The day I attempted to Gold out UNC v Duke: A true story.

A little over five years ago Eric Maynor delivered perhaps the most famous shot in VCU history, upsetting the Duke Blue Devils in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament.

A bit under a year later I made my first delivery to an ACC school, a story that I really only told limited people about until now.

It was February 6th of 2008. VCU players were preparing for a road battle they would eventually win against Delaware the following night, a game a junior named Eric Maynor would score 21 points and dish 10 assists in.

I was entering Chapel Hill, NC for my first ever trip to the Dean Smith Center.

For the level of event that was taking place there that night…UNC v. Duke, I was ill-prepared. I had a packed car of heavy boxes, and apparently was under the impression I was going to drive them up to the front gate and drop them off.

That didn’t exactly happen — although kinda, I’ll get to that later — what did happen, was a small opening of the heavens, and the beginning of a light rain. Damn. I’ve got a bunch of heavy boxes, no hand truck (doh!), the beginnings of a storm and no idea of how I am going to deliver my package to the arena on it’s busiest night of the year. And they don’t generally make buildings holding that many people on that high level of a night easy to get near with a bunch of unmarked packages.

But I’m crafty, determined, and my mission is true. So clad in Carolina blue, I tell one of the event staff members near the nearest parking lot that I have a bunch of important boxes I need to deliver to the stadium, am able to park the car, find the first batch of eager Carolina fans, and tell them of my plan…most of the details being true.

“Hey, I run a site called TarheelNation.com, and we’ve got hundreds of VCU t-shirts we want to give the students to rub the VCU loss in Duke’s face!”

Of course the goal wasn’t to rub a loss in a Duke fan or player’s face, nor do I run a site called TarheelNation.com. I run a site called VCURamNation.com, and my plan was to get VCU some fun press on the night of one of the biggest college hoops games in the country (and keep in mind, this is still pre-Final 4, which, while we were getting press, still was no where near the level we now see today).

The students were great, they loved the idea, grabbed their free shirts (students will take free anything, apparently even another team’s t-shirt at their home teams basketball game), and carried all my heavy boxes to the Smith Center student line for me.

VCU fans are the best. They wait outside in freezing cold weather to watch VCU v. Towson, and during some games that line wraps around the block, the back portion of which having no chance of actually entering the game. But imagine if you will what the student line looks like at Carolina v. Duke for a game with 21,750 fans. It’s legit.

So I’ve got my new interns, a new feeling of optimism, and hundreds of bright gold VCU shirts I’m now distributing for UNC’s “Blue Out” against Duke on ESPN.

Things are going great. Students hit those shirts like bees to honey. But my head is on a swivel. I’ve got armfuls of VCU shirts, I’m heading up this operation, and I am keeping on the lookout for anyone with a walkie-talkie and a fancy laminate.

In minutes we’re burning through these shirts and the once blue-ed out student line is starting to look like the sidewalks of Harrison St. before a VCU v ODU game.

In my head I’m stoked, and can’t believe how quickly my mess has turned into a pretty effective evening. Then a drill sergeant-looking older UNC fan with a heavy amount of hard liquor on his breath comes up to confront me, “YOU IDIOT! WHY ARE YOU GIVING OUT GOLD VCU SHIRTS DURING A BLUE OUT! YOU’RE GOING TO MAKE US LOOK STUPID!”, or something to that extent. Regardless of his exact words, his passion toward my actions combined with his level of intoxication were enough for me to wrap up my mission a few shirts early. By that point however, he was too late, and he knew it.

I headed back to my car parked in a lot someone probably had to give at least $10k to have access to and headed toward Franklin Street (of Chapel Hill, not Richmond).

I didn’t catch much of the game or see any real highlights suggesting I had made a huge impact, but several online publications gave me an idea of what the scene looked like inside.

Brian Mull of The Wilmington Star reported, “Pregame chuckle from ACC land (but CAA-related): I’m at the Duke-UNC game, and numerous students are bringing in shirts of a different color than usual. They are bright yellow with black letters. Give up? They say “VCU Basketball.” No word yet on how the shirts (boxes and boxes of which are sitting, unattended outside the Smith Center) got there”.

Charlotte.com also had a decent attempt at figuring out what happened, “Idea of the day goes to the North Carolina students, who were handing out gold Virginia Commonwealth shirts at the door. VCU upset Duke in the NCAA tournament last year”.

I also read a SI.com mention of where a media member (I think Luke Winn maybe?) heard University officials through their walkie-talkies trying to track down the person handing out VCU shirts, and to get them to cease and desist (bonus points for whoever can find that article).

It was a somewhat stressful, but in the end incredibly hilarious night for me. Did I make much of a dent in the national press? Perhaps not as big as the intended outcome. But at least I drove home to Richmond with a great story and carved a small VCU notch into the rivalry that is UNC versus Duke.

 

UPDATE* Thanks to Jwetzel for finding that SI.com story (and it was Luke Winn!): “While I was sitting in the Dean Dome press room on Wednesday night, a couple of hours before tip of Duke-UNC, this hilarious dispatch came over one of the house security walkie-talkies: “We are trying to find out who is distributing the yellow VCU T-shirts. These are not coming from the university. We need the person to cease and desist.”  It seems that a Carolina student had either printed up or obtained VCU gear in hopes of reminding the Dukies of their first-round loss to the Rams last season.”

About Mat Shelton

VCU School of the Arts (BFA '07) and Center for Sport Leadership (M.Ed. '10) alumnus, Mat has followed VCU basketball since the Sunbelt days when he'd attend games with his father. Worked as a graduate assistant in the VCU Sports Information Department for the '09-'10 season, but has covered VCU basketball for VCURamNation.com since 2007. mshelton@vcuramnation.com @MatShelton