Last Saturday I was once again reminded of why I love sports when my NC State Wolfpack upset the then #3 Florida State Seminoles. One of the joys of life is when the unexpected happens. However, this wasn’t one of those times. After a loss to Miami the prior week, I stated on Facebook that if we fixed our turnover and penalty issues we could beat anyone, including Florida State.
I was confident because I really believe in what Coach O’Brien is doing with the football program. I grew up an NC State fan attending as many games as possible with my dad. I always loved the effort of the Pack and that they played together as a team. It didn’t matter who was recruited or what ESPN said would happen, I pulled for the guys wearing red unconditionally. I always saw them as men of character who played the game the right way. They rarely argued with the referees, had discipline, and gave their best effort regardless of the opponent.
I know O’Brien has his critics, but I believe he has bought these characteristics back to the program. I think in our “instant gratification” society we focus only on wins and not on everything that makes a championship program. Chuck Amato did a lot for NC State as far as facilities and bringing a winning attitude to the program, but that attitude wasn’t earned. Yes, we won games and the Phillip Rivers years were great, but think about how much turnover we had with the coaching staff. It seemed like Rivers had a new offensive coordinator each season. The coaching staff wasn’t necessarily moving for promotions either. There was turmoil in the Pack.
If that wasn’t enough, the product on the field wasn’t as fun to watch. I continued to pull for my beloved Wolfpack, but I often found myself changing channels and having no desire to face the cold weather of attending games. It wasn’t just that they weren’t winning; it was the lack of effort, selfishness, and the penalties. I watched a game in which the nose tackle lined up offsides 4 times. For those that don’t follow football, the nose tackle is lined up right in front of the ball. How is it possible to be on the wrong side of the ball when you line up in front of it?!?!
Coach O’Brien seems to have turned some of these issues around. In his first few years, he dismissed 50 players from the program because he wanted the right people on his team. Granted the Wolfpack still has its moments because the athletes are kids, but they are getting better. Watching the game last Saturday proved it. If NC State has any desire to win an ACC Championship, they had to win against Florida State after not getting the job done in Miami. The coaches challenged the players and they rose to the occasion.
The victory showed me that character was back in the Wolfpack program. They stopped worrying about the NFL scouts or being on national television and they just played. They played for themselves and their teammates alone. It was so fun to watch. I was taken back to my childhood sitting in the parking lot at Carter-Finley getting my homework done before a Thursday night game, so I could be ready for school the next day.
What’s next for the Wolfpack? Nobody knows, but one thing is for certain; I’ll be watching. Thank you, Tom O’Brien for making the Wolfpack football a program we can again hold “in the folds of our love and our pride!”