What happened when I became the story

Everyone was writing about me.

Deadspin. The Associated Press. The News and Observer.

I’m a writer. I should be able to write about myself, to control my story, to stand up for myself through a medium that I use every day to convey my thoughts.

Sounds easy, right? Wrong. It’s not, not even a little bit.

I’m a writer because I like telling stories — other people’s stories. I’m not in this to be the star. Don’t put me in a lede. I’m not your kicker. I’m a writer, and I want to write about the kickass things that you’re doing and make you laugh, make you cry, make you think.

But then today happened.

Suddenly, I was fielding emails with interview requests and answering questions from colleagues about exactly what happened as they wrote columns on the exchange, and then I knew that I had to sit down and write about the thing that makes me the most uncomfortable: me.

So what happened exactly?

I asked a question about the emotional maturation of a UNC football player to coach Larry Fedora at the ACC Kickoff. It was a pretty generic question, one to help me gather information on the player in preparation for a long-form feature later in the season.

In his own words, this is what Fedora said:

“It’s not just him, it’s every kid. These kids come to college and they’re 17, 18 years old and when they leave, they’re a man. There’s a big. For a woman, you don’t realize it, there’s a huge growing process for a young man from 17 to 21, 22 years old. It really is. Those guys, Des made a mistake. He faced the consequences of that mistake. He learned from that mistake and he became a better person because of it. That’s the way I look at all 120 guys that are under me. These, they’re young men, they’re going to make mistakes. I’ve got to hold them accountable for those mistakes. They’ve got to face the consequences, and then they grow from it. The great thing about being part of something, a team, is you don’t have to make all the mistakes. You can learn from Johnny’s mistakes and you can see the consequences of his mistakes and say, you know what, I don’t want to do that. But yeah, when they leave the University of North Carolina, I believe that they have to be full grown men and be able to take on the world. So it’s a learning experience.”

Fedora said 202 words in his answer, but after three sentences, I didn’t hear much of them. My head was spinning and I just kept hearing ‘for a woman’ over and over and over in my head. My heart was racing and I was seething. I knew that I had to say something, but what? And when?

I needed the answer for my story, so I let him finish his thought and then calmly — or at least my best impersonation of calm — said, “To your point, women also mature from 17 to 22. I’d like to think I’m still not 17 here.”

That’s where it could’ve ended. But it didn’t. So Fedora, using the same excuse that I’ve heard men use dozens of times, said, “I’ve got three daughters, but I haven’t gotten to that point.”

I heard: I have daughters, therefore I couldn’t have said what it sounded like I was saying.

Maybe that isn’t what he meant, but all I know is how I felt when it was said: embarrassed, enraged, and confused.

I know that as a young woman, I’m a minority in this field, but it’s never really bothered me. I like sports, I like telling stories and I like doing my job. The fact that I’m a woman while most of my colleagues are men rarely, if ever, interferes with or modifies those three facts.

As a college student getting started in journalism, I said I wanted to make Deadspin. The prospect of gaining that kind of notoriety seemed like it would be awesome, an instant career and Twitter follower boost. I joked that it was on my career bucket list. But after being the subject of a Deadspin story, I can tell you that it isn’t what I thought it would be.

About a month ago, I told my friend Dijana Kunovac that I was fortunate to have not faced too much sexism — accidentally or on purpose — at work. My mentions weren’t a scary place, and at worst, sometimes men tweeted at me to eat more salads. I know, it looks pretty horrible written out, but I have a thick skin and I do really love a good salad, so it didn’t bother me that much.

But today I took a stand for myself and tweeted out an exchange between me and Fedora and all of a sudden my mentions were that scary, scary place.

The majority of tweets were supportive and full of #girlpower. But some of them weren’t. Some of them said they didn’t see anything wrong with what Fedora said. Some of them said that I was being too sensitive. Some said I shouldn’t ask stupid questions. More than one of them said that I was just making the story about myself and trying to further my own career. Some came up with creative ways to combine the words ‘woman’ and ‘complaining.’ Good one, guys.

