The Team I Hate Most Is …

Editor’s Note: JB & I come from different worlds. That is, our respective alma maters are rivals. Back in March, we put our differences aside to show some mutual respect for past greats from our respective school’s basketball program. What follows is the pigskin edition of a similar exchange. Enjoy.
From: JB Sawyer
To: DB Riego
Date: Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Our exchange last spring turned out so well, I thought we ought to run it back for football season. As an added bonus, I think the respective choices for football may be a little more thought provoking.

The challenge was to select a player who played at our rival school between 1998 and 2012 for each of the following categories:
Best Player
Most Hated Player
Player You Would Have Liked On Your Team

I know you had a few procedural complaints about the last exchange so I want to give you an opportunity to propose any additions or deletions to the rules.

I will even defer to you good sir to kick it off..and I promise I won’t select Debbie Yow again.


From: DB Riego
To: JB Sawyer
Date: Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

First, I apologize for the lengthy delay in getting my response back to you. As I’m sure you can imagine but have no first-hand knowledge of, trying to run an Internet company AND be a co-editor and writer takes up a lot of time. That didn’t come out as funny as I thought it would so I’ll probably just edit it out.

I don’t know that I had any significant procedural complaints about the last go round – the execution on your part left a little to be desired. I do appreciate your proclamation not to select our AD for a “player” award this time (an act made even more egregious by your very explicit instruction that a “player” must be selected). That said, I did think it might be a little fun to use this football exchange to flesh out a theory that you proposed and have long held – that NCSU and UNC should combine football teams to form an uber-underachieving team that would, one can only hope, at least dominate in-state recruiting. That procedural change would have us form a roster of the very best players from both teams with the only stipulation that it would have been possible for all of the players selected to play together – even if it meant we had some true freshmen playing with red-shirt seniors. I know your encyclopedic knowledge of random things provides enough of a foundation to undertake such a monumental task, but seeing as how I’m going to struggle to pick out three notable UNC players from the last 15 years other than those who were unceremoniously thrown under a bus driven by a certain former chancellor of yours – well, let’s just table that idea for now.

Okay, so I have to confess I might have been intentionally suffering some temporary amnesia a few moments ago when I suggested there haven’t been any notable UNC football players over the last 15 years. And, honestly, as great as guys like Dre Bly, Ryan Sims, Brandon Spoon, Alge Crumpler, Ronald Curry were (let it be stated for the record, these are all names just from the ’98 roster alone) – who can forget the incredible pedigree of UNC kickers like Jeff Reed and Connor Barth (I feel like I’m forgetting one)? All that to say, that as mediocre as our two respective teams are, they do tend to churn out some fairly decent players. I mentioned a bunch of players from that ’98 team, but the one guy I noticeably skipped – intentionally, because he’s my pick – was a freshman on that team by the name of Julius Peppers. It’s unfortunate that the 2-3 years the Panthers overstayed their welcome in Peppers’ life might have stifled his pro career a bit because he might have had a chance at a pro career that would at least be talked about with LT’s in the context of former Carolina defensive players. He’s certainly in the conversation, but it’s a short one if you’re talking all-time greats. He was a fantastic and terrifying college player, though, and that certainly has to be mentioned. He’s the type of guy that, even when out on the field with his – to use the term lightly – peers, he seemed like a giant among men. Not only that – as big and strong as he was, he was fast and otherwise athletic. Michael Jordan once described the feeling of being in the zone as feeling like the basket is like 2-3 times the normal size and the ball just goes through no matter how you throw it up there. That’s what it felt like watching J-Pepp at times – that he was just 2-3 times the size of anyone else, and that scale applied to the ball as well. It seemed like he could just reach in to a ball carrier’s grip, effortlessly swipe the ball and just go the other way. Dipping his toes in basketball undoubtedly contributed to his soft hands – able to make interceptions with the ease of a corner at twice the size.

So that’s my pick for Best Player from the Tarholes over the last 15 years. I hope I don’t regret using that one up when it comes to the other superlatives. Your move, chief.


