Carolina fans: Always ‘going to be a Tar Heel’

Feb. 21, 2014 @ 01:55 AM

Right as the game clock ran out Thursday before midnight, cementing a 74-66 UNC win, dozens of fans in Carolina blue ran out of Spanky’s bar and restaurant, joining the mob morphing in the middle of Franklin Street.

A man climbed to the top of a light pole, illuminated in orange by the “Do Not Cross” sign. Every time he pointed, the crowd chanted, “Heels! Heels!”

Ted Rathbun, a 1965 Carolina grad, stood on the street corner, holding up his smartphone to take pictures as groups formed around fires, the first swirls of smoke trailing around them.

There’s more women now at UNC, Rathbun observed. Students used to gather at the other end of Franklin to celebrate game wins during his university days.

When asked if the celebrations decades ago matched the rowdiness of Thursday night, he responded, “There’s still some of that.”

During the final minutes of the game, about 10 cops stood in the doorway or peered through the windows outside Spanky’s. Fans drummed on tables or grew silent when Duke made their free throws. The restaurant erupted into, “Defense! Defense!” and applauded when UNC players kept sinking their shots.

Chapel Hill police officer Jason Bellavance stood in the doorway, arms crossed, while watching the game. Every once in a while, he stepped out to the Franklin Street sidewalk, keeping an eye on passersby.

The game and the fan buzz, he said, makes the night go by faster.

He has been with the police department for about a decade, and he’s worked almost every national championship and Duke versus Carolina fan mob on Franklin Street during his years on the force.

Bellavance has watched students drag mattresses out to the street. He has watched fans climb light poles and strip down to their underwear, settling on burning their own clothing in thrown-together bonfires.

Then there was the time they had to stop students from engulfing a piano in flames.

“It’s not so much violence,” Bellavance said. “It’s pretty much burning things.”

The fire department was on standby, roaming the streets in case things got out of hand.

In Spanky’s, Jameer Logan, a 22-year-old Carolina economics grad, shot up in his seat, yelling and clapping after a UNC player dunked.

“Ohhhhh! Where’d that come from?” he asked.

He graduated in 2013 and now works at Fidelity Investments in Raleigh.

“I wish I was here, I’ll tell you that much,” Logan said Thursday night.

He still talks about the great seats he got at the Duke versus Carolina game last March, sitting in the risers near tennis star Andy Roddick and model Brooklyn Decker, but UNC ended up losing last year, 53-69.

Upstairs, Alesha Majors and Shawnterika Peaks hung out with friends at halftime. They met each other at freshmen orientation and ended up becoming roommates in Craige North residence hall. They both graduated last May.

Majors said being back at Carolina feels like being home.

“Win or lose, we’re still going to be a Tar Heel,” Majors said.

“And Duke still sucks,” Peaks added.