People keep apologizing to me. They’re sorry that it happened. Sorry that he said it. Sorry that I had to go through this.

Usually my default answer is ‘It’s ok,’ and I’ve nearly said it dozens of times today.

But it’s not ok. I shouldn’t feel like this under any circumstances and neither should any woman trying to do their job.

A lot of people have praised my courage for not backing down. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for that. And yeah, I’m proud that I stood up for myself, but I’m also disappointed that I didn’t say something sooner. I wish I could’ve interjected as soon as he said those seven words and squashed it, and this narrative, right then.

When I sent the tweet, I felt empowered for standing up for myself, and for women who get mansplained to on a daily basis. But now, hours after the fact, I feel silly. It’s distracted me from my work today, kept me from feeling as productive as I usually feel during these events. I know that I shouldn’t feel this way, and I don’t want to feel this way, but that’s my default. Why did I have to cause a stir? Why did I turn the focus of the story on me?

But the more I think about it, I know why I tweeted it and I know why it’s a story.

That feeling, when I felt so singled out in a crowd of people, when I’m just trying to be one of many doing my job is unacceptable.

When Kevin Best, the SID, texted and then called to find out where I was later in the afternoon, before the Deadspin story hit, I felt dread. I felt like I was going to the principal’s office, like I had done something so wrong and needed to be reprimanded.

That isn’t ok. I didn’t do anything wrong. I did my job, asked a question, and because of someone else’s hurtful words, got swept up in a story.

Kevin wasn’t calling to reprimand me — he was calling because Fedora wanted to apologize. And he did. It was heartfelt and genuine. He said he didn’t mean to offend me, that he regretted saying what he said. It was a true foot-in-the-mouth moment, and he was sorry.

It doesn’t make how I felt in the moment go away, but I do truly appreciate the apology.

When I started writing this, I felt like I needed to do it to defend myself and justify tweeting the exchange. But the reality is that I don’t have to do any of that. Poor word choice or not, it was said and it made me feel uncomfortable in a place where I shouldn’t have to worry about being able to do my job.

Today was a hard day to be a woman in sports. It’s not the first, and it won’t be the last. But even though I know that it’s hard for me to understand, you know, as a woman, I do know that I’ve grown and matured from the experience and I really, really, really hope I never have to write about myself again.

 

Women in sports interview

Sometimes I end up on the other side of the interview, and last week was one of those times as I talked with Dijana Kunovac about being a woman in sports media. She's publishing a series of blogs and podcasts about women in sports and I'm honored to be the first. Here's a sample of what we talked about: 

Brooke and I met during my time at Inside Carolina covering UNC.  She was one of the only other women on the beat during my tenure and was even a student then, working for the Daily Tar Heel. She's covered a lot of different teams and sports since her time at the DTH, working for The Colorado Spring Gazette, Carolina Blue Magazine, The Durham Herald Sun and The North State Journal where she is currently a sports reporter.  We've shared plenty of war stories and plenty of margaritas.  Here is our conversation:

When you decided, “Hey, this is what I want to do [meaning sports journalism],” did you know you’d be treated differently because you are a woman?

It should have been a warning sign when I got to the Daily Tar Heel orientation the first day and Jonathan Jones called me “freshman girl” for a long time. I was just referred to as “this is the freshman girl.” And I went to an all-girls high school, so we got the whole girl power thing going on there, and I’ve never really been the odd one out and didn’t really think anything of it. And then kind of little by little, it started to occur to me that okay, there are three other girls on the desk or four other girls—Kelly Parsons being one of them. I would go to games and a lot of times, it’d be the smaller sport and I’d be the only media person there anyway, but as it got to football and basketball I thought, okay, you know, there’s never a line in the bathroom. You were the only other person there, like fixing your hair or something, and I was like, this is kind of odd, but that’s cool. It took me a long time to realize that there were not a lot of people like me in my field. And it was kind of odd, kind of nice because everybody knows who I am even if it’s just calling me “freshman girl” or something like that. It took me a long time to realize I was different.

