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A native of North Carolina, Fred Hobson is Lineberger Professor of the Humanities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Co-Editor of the Southern Literary Journal. He is the author of numerous books, including Mencken: A Life (Random House, 1994), Tell About the South: The Southern Rage to Explain (LSU, 1984), and, most recently, The Silencing of Emily Mullen (LSU, 2005) and Off the Rim: Basketball and Other Religions in a Carolina Childhood (Missouri, 2006). He has been a Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Humanities Center and he has won several literary awards, including the Jules Landry Award in Southern Studies (l984 and 2000) and the Lillian Smith Award for Nonfiction (1983). Briefly (before he began his academic career) an editorial writer for the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel, he has published in a wide range of newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times Book Review, The Times Literary Supplement, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The Baltimore Sun, the Raleigh News and Observer, the Atlanta Constitution, The Sewanee Review, The Southern Review and The Virginia Quarterly Review, as well as a number of scholarly journals.
Off the Rim: Basketball and Other Religions in a Carolina Childhood ( 2006)
The Silencing of Emily Mullen (2005)
Mencken: A Life (1994)
Tell About the South: The Southern Rage to Explain (1984)
Off the Rim: Basketball and Other Religions in a Carolina Childhoo d - FOREWORD
The child is father of the man.
How else can I explain it? Why else should it mean so much? Why else should I approach each college basketball season, particularly that part of it known to much of America as March Madness, with such a mixture of delight and terror, euphoria and dread? Why should a particular game, played with a round ball by twenty-year-olds in short pants often hundreds of miles away, mean so much to me, since I seem to have so little to gain or lose by its outcome? I get no promotion or raise if my team wins, no financial gain, no book contract, no social benefits, no recognition. Still, I confess, to my great shame and discredit, that I experienced deeper joy when North Carolina (there, I've revealed my bias) won each of its national championships than I ever did over any raise or book contract or the successful resolution of any number of international crises. And in the various years—say, most recently, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000—when the Tar Heels lost in the Final Four, I suffered more acutely than I have ever suffered because of financial failure or unrequited love.
Several explanations for my condition offer:
1) Arrested Development. If it's true of Bobby Knight, could it be true of me? As all time stopped for an earlier generation of southern boys just before two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863 when Pickett began his charge at Gettysburg, did all time stop, or at least subsequently cease to have the same meaning, for me on that Saturday night in March 1957 when Joe Quigg hit two free throws to beat Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain in triple overtime (in what Frank Deford has called the greatest college basketball game ever played) to win the Heels' first national championship? The image seen over the blurry television set by the thirteen-year-old is fixed in my mind. The child is father of the man.
2) Limited fulfillment in my own life. I.e., one identifies with a successful group of some sort in order to fill a vacuum in one's own life, just as one identifies with a great leader: Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bear Bryant. Ah, the easy answer, one for the shrinks, but I plead not guilty. While there have been no transcendent successes, in general things have rolled along pretty well.
3) The opposite of No. 2: The world is too much with us. My life is too full, too complex, national problems are too overwhelming—I need an escape. Sport is a safety valve. Also untrue. Sport is an escape to tension. "Enjoy the game," they say as they take your ticket at the door. Enjoy the game? Impossible.
4) True Involvement; or Arrested Development, Part II. I did, it is true, once briefly wear Tar Heel blue. Thus, the moment, also fixed in my mind, at which the child, now the man-child out of the Carolina hills, overachieved in October walk-on tryouts and thereby won the right to guard Billy Cunningham in practice and, in games, grace the bench of the Tar Babies (for such was the name given the freshman team that, for a while in 1961-62, was called the nation's best). Was my tenure on the Tar Baby bench too brief? My moments of glory too few? But that would be the shabbiest excuse, the most shameful admission, of all. Arrested Development, Part I, is preferable.
5) The most complex explanation but perhaps the truest of all: the impression on the part of the viewer (or listener) that he or she can actually control the outcome of a game three hundred—or three thousand—miles away. If you leave the room for three minutes, your team will rally. If you flat-hand the ceiling three times, the other team will choke from three-point range.
And, during the regular season, not only the particular game at hand but the scores of numerous other games drifting in can be controlled through the manner in which you receive them. No game is an island, entire of itself. If, in Lawrence, the Jayhawks lose by fourteen, the Bruins climb back into the top ten. If, in Lexington, Kentucky stumbles often enough, the Tar Heels—currently number two—will reclaim the all-time lead in games won. Games have consequences. The ripple effect. Robert Penn Warren's theory of history applied to sport: all Wednesday night games in February comprise a gigantic web, all are related. If you touch the web, "however lightly, at any point," the vibration reaches "to the remotest perimeter."
I understand all that, but I am still confounded by the power the game holds over me, and I think I am not alone. In the narrative that follows I speak largely of Tar Heels—and of other things related to growing up (and not quite growing up) in North Carolina—but what I say also holds true of others who find themselves in emotional bondage to Hoosiers and Bulldogs and Ducks, to Wolverines, Gophers, Badgers and various other species of Upper Midwestern low-lying ground fauna, to Blue Devils and Blue Demons, Sun Devils and Demon Deacons, to Hawkeyes and Buckeyes, Longhorns and Sooners, Tigers and Wildcats and Lions and Cougars and all other breeds of cat. In the telling I hope I have discovered, among other things, why I care so much. It's because I once cared so much, and it was knowledge carried to the heart.
The child is father of the man.
Excerpted from OFF THE RIM: BASKETBALL AND OTHER RELIGIONS IN A CAROLINA CHILDHOOD by Fred Hobson, published by the University of Missouri Press.