Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Heels vs. Steelers

Here's an email I got last week that makes some very good points, and that led in part to this post:
...former UNC quarterback Ronald Curry. Is he having a nice little season with the Oakland Raiders or what? I realize that creating positive press for the Oakland Raiders or possibly encouraging someone out there to even think about pulling for the Raiders may not be high on your agenda, but there is a real story here. Curry, the high school football PHENOM (no other word will suffice, except perhaps "deity") and UNC disappointment (no other word will suffice, except perhaps "loser" -- no, not true -- sort of), is now juking and jiving his way to recognition as a legitimate offensive threat in the NFL at wide receiver. Curry, despite the jarring highs and lows of his career, has always remained classy, dignified, and determined, and now, for the first time in his career, he's actually focusing on a single position in a single sport. (If this doesn't work out, don't be surprised to see him try hockey, golf, or possibly curling.) Despite how intriguing Curry's story is, he's not really getting a lot of press. He's now basically Oakland's #2 wide receiver after gaining about 30 yards total at that position last season. He's got about 150 yards less than former NC State standout Torry Holt. He's one of the reasons Jerry Rice left the team, and some people think he has the skills to make the Pro Bowl within a few years. I realize this tidbit isn't DIRECTLY Heels, Sox, or Steelers related, but given the wide repertoire of references on your blog -- everything from Rollo Larson to the Segway -- it's clear that you're cultured and your interests wide-ranging.

...Curry hasn't seen much good news since he was a teenager, so I'm pulling for him. Rest assured the Raiders will suck anyway. (Does the influential Steeler-Heel-Sox community have room in its heart to become a Steeler-Heel-Sox-Ron-Curry community?)

- Dan
A couple of thoughts. One, I've always considered professional athletes from UNC, Tarheels first. And with very few exceptions (see below), I've pulled for them to do well professionally. So knowing that, talking about Ronald Curry is very Heels, Sox & Steelers-related (like there's some coherent scope to the dopey things I talk about here).

Regarding the "influential Heels, Sox & Steelers community," I'm quite certain all two of them are neither influential nor comprise a community (at least in the conventional sense; if you're talking about "community" in a Branch Dividian way, then sure).

Seriously though, Dan's email raises some good points. I've been a Ronald Curry fan for as long as he's been a Tarheel and he was an integral part of the basketball team's success during Matt Doherty's first season as coach in 2000. Of course by the time Curry left Doherty and the Heels he was much bigger than when he first arrived on campus -- some of that was a function of getting older, but most of it was because of football. I remember thinking during the 2000-2001 basketball season that for a Division I QB who looked pretty elusive on the field, he looked equally as slow on the court -- which is funny when you consider that he won the 1998 dunk contest at the McDonald's All-American game (people forget that Curry was Mike Vick before Mike Vick was; they're both from the same area, and coming out of high school, Curry was more heavily recruited as a QB).

In any case -- I was glad to hear he got drafted by the Raiders in 2002 (FYI, he was a 7th rounder, and he was drafted as a QB) because (a) he's a UNC guy, and as was noted in the email above, (b) he seems like a solid person. And the fact that, until Sunday, he was having an unbelievable season while helping the Raiders win games, is in no way a conflict of interests for me as a Tarheels and Steelers fan (now if the Raiders were battling for a playoff spot -- or worse, homefield advantage, I might be a little more conflicted).

Which finally brings me around to my original point -- namely, that I almost without exception, pull for former UNC guys who are now professional athletes. Guys like Hubert Davis, Shammond Williams, Antawn Jamison and Ronald Curry are easy to like (and at least for me, these are guys I watched win big games in college, so to actively pull against them once they leave would be very hard to do). I think you'd be hard-pressed to find many people -- no matter what college team they pull for -- who would actively hope these four guys fail (unless of course, wagering is involved -- then all, er, bets are off).

Now guys like Vince (I'm not dunking anymore) Carter, Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse, Rick Fox and Jeff McInnis are a little harder to pull for because of things that've happened since they left school (with one notable exception). Carter, Stackhouse and McInnis can seem moody, Rasheed Wallace was the original Ron Artest (sans jumping in the stands), and Rick Fox, well, that's a different story. Let me explain: I had a hard time pulling for Rick Fox once he left the Celtics and joined the Lakers for two reasons: (a) I hate the Lakers, and (b) his choice of hairstyles makes Pedro Martinez actually look like the sensible one. Of course Fox was also the guy largely responsible for getting the Tarheels to the 1990 Final Four, so that stands for something. And in fact, I still hope Carter, Stackhouse and McInnis do well, despite the fact that after leaving Chapel Hill, they have, at various times during their professional careers, done some questionable stuff. Carter is unhappy in Toronto and he's not particularly quiet about it; Stackhouse assaulted a real estate agent after he forgot how many days there were in a week; McInnis was accused of being selfish while with the Clippers.

The fact remains, as I mentioned above, that these guys are Tarheels first. And I liked them all during college -- as players and people (as well as you can determine what kind of person someone is by watching a lot of college basketball games), so it seems kind of disingenuous to start hoping they fail just because they play for a professional team I don't like.

This leads me to maybe the most enigmatic Tarheel in recent history: Joe Forte. An All-American as a sophomore in 2000, he allegedly had trouble getting along with both Doherty and teammates and subsequently left early for the draft. And that's when things went south. And I don't mean south like Mark Brunell as a Redskin (who over his career was for the most part considered a really good QB), I mean south like O-Town a week after "Making the Band" went off the air (or maybe even a week before). Forte was taken by the Celtics, sat on the bench for a season before being traded to Seattle. He got a little playing time there before they realized he either wasn't good enough or didn't want to be on an NBA roster and now he's out of the NBA completely.

It's stories like this that leave you scratching your head and make the accomplishments of guys like Ronald Curry all the more impressive. Curry was a 7th round draft pick, and has made himself into the #2 receiver on a team that has Jerry Porter and recently had two guys who went to school with Moses -- Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. And since I was a Tarheels fan before I was a Sox or Steelers fan, I'll always give guys from UNC the benefit of the doubt (how else would you explain me sticking up for Jeff Reed).