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An uncommon bond formed during UNC lax title run

CHESTER, Pa. — Dan Tracy had to get to his daughter, but he couldn’t get through the crowd.

Throngs of parents and siblings and friends and alumni filled the stairs at Talen Energy Stadium, clogging up his path to the short wall separating the spectators from the field where his daughter and her North Carolina teammates were celebrating their second women’s lacrosse national title. The Tar Heels had just thumped No. 1 Maryland, 13-7.

Wearing a brand new, oversized national championship t-shirt and a giant smile to match, Sammy Jo Tracy ran from the field toward the hordes of familiar faces leaning down from the concrete partition, clamoring to get close to their champions.

She had to get to her father.

Faced with an impenetrable wall of people in front of him, Dan climbed over the metal railing of the stairs, swinging his right leg over followed by his left, partially covered by a flesh-colored compression sleeve, until he stood balanced on the outside of the railing on the small sliver of stairs not meant for pedestrian traffic.

Carefully, he sidestepped down a couple of levels until he could lower himself to the stadium’s next plateau, only about two feet below him. Even still, he couldn’t get to Sammy Jo. So he jogged down the line of people at the balcony until he found an opening just in time for his oldest child to reach her father.

There, finally, Dan and Sammy Jo reunited, grasping hands in an extended high-five, celebrating all of their achievements.

“I was going to get there anyway I could,” he said with a signature New York accent.

Climbing down from the stands would’ve been impossible for Dan a year ago.

A few months prior to the 2015 women’s lacrosse final four, Dan was in the front car of a passenger train on the Metro-North Railroad’s Harlem line when it struck a car on the tracks near Valhalla, New York.

Six people died, and Dan, once an All-American defenseman at Maryland, nearly lost his leg. Now, he has a metal rod inserted into his left leg, but significant blood flow and swelling issues require him to move frequently. They also make long-distance car trips, like the 8-hour trek to the ACC championship in Blacksburg, Virginia from their Bedford, New York home, impossible.

“It was just one of those things, everybody has things that happen to them,” Dan said. “It’s just unfortunate that it happened to me. Everybody rallied around me. My son was here, he was a senior in high school at the time. He was great and so was my wife. We tried to play it down to Sammy because she’s away at school and I didn’t want to, I just told her I banged up my leg a little bit. She had no idea the extent of it at the time. If anything, it brought us together.”

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North Carolina comes up a 'half-step' short in National Championship

HOUSTON — For the last time in his career, Marcus Paige walked through the North Carolina locker room, still wearing his white No. 5 uniform.

As he walked, the cameras followed in a silent procession, cutting through a room that was void of the carefree laughter that filled it just a day earlier.

Most players sat alone in the aftermath of the 77-74 national championship loss to No. 2-seed Villanova, towels draped around their necks or over their heads, blank stares on their faces and eyes still bloodshot. The players who weren’t left alone spoke in uneven sentences, about the improbability of the last possession, the brotherhood from this season that would never be recreated and the love between them and their coach.

As Paige sat down in a lone metal folding chair in the back of the locker room, a massive banner of he and his teammates grinning broadly wearing Final Four hats, celebrating the East Regional championship hung to his left.

He sat down in the seat, breathing hard, pulling at the ends of the towel around his neck.

In that moment, he wasn’t gasping for air because he was out of breath, but because he was out of time.

4.7 seconds before Kris Jenkins’ shot dropped through the net and the confetti fell, Paige thought he had given himself more time. On a night when so many of UNC’s simple shots didn’t fall, a circus shot — a double-pump 3-pointer — tied the national championship and gave Paige a program record 39 career NCAA Tournament 3-pointers.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever had anybody make a tougher shot than Marcus Paige made,” coach Roy Williams said.

The crowd roared. Jaws dropped. Small seat cushions distributed to most of the 74,340 fans flew in the air.

