By Guest Blogger Scott N.
As the days grow shorter and the evening air becomes cool and crisp, some sort of internal clock triggers a growing excitement inside many of us long time Chapel Hill natives; a reminder that football season is fast approaching. I remember going to my first UNC ball game like it was yesterday. I was perhaps ten or eleven when my grandfather, a journalism professor here at the college, first called to invite me to a home game. Though quite popular in academic and journalistic circles, his…shall we say…colorful demeanor could be quite intimidating to a young lad like myself.
Honestly, I was really quite apprehensive about the outing. My anxiety proved unfounded however. Instead of the awkward scenarios I had envisioned, my grandfather introduced me that day to an exciting world of college football; taking time to patiently explain each play. The day was beautiful. I can still visualize the stadium with its brilliantly colored pennants; and its electrifying atmosphere as jubilant bands pounded out distinct “rallying hymns” while faculty and alums cheered together each time we scored a small victory against our common “foe.”
As I recall the Tarheels lost that day. To me, however, the loss didn’t matter as much as having the opportunity connect with my grandfather in a different and more loving way. I attended several games with him before his health began to fail. I realized that for many like me the outcome of the game itself wasn’t what it was all about (though I know some folks who would dispute this). To me, it’s about building connections, making…or reliving memories, and being part of a tradition larger than one’s self. There are plenty of traditions surrounding UNC football and as I grew older I selected a few favorites of my own.
Here are a few you may find enjoyable, particularly if you are new to the UNC football experience. No trip to a UNC football game is complete without a visit to the Shrunken Head Boutique. Jacksonville native Shelton Henderson opened the shop in 1969 and moved the rest of his family to Chapel Hill soon afterwards. Shelton had a way of making EVERY customer feel like they were THE reason he was in business, greeting each visiting fan with a grand smile and firm handshake. Over time, the little boutique established itself as the " meca of Tarheel apparel" stocking everything from Tarheel jerseys, sweatshirts and caps to backpacks, UNC serving plates (for those tailgate parties) and even Go Heel’s Christmas ornaments for the truly dedicated fan. Shelton left us in 2013 but his legacy lives on in the staff and store he left behind. On game days the small store bulges at the seams with eager patrons so be sure to go early in the morning. Here's a listing of all the Carolina fan gear shops downtown.
After purchasing your game day attire you may be planning on participating in another cherished game day tradition: tailgating. Like most colleges, tailgating is a integral part of game day activities and UNC fans are encouraged to enjoy the communal excitement as friends gather for pre-game grilling and perhaps a couple tries at corn hole, provided it’s done in a safe and respectful manner, of course. Most lots open at 8AM and tents up to 10 feet square are permitted. Alcohol and open flame cooking is not allowed.
One of the most popular spots for tailgating is the Manning Lot. Located near the Smith Center on the South Side of the stadium, Manning lot is very convenient and you get a great mix of visiting fans, students, and alums. For a more family friendly experience, try checking out “Tar Heel Town” located directly outside the front doors of Kenan Stadium. In addition to tailgating areas, Tar Heel Town hosts live concerts, food vendors, plenty of family activities and the famous Victory Walk where fans are encouraged to greet the team as they march from Bell Tower Drive into the Stadium.
The excitement of game day doesn’t have to end with the last football spiral. Before you and your pose head home for the evening why not stop off at Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery for a quick late afternoon snack and a cold, freshly tapped beer? Founded in 1996, Top of the Hill is a more recent addition as far as game day traditions go; but with its long list specialty beers brewed on site with local ingredients, private dining and upstairs balcony offering panoramic views of downtown, it has become a game day favorite for students and alums alike. After the game is a perfect time to take advantage of the balcony seating, enjoy a bite to eat and rehash each touchdown play with your friends while you wait for the steady stream of post-game traffic to subside.
The opportunities for me to enjoy football outings have become rare in recent years as work and family responsibilities grew. Still, these are some of my favorites when I do get a chance to get away on a game day; and there are plenty of “must go” places in Chapel Hill which are every bit as enjoyable. As long as you remember that UNC football is just as much about making memories and building traditions as it is about rooting the Tarheels to another victory, you’re sure to have a great time. For more information on UNC football, including the schedule and to buy tickets to the game; visit www.goheels.com.