FRIEDLANDER: Will this be the year the Wolfpack end #NCStateStuff?
RALEIGH — It’s somehow appropriate that the field house behind the south end zone at Carter-Finley Stadium is known as the Murphy Center.
Because when it comes to NC State’s athletic program, anything that can possibly go wrong usually does end up going wrong. And in the most spectacular fashion imaginable.
Just look at the events of the past 14 months.
Within the span of just over a year, the Wolfpack’s baseball team was sent home from the College World Series one game from the championship series because of a COVID outbreak among its roster; its women’s basketball team was forced to play what was essentially a road game at UConn in its NCAA regional final, even though it was the region’s top seed; and after spending Christmas away from home in San Diego, its football team had a Holiday Bowl matchup against UCLA canceled just three hours before kickoff when its opponent pulled out because of the pandemic.
The string of misfortune is just the latest in an ongoing phenomenon that has become such a part of State’s culture that its long-suffering fan base has come up with a hashtag to describe it.
Let’s call it #NCStateStuff, since the actual term isn’t suitable for a family website. But you get the point.
Whether the program really is being haunted by some unseen force or if the angst has simply become a self-fulfilling prophecy depends on your perspective. But every good curse needs something or someone to blame.
The Red Sox had the Babe. The Cubs had a goat.
The only thing that comes close for NC State is Peter Golonbock, whose book “Personal Fouls” – which led to the downfall of popular basketball coach Jim Valvano – was published in 1989, 2 years after the Wolfpack’s last ACC championship in men’s basketball and 3 years before the baseball team won the school’s most recent conference title in any of the three marquee sports.
It’s been so long since the football team has celebrated a league crown that coach Dave Doeren was in the third grade the last time it happened in 1979.
Because Doeren and his players are too focused on the here and now to spend any time worrying about the past, the drought isn’t something that’s mentioned often, if at all. But it’s never far from mind.
Asked how often he and his teammates are reminded of it, graduate wide receiver Thayer Thomas answered: “Almost every day.”
NC State receiver Thayer Thomas speaking to the media about the expectations around the Wolfpack this year. pic.twitter.com/5s0DPRm36m
— Ethan McDowell (@ethanmmcdowell) August 3, 2022
Thomas knows a little something about curses and teams that have broken long championship droughts. He was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 2019 Major League Baseball draft before choosing to concentrate solely on football.
By contrast, the Wolfpack’s frustration is still in its infancy compared to that of the Red Sox, who went 85 years between World Series titles. And it might not take much longer for it to end.
This year’s team is as well-equipped to break through as any since Russell Wilson brought it to the brink of an Atlantic Division title in 2010, only to get beat by Maryland in the season finale to lose out on a trip to the championship game.
It has momentum coming off a 9-win season that included a double-time win against perennial power and traditional nemesis Clemson and a dramatic come-from-behind victory against rival North Carolina.
It’s stocked with a high-powered offense triggered by preseason ACC Player of the Year Devin Leary and a defense that returns 10 of 11 starters from a unit that allowed the second-fewest points in the conference last year.
There’s also plenty of motivation to go around after that Holiday Bowl debacle, as well as the opportunity to create, as senior safety Tanner Ingle put it, “a legacy that will live on.
“We still get guys from the ’70s that come in and just flash their rings,” Ingle said. “We want to be a part of that.”
The Wolfpack have so much going for it that 44 members of the media at the ACC’s recent preseason kickoff event in Charlotte picked them to win the division. Thirty-eight of them also voted for NC State to win the league’s overall title.
“We believe that we can be the team that can do that,” senior center Grant Gibson said Wednesday after the first practice of preseason camp. “But we also understand that we have to go out there and do it. All the hype is good, but that doesn’t win games.”
NC State coach Dave Doeren after first practice https://t.co/jZz78Eg5aT
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— TheWolfpackCentral (@NCStateRivals) August 3, 2022
So what will it take to get over the hump? According to Doeren, it’s just a matter of making “another play.”
“We lost two one-possession games last year (against Wake Forest and Miami) that kept us out of (the championship) game,” he said. “It’s one more play that you have to make. … For us it’s just doing that repetitively. You have to do it in every game you play in the conference.”
If only it was that easy.
The reality of the situation is that for NC State to finally put an end to the championship drought, it’s going to have to find a way to beat Clemson at Death Valley – something it hasn’t done since Philip Rivers and TA McLendon delivered a 38-6 thrashing in 2002 – as well as bucking an even more daunting kind of history.
It’s the mystical buzzkill that always finds a way to spoil the party anytime the Wolfpack seems ready to accomplish something special.
No matter what you choose to call it.