From: JB Sawyer
To: DB Riego
Date: Saturday August 17th, 2013

Dear Sir,

I am totally in on your building one “uber-underachieving team” to destroy our collective will at the same time. That got my mind spinning, but this is serious business we are undertaking and I am a professional so I was able to compose my thoughts and bring it all back to the matter at hand…selecting NC State’s BEST Player from 1998 to 2012.

First, I want to respond to your pick. Peppers is absolutely the best player to have had a dorm room at UNC since 1998. He was a force of nature and truly amazing to watch on the field and hardwood. I know its only mentioned EVERY TIME he makes a play, but he also played basketball at UNC and even squeezed in a Final Four trip while terrorizing ACC quarterbacks.

As with UNC, I think selecting NC State’s best player of the last 15 years is really only a three horse race (Rivers, Wilson, and Williams), and I am not sure its as close as it is in my mind. This man set every important ACC passing record on his way to becoming NC State’s greatest player and leading arguably its greatest team in 2002. This man also came half a yard short (three times) of recording NC State’s greatest victory. This man is the one and only, Phillip Rivers. Rivers is one of the greatest players ever seen in the ACC and he is my pick for NC State’s greatest player.

Rivers led the best teams of the Chuck Amato era, was 3-1 against UNC, 2-2 against then-ACC power FSU, and had the defense been just a bit better, he would have one an ACC title. I could go on, but I may need to save some ammo for a later email…

Your move good sir.

From: DB Riego
To: JB Sawyer
Date: Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Rivers is a great pick, and certainly the right one. I can’t wait to see who you pick for the last category.

I have to admit, this category, “Most Hated” is giving me fits. I’ve been all over the map on this one. I thought about pulling a JB and going way Yow’t there on you with Woody Durham (because any time ol’ Woody mentions any of your players’ names, I instantly hate them – probably because he’s talking about how their mistake or mishap was caused by some form of cheating by the other team). I tried to twist my respect for your relatively decent run of wide receivers into some sort of hatred. Couldn’t. I even tried to use one of the stupidest celebrations of all time as fuel for my disdain. But reason trumped me again. As it turns out, I’m not sure there’s ever really been a football player who donned the UNC uniform that I’ve truly hated – well, there was one, but hate turned to compassion when he ripped his knee to shreds.

So I have to go outside of the box a little bit here, after all, and select Ronald Curry. But I’m not selecting the real Ronald Curry. I’m selecting video game Ronald Curry – the one that you edited created1 and set to have 99 speed in NCAA Football 2003 by EA Sports. Defending the option just wasn’t the same after that – in fact, defense wasn’t even really a plausible strategy against a Ronald Curry with 99 speed. Video game Bo Jackson thinks that’s messed up. And given the defensive ends for the Pack during that era were notorious for over-running the plays in the backfield, you know the option plus Curry’s pseudo-speed was a lethal combination and dagger to all hopes of containing your offense. Alas, if only the real Curry had ever been that good.

I can’t wait to hear what ridiculousness you’ve drummed up to follow that …

From: JB Sawyer
To: DB Riego
Date: Monday, August 26th, 2013

Fantastic choice! If for no other reason, I could relive this wonderful moment! I must admit, that does not look like 99 speed, but it was the greatest football moment I have witnessed “live.”

As you know, I have a history of cheating in this exchange and I always seem to cheat on the “Hate” category, which I am sure says something about me (I am sure you have some opinion on the matter). This time will be no different. Perusing the scores of “2 Star” players that littered your rosters over the years, there were a few players that elicited some response such as TA McLendon, Phillip Rivers, Mario Williams, and even Russell (we both know that’s a lie). Unfortunately, looking at each roster only two names stood out, Chuck Amato and Tom O’Brien (from here on out Toby). Amato got a strong look as I despised everything about that era of NC State football, but that was probably born of a fear that the “TorBunting” teams were not up to the challenge. As it turned out, Bunting and Amato probably had more in common than any of us realized and I will never forget being there in ’06 as the final Amato-Bunting clash ended with a whimper (I even joked that the only real winner that day was the loser because it guaranteed we wouldn’t have to watch these two again).

