State has not won the ACC in basketball since 1987 and in football since 1979 which, consequently, is the year I was born. Dare I make that parallel? Iâ€™ve been oft troubled that Stateâ€™s prolonged flirtation with mediocrity is my penitence for not having my priorities in order. After all, itâ€™s just sports.
But what if the last 20 years at State had been pleasantly different; as fans we werenâ€™t perpetually frustrated and traumatized by the disappointment, missed opportunities, and unfulfilled expectations of this year, which at times has been downright laughable. Would my personality be somehow less palpable or genuine because I havenâ€™t suffered through the turmoil of being a State fan, oft ranting in the most maniacal and errant of ways?
What if all the tribulation could all be traced back to one instance, one distinct period or instance where the future was being foreshadowed, and yet we were too reluctant, too complacent, or far too arrogant to see it?
What if Charles Shackelford and Chris Washburn had actually scored above 600 on the SAT and then actually went to class and studied just enough to maintain the minimum 1.6 GPA required by the NCAA to remain eligible? Then would the intense mistrust by the academic faculty for the athletics department have never developed? And what if Jimmy V had run a clean program and there had never been a shoe scandal and the local media hadnâ€™t launched a malicious attack on the program and he had never died from that horrible cancer?
How different would the 90s have been if we hadnâ€™t lost Chuck Kornegay to Villanova because of the aforementioned increased academic restrictions and Donald Williams and Jerry Stackhouse had followed up on their verbal commitments and signed with State? Would we then have coasted through the 1994-95 regular season, won the ACC Tournament with style and finesse, and made a Final Four run â€“ dare I say, National Championship run â€“ with a roster consisting of Kornegay (PF), Stackhouse (F), Williams (SG), Todd Fuller (C), and Ishua Benjamin (G) starting, with Clint Harrison (PG), and the invariably valuable Lakista McCuller (SG), coming off the bench.
Unfortunately, it is asinine to ponder just such a scenario. Instead, Les Robinson came and cleaned up a much-maligned program â€“ the program he loved so dearly â€“ and stepped aside when the appropriate time came. After starting 0-8 in the conference in 1997, Herb Sendek orchestrated victories over Top 10 teams Clemson and Wake Forest in February and ultimately split the second half of the schedule and had us at a surprisingly respectable 4-12 going into the tournament, where, it would seem, we had no chance whatsoever as an eight-seed. Just imagine, if you will, that Damon Thorntonâ€™s hip had been healthy that March and Justin Gainey, Jeremy Hyatt, Clint Harrison, Ishua Benjamin, and Danny Strong had not been physically drained from four straight days of remarkable basketball and we defeated Carolina and completed our unparalleled tournament run that fateful afternoon?
Suppose, if you can, Damien Wilkins in fact had been the Next David Thompson and Damon Thornton hadnâ€™t got that technical at College Park in 2000 and we didnâ€™t slip into a 0-for-February skid, but instead went into March with one of the best backcourts weâ€™d had in a decade? Without the looming pain of that astonishingly disheartening season, would Herb Sendek â€“ hate him or not â€“ have become the dividing force of the State faithful that he is today?
And we can forever speculate, inane as it may be, on whether or not Philip Rivers would have won the Heisman Trophy once or twice had Norm Chow stayed in Raleigh just two more years. It is equally ridiculous to fancy Greg Golden making that interception against Georgia Tech to keep us unbeaten in 2002; surely we would have then proceeded to harness the momentum of that play into a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia, which subsequently would have begun our period of national prominence under Chuck Amato The Legend rather than Chuck The Clown (who might or might not have replaced Mike Oâ€™Cain since Chris Coleman would have likely gotten into the end zone against Carolina that damp, chilly Thursday night in Charlotte in 1999).
Undoubtedly, Football Jesus, having won back-to-back Heismans under Chow, would have declared for the NFL draft after his junior season and been selected by Cincinnati, ahead of runner-up Carson Palmer and would be leading the resurgent Bengals atop the AFC North this season. Consequently, Jay Davis would have sucked as a sophomore in 2003, when our defense wasnâ€™t even remotely spectacular and we had no real chance anyway without Rivers under center. Thus, Davis â€“ or hell, Stone even, as a freshman â€“ would have learned from his mistakes and would have become a solid-enough quarterback to do just enough to let the nationâ€™s number one defense carry us back to the BCS for the second time in three years â€“ it sure would have been fun to have spent New Yearâ€™s in New Orleans.
Naturally, that is the ultimate What If scenario that would have left most of us complaining anyway because we were 12-0 and had defeated Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Miami, Auburn (convincingly), and most importantly, Carolina. But because D-IA college football doesnâ€™t have a playoff system, we were the odd man out. Of course weâ€™ll play USC next weekend; just name the time and the place.
And weâ€™d be the front-runners in the Atlantic Division again this season and weâ€™d all be complaining that weâ€™re on the outside of the BCS looking in, again, right behind Alabama. I swear, if we were Notre Dame weâ€™d be up there right now â€“ I mean, weâ€™ve won 25 straight games.
But alas, no matter how the story is told, the stark reality is that Julius Hodge will have always fouled Caron Butler in the Second Round in 2002 and we will have forever blown that 16 point lead to Duke in the 2003 ACC Championship. Josh Powell will have always left after his sophomore year, for whatever reasons, and he wasnâ€™t here when we could have really used him in March 2004 and we will for eternity have blown an 11-point lead over Vanderbilt with under four minutes remaining in the Second Round that same season. And while it will likely be a point of contention for many years to come, Rick Page will have always convinced Jim Knight that T.A.â€™s knee was in fact down before he crossed the goal line in Chapel Hill and that the points were to be taken off the scoreboard. God bless the line judges.
And as it is being written, we are suffering through another season of penalties and turnovers and a bitter and disdainful loss to our most hated rival yet again. And we continue to hear the pleas for patience and support. And weâ€™d love to just be able to give up completely. Which might seem a lot easier when I cut that $600 check for LTR and WPC dues in December.
Yet, as stubbornly loyal State fans, we have never relented, wholeheartedly anticipating next year, resigning ourselves to our misfortunes, reluctant to look back and draw energy on what could have been, opting instead to keep our hope in next season, when it finally might be our turn.
And of course, it could always be worse: Philip Rivers could have gone to Auburn to play tight end.