I’ve still got the game ticket and the $12 Trailways bus receipt that delivered me from Winston-Salem to Chapel Hill on Feb. 20, 1986.
It’s tucked away in a photo album that I pulled from the shelf to crack open only because of what takes place Tuesday night at the Dean E. Smith Center.
Maryland is coming to the SAC.
Long before it became called the Dean Dome or Smith Center, it was referred to around campus as the acronym for Student Activities Center when the building first opened in ’86.
I was there when the Terps played their first game in the SAC.
And I’ll be there for their last game as a member of the ACC.
The series that began with a 26-20 Carolina win on Feb. 5, 1924, will essentially end nearly 90 years to the day on Tuesday night. Next season Maryland joins the Big Ten and the schools have no plans to continue the series.
The Tar Heels have dominated the all-time series, 121-57, and often won in ways that were just cruel for Maryland fans. (I bet Chuck Driesell still dreams the baseline is open and Michael Jordan still comes out of nowhere and blocks his shot like he did to preserve a 72-71 Carolina win in 1983.) But there’s something infinitely wrong about the schools no longer playing.
“I still think of Maryland as an ACC school and I’ll always think that way,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “I’m old fashioned, old school. We’ve had some great, great games with them.”
The greatest game for me came while watching from Aisle 110, Row O, Seat 5. It was the section behind the North Carolina bench.
Williams, an assistant on staff then, was still two years away from getting his first head coaching job at Kansas. The Tar Heels were No. 1 at the time.
But I came to see Len Bias.
My oldest brother, who was a freshman at UNC, got the ticket for me knowing how much I liked Maryland.
Armed with a Kodak Tele Disc camera, which in theory had a zoom lens, I have picture after picture of Bias shooting over Jeff Lebo. Over Steve Hale. Over Steve Bucknall with Warren Martin’s outstretched arm trying to block his shot.
But I didn’t get the picture.
Surrounded by Carolina students, I contained my cheering for most of the game. But by the time Bias made a jumper for his 29th point, I gleefully turned to my brother seated to my right to celebrate. In the second it took to swivel my head back to the left, there was Bias dunking the ball backwards after a steal.
Since I missed the actual play then, I got former Maryland guard Keith Gatlin, a sophomore on that team, to explain what happened. The Terps were trying to rally from a nine-point deficit so they were supposed to be pressing after made baskets. After Bias’ jumper that cut it to seven, for a split second, he forgot to press.
I’ll let Gatlin explain from there:
“Warren Martin threw the ball to Kenny Smith and within the same motion Kenny Smith turned around, Lenny took the ball out of his hand and reverse back dunked on Warren Martin. It happened so quick a lot of people were like, ‘Holy crap!’ "
"It was amazing. I’d seen him do amazing stuff in practice, but the way he went from that to that was incredible. I think it shocked Carolina because literally Warren Martin threw the ball in. Before he could get back in bounds Lenny was turned backwards sitting on his head dunking the ball.”
Bias finished with 35 points as Maryland won in overtime 77-72 for North Carolina’s first loss in the Smith Center.
Tuesday night's game won’t have the kind of talent assembled like that night in 1986. (Brad Daugherty was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft. Bias went third before his death from an overdose. Kenny Smith had a prosperous NBA career before heading to the broadcast booth.)
But here’s hoping the series can muster a finale worthy of a kid keeping his game ticket as a souvenir.