goldsboro. We spent several hours with him that afternoon.
A few nights later, Granddaddy was unresponsive. He was moved to Wayne Memorial Hospital, and the situation was dire. I hurried to Goldsboro and spent most of Thursday with him. Saturday morning, my wife went to Goldsboro while I called the second game of the baseball series with Wright State. My mind was elsewhere, but I realized, five games into the season, I hadn’t called a home run.
In the seventh inning, Colin Moran stepped to the plate for his fourth at-bat of the game. He’d already hit a single, double and a triple on the day. As Raider pitcher Travis Hissong hurled the first pitch of the at-bat, I noted that Moran “just lacks a home run for the cycle . . . and that one sent deep into right field, and gone!”
After the game, I called my mother for an update. “Granddaddy passed away,” she said. “It was very peaceful.” She told me the time, and I did the math in my head. My grandfather had died just as Colin Moran was lofting that ball toward the heavens. It was probably a coincidence, but I like to think otherwise.
Turner's shared his Tar Heel touchstones. Now, we'd like to know yours. What big events in your life coincided with Tar Heel moments? Leave them in the comments below.