“You’re so close to that moment,” Paige said. “You’re 4.7 seconds away from winning the game because I told the team we were going to win if we got to overtime. All we had to do was get to overtime and the game was ours, and I truly believe that and I think our whole team believes that.”

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Tar Heels loose ahead of National Championship

HOUSTON — Roy Williams twitched in surprise as he turned his head at Sunday’s final press conference before Monday’s national championship game.

Another press conference, another uninvited guest — the same guest that always seems to find his way into the spotlight — stealing the show.

But at this point, it shouldn’t have come as any shock that Theo Pinson found his way on to the dais at the last pregame press conference of the NCAA Tournament.

“He turned his head, and it was probably one of his nightmares to see my face,” Pinson said, regaling reporters in the locker room afterwards with the story of his latest hijinks.

If the first press conference crashing before the Elite Eight win against Notre Dame was off the cuff, this one was most certainly premeditated.

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UNC limits celebration, hopes for bigger one ahead

HOUSTON — Marcus Paige allowed himself less than a minute — 39 seconds to be precise — to celebrate.

As he, Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson, Brice Johnson and Joel Berry II checked out of Saturday night’s 83-66 national semifinal win against No. 10-seed Syracuse, Paige let himself exhale and take in the surroundings at the NRG Center.

UNC checked off one more item on the to-do list. But there’s still a big one remaining.

“I took about 45 seconds to cherish that moment,” said Paige, who scored 13 points. “When he subbed in our bench and we got to come out, that was the moment of relaxation and celebration for me, hugging my teammates, telling my teammates, ‘Hey we got one more game.’

“Because our ultimate goal is not to make the final game, it’s to win the final game. You’ve got to happy, satisfied with the way you played and to get to this point. But I’m sure it’ll be a lot more fun if we come in here after a win on a Monday night.”

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Williams pranks Tar Heels on April Fools

HOUSTON — On a team as loose as North Carolina, there’s gotta be a couple of April Fools’ pranks, right?

Duh.

But this time the prankster wasn’t Theo Pinson or Brice Johnson. Nope, it came from a collaboration between the head honcho himself and a team manager.

Before Friday morning’s practice, manager Maggie Boulton, a senior exercise and sports science major, decided that some kind of prank had to go down. It just wouldn’t be right if it didn’t.

So she huddled up with coach Roy Williams and started hatching a plan.

“The team does like to joke around and I’m really goofy myself,” Boulton said. “So I was like, we’ve got to do something. A lot of times it’s really serious around, especially with the tournament, big games coming up. We got to practice and I said to him, ‘you should do one of your things where you go wacko on the guys during practice and scream at them for nothing and make them think they’re running and then it’s like just tell them April Fools or whatever.’”

Flawless, right?

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Cuse star, Duke transfer Gbinije not focusing on missed chances

HOUSTON — Syracuse senior Michael Gbinije doesn’t think about what-ifs or what-could-have-beens. Had he stuck to his initial commitment out of high school, he would already have a national championship with Duke. He would already have the ring, banners and trophies Syracuse is chasing this weekend in the Final Four.

But sitting in the locker room at NRG Stadium with his Syracuse teammates, Gbinije isn’t thinking about what could’ve happened if he stayed at Duke and didn’t transfer following his freshman season.

“I had a lot of people tell me, ‘hey, if you would’ve stayed at Duke, you’d be a national champion right now,’” Gbinije said. “And that could be true. It may not. At that point, transferring was just a better decision for me. I hear comments like that but only I know how I would’ve felt in that situation and I’m still glad I decided to transfer.”

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Williams values special bond with Baldwin, Paige

HOUSTON — Sitting on the stage in the interview room at the NRG Stadium a few days before his team was set to play Syracuse in the national semifinal, North Carolina coach Roy Williams was asked about his relationship with senior Marcus Paige.

Their days together are numbered. After this weekend, their relationship defined in the roles of coach and player will come to an end as Paige finally exhausts his collegiate eligibility.

But just because Paige, Williams’ tough lil’ nut and go-to guy, won’t suit up for the No. 1 seed Tar Heels any more doesn’t mean that their friendship is over.

