Planes, trains and ESPN: Intrepid Tar Heels battle in Atlanta

Jan. 29, 2014 @ 05:44 PM

Late-night commuters in the Atlanta subway system had some rare company Wednesday morning — the North Carolina men’s basketball team.

Prior to playing at Georgia Tech Wednesday night, the Tar Heels took the MARTA train from the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to their downtown hotel after a winter storm paralyzed traffic in the city.

After its delayed charter flight got into Atlanta at 11 p.m. Tuesday night, the team found out that the bus that was supposed to take it to its hotel had left for the airport four hours earlier but was still 10 miles away because of the gridlock.

Faced with the prospect of being stuck at the airport, Director of Basketball Operations Brad Frederick and Director of Player Development Eric Hoots came up with the idea to take MARTA downtown. The team walked the final 10 minutes from the subway stop to the hotel, with the last group arriving at 1:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Still, the late-night detour paled in comparison to the horror stories coming out of Atlanta, where schoolchildren were stuck in school buses and people were forced to spend the night in their cars on the interstate.

“We had to get on a train, which was kind of cool, and we had to walk a few blocks, which was no big deal,” UNC sports information director Steve Kirschner said. “We were delayed a little bit, we took a different route to get there, but by all means, we were fine.”

Kirschner’s counterpart at Georgia Tech, sports information director Dean Buchan, was stuck in his car on I-285 for 19½ hours before finally making it home Wednesday morning.

Kirschner said local roads around the hotel were fine, and since the Tar Heels were staying about a mile from the arena, they were able to get to their noon shootaround without a problem.

The storm was a bigger issue for ESPN, which was scheduled to televise the game nationally. The network struggled to get a production truck into the city, and play-by-play announcer Bob Wischusen wrote over Twitter Wedneday afternoon that the broadcast was canceled.

“Safety of crew was primary concern,” Wischusen wrote.

The Atlanta Hawks’ game against the Detroit Pistons Wednesday night was postponed because the Pistons couldn’t fly into Atlanta from Detroit, and Alabama’s game at Auburn was moved to today.

Still, the UNC-Georgia Tech went on as scheduled because of league policies. According to a statement by Georgia Tech, “the only reason a game should be postponed and/or cancelled is if the conditions affect the safety of the teams or game officials involved. Provided the teams and officials are able to make it to the arena safely, the game will be played.”