Last night, I covered the North Carolina-N.C. State basketball game for my work. It was a first for me in many ways – my first time covering UNC against their second biggest in-state rival, my first time watching a game in PNC Arena, and my first time watching a fan base turn against their own right in front of my eyes.
Now that last one may have been extreme, but it was a surreal experience to say the least.
During player introductions, the entirety of the Wolfpack faithful cheered ferociously while their team’s starting five was announced, but then took a 180-degree turn when their head coach’s name was called. As Mark Gottfried’s name went through the loud speakers, thunderous boos filled the arena.
While the boos from an aggravated fanbase made sense – State had lost five straight games and have underperformed all year – I was still a little bit stunned. Your home arena is supposed to be just that, a home, but it had turned into enemy territory for Gottfried.
Now, I know this isn’t uncharted territory for sports fans to heckle their own, but this was still so strange to me. It just didn’t feel right.
Anyway, the game started, and from the jump you could tell the atmosphere in PNC Arena was a little off. UNC jumped out to a 27-10 lead early, and the fans didn’t even seem to mind. They were apathetic about it all, it seemed. Even when NCSU guard Dennis Smith brought his team back into the game with 11 straight points and the fans went wild, they didn’t seem to mind when UNC eventually gained back control. It was odd, as if they were to the point where they were trained to expect every misfortune that came their team’s way. They were lethargic.
The game wasn’t very pretty, as UNC were quickly on their way to a 24-point win, but near the five minute mark is when it really got bad. With five minutes left in what NCSU considers their biggest rivalry, the fans hit the exits. And I don’t just mean a couple, I mean most of the fans not in the student sections. I described it as an exodus.
It felt like they were not only leaving the game behind, but also turning their backs on their coach, whose fate seemed sealed.
For those that stuck it out until the final buzzer, there were noticeable “Archie Miller” chants – he’s the head coach at Dayton who has been pegged as the favorite to be offered the State head coaching job.
The Wolfpack fans had given up.
It’s been a season so poor, that even one fan shouted “We’re sorry Dennis!” – he’s talking about Dennis Smith, who will likely leave after this season to enter the NBA Draft.
Lo and behold, Gottfried was fired as the head coach of N.C. State today after his team’s sixth straight loss. It’s not surprising news, but sad nonetheless.
I will never forget being in the building last night for that game. As the days go by, the score will slowly slip from my memory, but I’ll never forget the feeling in that stadium. Looking back, it was almost like a funeral. Everyone in the arena seemed to know what was going to result from the game and reacted accordingly.
It was rather eerie if you ask me. But hey, that’s sports.