It’s impossible to predict the future, but in the past, Williams’ friendships have transcended the hardwood, and as Paige grows out of Chapel Hill, Williams hopes that their friendship will grow too.

“Gosh, I hope so,” Williams said, his voice not quite breaking, but already tinged with emotion. “I think it will. He’s one of the most incredible young men I’ve ever been around. Marcus Paige has made me a better coach every day. He teaches me something every day.

“I think you have an opportunity to learn from every player, But Marcus truly has the gift of getting other people to follow him. He has that gift. I hope that our relationship only gets better and better. I think it will.”

Decades ago, Williams was in a similar position with T.C. Roberson head coach Buddy Baldwin. Williams was Baldwin’s point guard in the late 1960s, and even after graduating high school and heading off to careers at UNC and Kansas, Baldwin and Williams have remained close.

Baldwin estimates that he’s come to 141 games at the Smith Center since Williams took over UNC’s reins in 2003. When Williams was at Kansas, Baldwin and his wife picked a weekend every year to drive down for a couple of Big Eight games.

Health permitting, Baldwin goes to as many postseason games as possible, and each time Williams goes the Final Four, Baldwin goes too.

“It’s one of the things I’m more proud of than anything,” Williams said before leaving for Houston. “I say that my teams have taken me to seven — and now I can say my teams have taken me to eight Final Fours — and I take my high school coach with me every year.

“He was in Philadelphia and Washington DC. He’s fought and beat cancer three times. He’s had a kidney removed, bladder removed, he’s been back out on the golf course. It’s a thrill for me. I talk to him a heck of a lot more than I should. I’m a pain the butt talking to him.”

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Players weigh in: who should sing One Shining Moment?

HOUSTON — Good news everybody, the Turner executives have heard our cries and have reinstated Luther Vandross as the One Shining Moment artist of record.

After casually mentioning during a conference call March 29 that a new artist would be recording the wonderfully hokey and cheesy song for this year’s tournament, Turner Sports avoided a major crisis and reassured the public that Vandross is still the centerpiece of the final tournament video montage.

A 2003 recording of his vocals will accompany the all-encompassing NCAA Tournament highlight montage at the end of the national title game on TBS. But, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the song, NE-YO is recording his own version to be used for team-centric highlights on the Team Stream coverage on TNT and Tru-TV.

Everybody wins.

For the last 29 years, the song originally written and recorded by David Barrett has accompanied a tournament highlight reel following the end of the national championship.

Teddy Pendergrass also recorded his own version for a couple of tournaments, but Vandross, who died in 2005, took over in 2003 and has been a March Madness staple ever since — except for 2010 when CBS bestowed the honor to Jennifer Hudson. It didn’t go over so well, and Vandross’ version returned the following year.

Luther Vandross is One Shining Moment and One Shining Moment is Luther Vandross.

When news got out that Vandross may not be doing One Shining Moment this year, the players at the Final Four were pretty distraught. Though they were pretty upset that Vandross might be snubbed, they had a few replacements in mind.

Syracuse’s Michael Gbinije and Tyler Robertson suggested that the song be totally revamped by Lil Wayne.

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Marcus Paige keeps it poppin'

HOUSTON — Marcus Paige has been asked a lot of questions in his four years at North Carolina — about his prolific second halfs, his relationship with teammate Brice Johnson, his previous shooting woes and his recent resurgence.

But Thursday morning, I threw him a bit of a curveball during the first day of Final Four availability at the NRG Center and asked about popcorn.

It’s not completely random, I promise.

Leaving a press conference in Chapel Hill before the regional round of the NCAA Tournament in Philadelphia, Paige joked about ties between his home state of Iowa and his love of popcorn.

He might’ve been kidding, but it’s only natural that Paige might like to pop a couple kernels occasionally. Iowa is the top producer of corn in the United States, and according to the state’s agriculture department, Iowa farmers harvested 13.3 million acres of the crop in 2014.

