Tar Heel fans can all agree that it was tough watching the UNC basketball game against Ohio University last night. But what was really heart-wrenching were those close-ups of Kendall Marshall from the bench trying his hardest to cheer his team to victory, and he was unable to clap.
I usually watch UNC basketball games at my Mother-in-Law’s house because she has a ginormous HD television, a very comfy sofa, and always provides plenty of chips and dip in case the game is close and I need to stress eat my way through it. Any game during the Big Dance that is the NCAA Championship is anxiety-producing because you either win and keep playing or you lose and your season is over in an instant. But this game was going to be particularly stressful for many reasons. John Henson was playing with a taped-up injured wrist, our amazing “PassFir5t” point-guard Kendall Marshall was sitting out after suffering a fractured wrist in the game against Creighton, (who, by the way, I now call Creatons after those many blatant flagrant fouls against us!), our very talented back-up point guard Dexter Stickland joined Marshall on the bench recovering from a torn ACL, and third-string point guard Stillman White was going to have to fill in for both of them. For me, the stress-eating started at tip-off.
UNC started out strong. It was clear that the rest of the team was determined to step up their game for this one. I’ve never seen White play with such enthusiastic energy and Tyler Zeller had an intense fierceness about him. I can only assume that most of my readers know what happened next, but suffice it to say, our team started to fall apart in the second half and Ohio took advantage of our many mistakes, like the 21 turnovers — though not one was White’s! Even with Zeller’s incredible focus, dunks and rebounds, at 3:49 left in the second half, Ohio was leading by two points. I started to panic. My fingernails were growing shorter with every descending tick of the game clock. (You can see what is left of my fingernails in the photo above.) Even after Reggie Bullock saved the day with a perfectly executed three-pointer that gave UNC a two-point lead with 35 seconds to go, (thank you, Reggie!), I was a complete wreck.
Tar Heel fans are a very superstitious bunch and we try everything we can to influence the game from afar. Legendary WCHL sports announcer Woody Durham always instructed listeners to place both hands on their TV’s and radios when it was a close game like this. Others kneel down and put two hands together in prayer. Jumping up out of your chair and screaming at the screen is another popular option, as is leaving the room and peeking at the game from around the corner. Therefore, at that 35-second mark last night, I felt like our team needed a boost of some supernatural Carolina voo-doo. Just as I was frantically going through my many basketball mojo rituals, searching for the perfect one that this situation called for, the camera zoomed in on Kendall Marshall on the bench. Throughout this game, there were many close-ups of Marshall, and in every one, he was coaching his team just as hard as Roy Williams was — yelling, jumping and cheering from the sidelines. What a leader that young man is! What he could not do, however, was clap. His freshly-operated-on-and-pinned-together wrist just could not bear the painful impact a clap would cause. Though, oh, he tried! And in so doing, Marshall’s applause looked more like a stiff, clawed, fingertip-only clap, as if there was a fragile Fabergé Egg between his palms that he was trying not to crack. It was heart-breaking, because it was obvious how much pain Marshall was still feeling from his injury.
As soon I saw that close-up of Marshall at 35 seconds, I knew what had to be done. “Fingertip clapping!! Fingertip clapping!!” I screamed to my Mother-in-Law. “We all need to clap just like Marshall to win this game!” It was right out of Peter Pan, where UNC was Tinkerbell and the only thing that would save us was if we all clapped as gingerly as Marshall was clapping. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and my Mother-in-Law and I began to furiously clap with our fingertips as delicately as we could. We kept it up until the final buzzer buzzed, when it was tied and we went into overtime. At that point, we gently fingertip high-fived and held our breath for another five minutes of Carolina Basketball, fingertip clapping and cheering our Heels on to a Win with a capital “W.”
I cannot say for sure that our fingertip clapping was the key to winning this game, as I know all Tar Heel fans were partaking in their own ceremonial wizardry in those final seconds. But what if it did? What if fingertip clapping creates some universal force, unbeknownst to man, specific to our beloved UNC basketball team winning the game against all odds? And if that is the case, what if, say, thousands of adoring Tar Heel fans all over the world were to collectively fingertip clap tomorrow evening during the game against Kansas? The sheer power of that collaborative energy would undoubtedly generate not only a blow-out win for us, but also perhaps even get us free biscuits at Bojangle’s! Hey, it’s worth a shot!
What are the superstitious rituals that you employ during a game when the Tar Heels need a boost? Feel free to tell us about it in the Comments section below, so we can all add those in with the fingertip clap! The Elite Eight awaits! GO HEELS!