That leaves one man, a man who would grate my nerves to the bitter end. The one, the only, The Marine. I am sure he is a stand-up guy, his teams were never dirty, and he even kept his team on the straight and narrow…for the most part. I loathed him for the way he pandered to an already irrational fan base as a means to keeping his job. Instead of focusing on NC State’s improvement he would lob a comment about “triple plays” and “syllabus” UNC’s way. Finally, the coup de gras, he beat the crap out of UNC five straight years. If it wasn’t for a player unlike any other, it would have been SIX years. For these reasons, I name Tom O’Brien as my Most Hated NC State Player/Coach….

But, the team I hate is NC STATE!

From: DB Riego
To: JB Sawyer
Date: Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Why am I not surprised that you’d take another opportunity to explore the outer bounds of the rules you set? I guess the only reason we put parameters around this discussion in the first place is so you can go and break through them. It’s cool, though, all of our players are pretty likable so I understand your dilemma.

Speaking of the Pack, I’m glad I finally get a chance to talk about some of our players for once, even if it’s just to wrap some context around my pick for Player I Most Wanted to Play for the Pack. It seems like a slap in the face for me to go with Giovani Bernard, but recent history and a callback to a ploy from our last exchange heavily influenced my decision here. I say it’s a slap in the face, because we actually had a decent run of running backs at the turn of the millennium in Ray Robinson and T.A. McLendon. RayRob’s stats don’t necessarily hold up, but T.A.’s freshman year is as good as any in recent memory – he was fragile, though, and couldn’t handle the load in the years that followed, a disappointing result considering who our quarterback was at the time. So why go with Bernard? His stats are phenomenal, but more than that I just loved to watch him work. He’s a finesse, speed runner with (some) power to shed tackles and a work ethic. What more could you ask for in a feature back? Having Bernard in the backfield might not have been enough to make up for all of the drops by Pack receivers in 2012, but it certainly would have helped. I’m not sure how Mike Glennon made it to the NFL2, but if he’d had Bernard behind him, he might have been All-ACC. And then, finally, there’s the moment that shall not be mentioned – the punt heard up and down the Atlantic coast. I’d give anything to have that one back and if, in my dream world, swapping jerseys on Bernard takes care of that for me, I’ll gladly take him over any of your great line of receivers and defensive powerhouses over the last 15 years.

It’s been fun, I can’t wait to see your pick. I’m off to start my research for our uber-underacheiving Highway 54 All-Star team.

From: JB Sawyer
To: DB Riego
Date: Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Well, this sure has been fun, and I think you made the right choice. Gio was a playmaker the likes of which haven’t often been seen within BKS (that is Beautiful Kenan Stadium to the uninitiated), and provided maybe the most memorable moment in the last 20 years of UNC football.

I wanted to travel in the wayback machine to avoid the curse of recency in selecting my NC State player for our exchange, but I just couldn’t do it. As I am sure you could have guess, my selection is none other than Mr. Badger Russell Wilson. Wilson was a phenomenal talent, great representative of multiple universities, and an even better person. Russ had a perfect record against UNC and allowed Toby to stick around about 3 years longer than he should have. Much like Rivers, had Wilson been surrounded by even average talent, he would be remembered for championships rather than 2 yard hail marys. As the UNC folk lore goes, Wilson was interested in UNC, but Bunting was willing to give him a scholarship as most thought he would end up choosing baseball (UNC fans think all players want to come to UNC, but some outside factor prevents it). Ultimately, Wilson did choose baseball, which led to his premature departure from NC State (again, Tom O’Brien sucks). However, Wilson will not be remembered for that, but his force of personality, beating UNC, and his wife.

For all of these reason (and most likely the win streaks never makes it to 5), I select Russell Wilson.

As always, the banter is a pleasure and I look forward to developing the underachieving monolith that will be known as Tar Packers (probably ought to work on the name).

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Gerry Broome (via Star News Online)

  1. I had NCAA Football 2003, and Curry had actually moved on the previous year. So, perhaps even more egregious than the 99 speed, you gave him an extra year of eligibility.
  2. Even more perplexing, he’s competing for a starting job.