And because I’m a popcorn fanatic, I wanted to know the degree of Paige’s devotion to the snack.

Turns out, he’s a pretty big fan, too.

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Houston-bound: UNC heads to the Final Four

PHILADELPHIA — It was always a part of the plan.

It had to be.

Houston or bust. Houston or it was a failure. Houston or it was a collegiate legacy left unfulfilled by this class of seniors.

It was a mountain of pressure, heaping higher and higher as the season went on, often keeping coach Roy Williams up at nights

Entering the senior seasons of Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, North Carolina had nothing to show for the last four years. Not an ACC Championship, National Championship or a Final Four.

Their individual names would be in the record books, but that wasn’t enough.

No, for the Tar Heels to feel accomplished, there needed to be a physical reminder of the team’s legacy, one that would hang in the rafters of the Smith Center alongside mementos of other unforgettable teams.

The Tar Heels got one banner in Washington, D.C. But that ACC Tournament Championship wasn’t enough. They wanted more — and they needed more — to validate the careers of Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige and to heal their coach and program from the cuts and the black eyes that have defined the last four years.

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NCCU seniors rule in final home game

DURHAM — It all started two and a half months ago.

As he does each year around that time, coach LeVelle Moton began verbally reminding his team of their time left in this season.

80 days. 60 days. 40 days.

Feb. 7 marked 25 days left in this regular season, and for Dante Holmes, Jeremiah Ingram and Enoch Hood, 25 days left to wear an N.C. Central uniform.

After so many years of hearing the countdown of others’ careers, the realization that their clocks were so near expiration had a game-altering impact on the senior trio.

A week removed from an overtime loss to N.C. A&T, NCCU’s seniors channeled a renewed sense of urgency to fuel a decisive 90-66 win against Bethune-Cookman (9-16, 6-5 MEAC) on their senior day.

“When you’re a sophomore or a junior, you’re like ‘Coach ain’t talking to me.’ And now, you kind of see that light at the end of the tunnel and that train is for you this time,” Moton said. “And it’s going to pull up to your door, and it’s going to honk the horn and you’ve got to get in there.

“The thing is, what legacy are you going to attach to yourself? What are you leaving behind? What are people going to remember you by. I told them, let’s just go out on all cylinders. All out chaos and having a sense of urgency.”

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Tennis newbie Strepay comes to NCCU's rescue

DURHAM — Three weeks ago, Dillon Strepay learned where the service box was located on a tennis court in his PEDU 1110 class.

Today, he’ll step into a service box in Lynchburg, Virginia with the N.C. Central men’s tennis team to play the first match of his career.

Not just the first match of his collegiate career, but his first match ever.

“It’s all happened pretty quickly,” he said.

No kidding.

Enrolled in a tennis physical education class taught by a former NCCU coach for the spring semester of his junior year, Strepay was engrossed in learning about the different parts of court and the history of the sport. But when the Cary native heard that the men’s tennis team was postponing matches in search of a fifth player to complete their squad, he quickly made the decision to go out for the team.

“Two of the women’s players on the team told me that the guys already had to cancel one match because they didn’t have enough guys, so that sort of interested me,” Strepay said. “I was like, ‘Hey, I could help out the other tennis guys.’ They gave me coach John (McLean’s) number and I texted him. And then we just went from there.”

That was two weeks ago.

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UNC's Marcus Paige on PG Nate Britt: ‘He was huge’

CHAPEL HILL — At halftime of Saturday afternoon’s 67-55 win against N.C. State, North Carolina coach Roy Williams and his assistants weren’t pleased by much.

No. 5 UNC entered the break tied at 29 with N.C. State (10-8, 0-5 ACC), allowing the Wolfpack to shoot 46.6 percent while only making 34.4 percent of its own shots.

For most of the half, UNC struggled to rebound, and at one point, NCSU had a 10-3 rebounding advantage.

All told, it wasn’t a very pretty opening 20 minutes.

As the team gathered in the locker room, assistant coach Hubert Davis had praise for just one player: Nate Britt.

