Now Playing: The Night Descending, by Iron & Wine. “Met a man with missing fingers, Shaking hands with shaded strangers. Far too strong to pacify you. Ain’t no telling what they’re up to.”
I kinda pity fans of the teams in the Final Four this weekend. (I’ll be rooting for Virginia Commonwealth first and anybody but [vacated] second. (For those of you who don’t know, [vacated] is Kentucky. That’s what has happened both times the team’s coach, John Calipari, has reached the Final Four in his career – for cheating that he’s been just far enough away from to escape punishment, though the schools haven’t been quite so fortunate.) Not that the fans don’t have a right to be excited, certainly they do.
It’s just that it may not be as easy to show devotion as it was for a certain group of Tar Heel fans in 1982.
I was a young journalist in Jacksonville, where I shared a house with my friends Robert and Elliott. (Actually, now that I think about it, Elliott had gotten married and moved out by then.) The point is, we were pretty damn excited about the Final Four. The Heels had come close the year before, losing only because the team was distraught by the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan the day of the championship game against Indiana while Isaiah Thomas and his henchmen didn’t care. OK, I’m making that last part up.
The point is, we had a good team, and we knew it. And we had a good opportunity to throw a party – not that it took much.
So was born The Carolina Blue Shrimperoo.
We held it on the Saturday of the Final Four. We were playing Houston, Georgetown was playing Louisville.
We bought a ton of shrimp, invited lots of people, had the music blaring, a keg and lots of alcohol (more on this in a bit). And of course the guests brought what they wanted to drink. That last sentence isn’t true. Various folks brought food and other stuff (we’ll leave it at that).
And the one other thing we had were bottles and bottles of blue food coloring. We used it on the shrimp while they boiled. We made blue pina coladas. Seems like there was a blue cake there, too.
We started the festivities early, and it was quite a bash.
Here’s what I remember about the Tar Heels’ game against Houston. We went up 7-0. And we won by seven. Everything in between is on a bad sector of my memory disk, no longer accessible. But I had a helluva time eating blue shrimp and drinking beer and blue pina coladas and doing other stuff (we’ll leave it at that). And of course, on that Monday night, we won the National Championship on Michael Jordan’s clutch shot. That game I remember. Because I still hadn’t recovered fully from the Shrimperoo. And I’m not sure that house ever recovered, though we continued to live there for awhile.
Flash forward to this year. The NCAA has put up its Vault of past tournament games on the Internet, and the UNC-Houston game is among the games on it. I rewatched it earlier this season, and I was surprised at how hard fought it was. In fact, I got pretty nervous about it in spots.
So fans of this year’s Final Four just don’t have that opportunity to have such a lyrical celebration. While I’ll be backing the VCU Rams, I won’t be eating lamb chops or anything like that to support them (as far as I can remember, I haven’t eaten a lamb chop since 1975 – it was prepared by the mom of a girl I was dating).
Of course, there are other ways to support a team. The next time the Tar Heels won the title, Karen and I had just moved to Gastonia, and we didn’t really know anyone well enough to throw a party. So there was no gathering. I did, however, back the team in another way.
But maybe there is a way to support VCU tomorrow. I’ll get Karen to get some shrimp, and I think we’ve got some yellow food coloring in the cabinet. That’s close enough to gold, right?