RAMblings 11.11.08 - A Whirling November

by Lee Pace


“Dull November brings the blast,

Then the leaves are whirling fast.”

--Sara Coleridge


            The leaves and everything else are whirling at warp speed this November for the Tar Heels, their coaches and fans.

             The 17th-ranked football team faces Maryland at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in College Park and the No. 1 ranked basketball team tips off against Penn 30 minutes later and 280 miles away in Chapel Hill. The Carolina women’s soccer team begins its quest for the NCAA crown this weekend with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a home berth for the first round of the playoffs. And the women’s hoops team opens with the Women’s NIT.

            Everywhere you turn, there’s something interesting in the world of Carolina sports:

            * I got to thinking about a certain late-season, high-stakes football game in College Park played one-quarter century ago and went to Youtube to see if I might find something interesting. Sure enough, you can enter “UNC-Maryland football 1983” and there’s a painful clip of Terp QB Boomer Esiason connecting with Sean Sullivan on what turned out to be the game-winning play in Maryland’s 28-26 upset of the third-ranked and unbeaten Tar Heels.

            “This is why the pro scouts are so interested in Esiason,” intoned the color analyst on the ABC telecast. “Look at this .... That ball is going about 40 yards on a line!”      

            Little did we know we were seeing a future NFL Pro Bowl quarterback at work.

            * You have to like the early returns on three of the freshmen basketball players. Tyler Zeller, Larry Drew and Ed Davis donned the familiar V-neck jersey Saturday for an exhibition against Pembroke State, and Zeller in particular got plenty of action as senior Tyler Hansbrough remains sidelined with an injury. The 7-foot Zeller scored 13 points and snared six rebounds.

            “I think he’s going to be a good player for us. I mean a really good player,” Roy Williams said.

            The Tar Heels don’t get big men often from the state of Indiana (Zeller is from Washington, a town 60 miles southeast of Bloomington), and the Heels had to beat instate hotbeds at Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame for his services. But Eric Montross, a native of suburban Indianapolis, worked out pretty well back in the early 1990s.

            * What does Butch Davis have to do with Tommy Bowden, Philip Fulmer, Ron Prince, Ty Willingham and Tom Amstutz?

            College administrations have seen how successful the Tar Heels’ move in October 2006 was to dismiss John Bunting seven games into the season and get a leg up in pursuing their No. 1 targetóDavis, at the time out of coaching and working for the NFL Network.

            Clemson, Tennessee, Kansas State, Washington and Toledo have all made mid-season changes and all are in the market for a new coach. Problem is, there is not a Davis on the horizon, someone available to make the head start worthwhile.

            “We got a break in that our No. 1 interest was available,” Dick Baddour says. “That’s usual. You’re not going to find that this year.”

            * Davis Love completed his year-long ordeal of rebounding from a serious ankle injury by shooting back-to-back 64s over the weekend and winning the Children’s Miracle Network Classic at Disney World. It was the 20th career win for Love on the PGA Tour and earned him a lifetime exemption. Only Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson among active players have won more than 20 events.

            “I’m gonna, for another hour, try to act like it’s not a big deal and hold it together,” Love said. “But it’s a big win for me. It’s been a long time. A lot of people have put in a lot of worry and thought and effort and tried to help me get back to where I was.”

            Love got up and down from the rough on the 17th hole and then a greenside bunker on the final hole to preserve the win. It was a fitting climax to a year in which he missed the Masters in April and ended his string of having competed in 70 straight major championships. Love tore tendons on the outside of his left ankle during a casual round last September. Doctors at first cautioned he might be sidelined for an entire year, but Love was undaunted.

            “I had some good breaks, made some good up-and-downs, but I played very, very well,” Love said. “It means an awful lot to put it all together.”

            * Imagine Roy Williams going into the NCAA Tournament without Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington. Or Butch Davis coaching a bowl team without his offensive line. That’s the challenge Anson Dorrance is facing as the women’s soccer playoffs commence.

            Junior forwards Meghan Klingenberg and Nikki Washington are leaving the team to join the U.S. under-20 national team, which is competing in the world championships in Chile, leaving Dorrance to rebuild his attack coming out of the ACC Tournament. Carolina pounded Virginia 3-0 Sunday to win the title, its 19th in 21 years, and now faces Western Carolina at 5 p.m. Friday at Fetzer Field.

            The Heels’ three goals came from their forwardsóJessica McDonald, Casey Nogueira and Courtney Jones. The timing was ideal.

            “This is the front line we’re taking to the NCAA,” Dorrance said. “We were hoping this line would have chemistry. To have them all score goals makes us feel great. It gives us some momentum.”