“He was huge,” guard Marcus Paige said of Britt. “Coach Davis, when we came in the locker room, said he was the only one giving us anything in the first half.”

Though the point guard registered just three points in the first half, and finished without adding any in the second, Britt not only helped contain Wolfpack point guard Cat Barber, but he also gave the Tar Heels (16-2, 5-0) a crucial spark off the bench when nothing was clicking

“The story in the first half was that Nate Britt was the only guy that gave us a chance,” Williams said. “I thought he really picked us up defensively.”

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Canucks nip Hurricanes in overtime

RALEIGH — There’s a buzz around the ice of PNC Arena that’s largely been absent over the last couple of seasons.

The W-word is being used.

Not weary, not woeful, not wretched.

Winning.

As passengers got on the elevator before Friday night’s game against Vancouver, John, a silver-haired elevator operator, sat on his perch by the buttons, confidently remarking to his riders that there was a ‘winning mood’ around the place.

And it’s no wonder, Hurricanes entered the game riding a four-game win streak, including a 4-1 victory on the road against the St. Louis Blues Thursday night.

That streak and perhaps some of that ‘winning mood’ came to an end Friday as the Canucks skated out of PNC Arena with a 3-2 overtime win, despite the Hurricanes’ 40-22 edge in shots on goal.

And, for the fourth time this year, the Hurricanes were not assessed a penalty. Carolina is 1-1-2 in games where the team was not assessed any penalties.

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So what's this hockey thing about?

RALEIGH — Despite being raised by a mother who hails from above the Mason-Dixon, my exposure to ice hockey is pretty limited. Sure, I’ve watched all the Mighty Ducks movies, most of Miracle on Ice and USA hockey in the Sochi Games but that’s about the extent of my ice hockey background.

I have attended one hockey game in my lifetime. Thanks to some comp tickets from the brother of a friend (Thanks, Dave!), a couple years ago I found myself at Friday night showdown between the Penguins and the Predators at the Consol Energy Center. It was cold, we drank a couple of LaBlatts, the obnoxious HEY WE JUST SCORED siren went off a couple times and there was a fight. I bought a shirt afterwards and we went home. Oh, and I think the Pens won.

Yay hockey.

Fast forward three years, and I’m now living in Durham, working for the Herald-Sun and a hockey team within 20 miles of the office is kind of in the hunt for the wildcard spot. My usual beat is on the road, and I’ve got some free hours.

A couple emails and a few days later and I’m pulling up to PNC Arena, mistakenly parking in the rich people season ticket holder spots that I will never afford and stumbling my way into the arena. I say stumbling, because, in fact I did gracefully trip off of the curb, head swiveling wildly while I looked for the media will call entrance.

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A thank you to Jeff Gordon

For as long as I can remember, every Sunday afternoon my dad and I have had three things: popcorn, naps and Jeff Gordon.

I can’t remember the first time I watched a Winston Cup NASCAR race. I don’t know who won and I don’t know where they were racing. What I do know is that one car caught my eye, a rainbow blur circling the track at impossibly fast speeds. I didn’t know what DuPont was, and I’m not sure I know even now, but the No. 24 car was instantly my favorite.

Behind the wheel was a youthful Jeff Gordon, a young gun there to challenge the good old boys, The King Richard Petty (dad’s favorite),  Bill Elliott (mom’s favorite in his yellow Peanut M&Ms car)1, and Dale Earnhart (the original always better than Junior).

And if the rainbow car wasn’t enough to win me over, the 2001 Fritos commercial featuring Jeff — or Jeffy as my dad and I sarcastically (him), yet endearingly (me) nicknamed him — speeding by on a lawnmower and powering through War and Peace to eat Fritos Chili and Scoops with his then-wife Brooke really sealed the deal.

A Fruit Loop box colored car and a wife that shared my name? I didn’t stand a chance. I was destined to be Jeff Gordon fan for life.

And when he won his first race in 1994, it was less than 50 miles away at the Coca Cola 600.

See? I was doomed from the beginning.

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