My team won the national championship. And I am glad.

At one of the more stressful points last night, I turned to Mike and said, “I’m sorry. This is all my fault. You wouldn’t care about this game if not for me.” Later on, when things were looking better, I said, “But, you know, I wouldn’t have cared so much when the Panthers lost the Superbowl if not for you. So I guess we’re even.”

Except that Carolina won last night, and we’re still waiting for that Panthers Superbowl victory.

After the game was over, when the teams were cutting down the nets and we were waiting for “One Shining Moment,” we stretched out on the floor, content in the feelings of watching your favorite team win a national championship. “How do you feel?” I asked. “You have never experienced this before.” Mike said he felt good. When I called him to ask him something earlier this morning, he said with wonder in his voice, “My team won the national championship.” It takes a while to sink in.

One thing I realized yesterday is that I always feel like I have to apologize for being a Carolina fan. Not for the team – even when they were 8-20, I was still a fan, and I figured it was probably good for most of the Carolina fans to experience a bad year or two. And I may not like all the punks on the team at any given time, but every team has players like that. No, pulling for Carolina reminds me of middle school, when all the popular kids were NC State fans or bandwagon Duke fans. I stuck by Carolina, even though the only other Carolina fan was one of the least popular girls in the class, and the Carolina shirt that she would wear after the team won had holes in it. I didn’t want to be like her, but I had been raised as a Carolina fan, and I just couldn’t change that. I remember watching my mom and dad cheer for Carolina (this was before my dad defected to Duke) from a very young age. “We are a Carolina family,” my mom told me, despite the fact that three of her four brothers went to NC State. And she told me all about Dean Smith and the Carolina Way of praising the seniors and keeping the freshmen in their place. The way that we never take timeouts but always wait for the TV timeout. Four Corners and Michael Jordan and 1982 (which I am too young to remember). (My dad’s only contribution to my basketball education was this: “Clemson is the armpit of the world.” You can see why I stuck with mom when Dad switched over.)

(Completely off-topic, but you should hear my mom tell the story of how, when she played for her high school basketball team, she made the game-winning free throws in one game. My dad claims that she still makes him kiss the newspaper article that featured the story. I got his sense of humor but none of her athletic ability.)

I guess some people see my team as being like the Yankees, an evil empire. Since we don’t have tons of national championships, I don’t see it in that same way, although I can’t deny that we consistently perform well. (In fact, to channel Mr. Darcy a bit, I have no wish to deny it. hee.) To me, Duke is more of an evil empire, and being a Duke fan is more akin to being a Yankees fan. Because of those middle school experiences, being a Carolina fan was always more of an underdog thing for me, as crazy as that sounds. I don’t get the hate because I was the one who was ostracized for being a fan, made fun of, instead of the other way around. I don’t say this to rile anyone up, but because these are honestly my experiences, and I think they explain a bit about why I respond to things the way I do.

I have been thinking a lot about my opinions and my preferences the past few days, and the reasons why I often feel like I have to apologize for them. Geof and Trey don’t apologize for being Duke fans. The Hollands don’t apologize for loving Georgia Tech. Scott doesn’t apologize for his Clemson love. And none of those people apologize for hating my team. I admire people who can state their preferences so clearly and without fear of recriminations.

I had a conversation this morning about how I often feel that my thoughts, my opinions, are invalid. I have talked about that here more than once, but I don’t know that I have made a lot of progress until recently. A few things this year, including the studies I did during Lent, are helping me grow a bit in that area, helping me come to value what I believe as well. This morning, the friend said, “You listen to others and make sure their opinons are represented and valued, but you often disrespect your own opinions or seem to consider them less worthy.” I must admit, I do that. So, in the spirit of growth and progress, let me just say: My team won last night. And I am proud to be a fan. I’m never going to be much of a trash talker (except with my dad), but I am not going to apologize anymore.

(That was kind of hard. But I am trying.)

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