It crept up on me fairly late in life. In 1995, when I told my boss I was leaving in order to accompany my husband to Chapel Hill for his graduate program, he replied, “Dean Smith territory.” I looked back at him in polite blankness. It’s hard now to believe that ever happened.

The first year in our new home, I was preoccupied with a pre-schooler, looking for work, and generally acclimating to our environment. As far as sports, I  knew about the Durham Bulls Baseball team from the movie “Bull Durham,” and we wasted no time enjoying games at their new field that summer. (Did you know that the “home run” bull in the movie was constructed for the movie, and left with the team afterwards? I didn’t.) But I digress.

Basketball seeped slowly into my consciousness. Suddenly, I knew who Jerry Stackhouse and Antwan Jamison were, and fretted about their early departure to the NBA, without really knowing why. I was gradually developing a distaste for anything Duke, also absent rational consideration. We started following the games on TV, earlier each passing season. My fanhood remained at an appropriate level for a non-alum, middle-aged woman from California. I was interested enough to hold up my end of a conversation with another UNC fan, but relatively detached. Until we moved away in 2001.

The Tarheels became an embodiment of my homesickness. I watched all the games, enjoying them enough to include the women’s team in my  routine. (Women’s games are harder to find on TV, but that is a whole other post.) I started reading. I knew who was hurt, and how long he was expected to be out. I watched Matt Doherty’s standing go from “God” (as seen painted on the concrete of  “The Pit”  on campus) to persona non grata within a few short years. I rejoiced with the rest of the Tarheel Nation when Roy Williams came home in 2003.

Five years later, when we became a bi-coastal family, the games became another way to feel close for TMIM and me. We’d check in before the tip-off, touch base at half time, and debrief at game’s end. Last spring, before the decision for me to come home had been made, Dr. T was visiting me during the NCAA tournament. We drank our beers from our magic “He’s Not Here” cups, and talked about how nice it would be when I was finally in North Carolina for the whole season.

And here I am, looking forward to a “bucket list” trip to Greensboro on Friday to see our guys compete in the second, and, I hope, third rounds of the NCAA tournament. We bought the tickets long ago, when we still had two healthy paychecks, knowing that we weren’t guaranteed to see the team, and thinking that I would have to save some vacation time and book a flight to be here. Sometimes faith is rewarded. Go Heels!