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What Mack Means

In his short two-game return stint as Carolina’s head football coach, Mack Brown has already achieved numerous admirable goals.

He’s reignited interest in Carolina football. His Tar Heels are surging on the recruiting trail. He’s won two games and has the program 2-0 against power five competition for the first time since 1997.

But he’s also done something even more incredible: he’s persuaded a college student to spend a Friday night with her parents.

Carolina travels to Wake Forest tomorrow night for a nonconference (yes, it’s a scheduled nonconference home-and-home, since the two teams meet infrequently in league play) matchup against the Demon Deacons. Interest is high. Carolina had returned tickets from its allotment to Wake last week; they had to call the Deacs this week and ask if they could have them back because interest in Chapel Hill was so high.

Our oldest daughter is a freshman at Carolina this year. Her first game in the student section was Saturday night against Miami. She’s a UNC football veteran and has been attending games virtually her entire life, but the atmosphere is a little different in the student section.

“It’s awesome,” she reported during the game against the Hurricanes. “So hot, but it’s awesome.”

So it’s impressive that Brown was able to persuade Sam Howell to come to Carolina, and to attract a terrific coaching staff, and rally the University community around lighting the Bell Tower. But right now, in our house, we’re more thankful that he created an environment for her first Carolina football game as a student that our daughter will always remember. The electricity in Kenan on Saturday night was something you don’t forget, and something you talk about five or ten or twenty years from now. Who you went with, what happened in the stands, how loudly you shouted the words to Hark the Sound after the game. (She’s not the only one—fresh off the Miami experience, student tickets for the Appalachian State game were claimed this morning in less than half an hour)

We are trying very hard not to be the parents that hang around their college freshman all the time. But we miss her in a way that you’ll understand one day when your kid goes off to college and after you move her in on a Thursday, you say, “See you this weekend, maybe?” and she responds, “How about next week?”

As we were already aware, she is strong and independent and eager to meet new people. From a parent’s perspective, we are alternately proud and miserable.

All of that led to this entirely unexpected text conversation earlier this week.

Me: “Do you want to see if any of your friends would want to go to the Wake game on Friday night at 6?”

Her: “Yes, I definitely want to talk to them, because I think they will want to go.”

Her (a couple hours later): “My suitemates are unsure and there are some other people going to a concert, so I would probably say it will just be me.”

Me (slightly stunned): “Do you want to go with us or would you rather not? If you want to go to the concert that’s fine.”

Her: “I would rather go to the game with y’all.”

Me: (Head exploding emoji)

It should be acknowledged that she will be mortified by this story, so she is not named here to try and preserve some level of anonymity. You understand, of course. If word gets out that she is hanging out with her parents and youngest brother on a Friday night, her social standing might not recover.

We used to take these games for granted. Of course we’d go to the game and of course we’d go together. But a month into college life, these occasions seem a little more precious. And we know that although we are obviously incredibly cool, we’re not so cool that she would turn down a Friday night in Chapel Hill with her friends unless Mack Brown had made football fun again.

So maybe Brown will deliver us all a victory and a 3-0 record on Friday night. Maybe he won’t. But he’s made Carolina football something no one wants to miss, even a college student with numerous other social options. So Friday night we’ll watch Chazz and Dazz and Sam, and we’ll get to spend a few hours with our little girl who grew up too fast, and it’s hard to imagine a better Friday night.

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