There really should be some consideration given to making Feb. 5 a national holiday. It's the anniversary of not one, but two, of the biggest moments in the history of the Dean Smith Center. A look back:
Feb. 5, 1992: Bloody Montross
Based on the reaction Eric Montross gets from Carolina fans at arenas around the country, I believe this might be the single most memorable moment of the past 25 years of Carolina basketball. When fans encounter Eric, it's possible they might mention the 1993 national championship to him. There's a chance they might mention his long career in the NBA.
But they are absolutely, positively, one hundred percent guaranteed to say the following words to him: "Do you remember that time your head was bloody against Duke?" Instantly that night and for the 22 years since then, it has been known only as the Bloody Montross Game.
Two moments made this image so indelible: for the viewers on television, it was the fact that the TV cameras caught blood streaming down the big man's face while he shot a free throw. There was absolutely no way to miss it.
And for the 21,444 fans in attendance, it was when Montross went to the locker room to get cleaned up. Normally not an especially demonstrative player, double-zero stormed off the court, very possibly expressing a little frustration towards the Blue Devils. At that time, the entire student section was located around the UNC tunnel, and Montross' roars were exactly the fuel the crowd needed to get even louder.
What you might not remember was that the game itself was actually a very important one. Duke was the defending national champion and came into the game undefeated and ranked first in the country. Carolina opened the second half with a 10-0 run and the Smith Center was deafening, but the ninth-ranked Tar Heels then proceeded to go the final 9:30 without a field goal.
Fortunately, they connected on 12 of 14 free throws during that stretch, including the eventual game-winners by Derrick Phelps with 44.5 seconds left. Making the game even sweeter, all-time villain Christian Laettner had two chances to tie the game but couldn't convert.
Fans stormed the Smith Center court for the first time in history--not one of the modern-day, "Oh, we should go on the court now" court-stormings, but all-out pandemonium--and Bloody Montross was an instant legend. Current assistant coach Hubert Davis led Carolina with 16 points, and Montross added 12 points and nine rebounds.
If just the highlights above aren't good enough, here's video of the full game:
Feb. 5, 1998: Vince Carter off the backboard
History reflects that Vince Carter missed the dunk on a pass from Ed Cota off the backboard against Duke. History should also reflect that absolutely no one who was in attendance cares at all.
This particular Carolina-Duke game was a 1 vs. 2 affair, with the Blue Devils holding the top ranking. That made it all the more satisfying when the Tar Heels essentially blew them out twice. First, the home team took a 16-point halftime lead. Then, after a second half meltdown brought Duke back within four points with six minutes to go, they did it again, closing the game on a 24-4 blitz that once again left the Smith Center delirious.
Included in that second run was a sequence with two minutes left when Carter stepped into the passing lane and deflected a Blue Devil pass near the top of the key. That sent the ball to Cota, who had a three-on-one fast break. Despite not exactly being a Dean Smith-approved way to get the ball in the basket, Carter and Cota had pulled off the play before, and the emotion of the moment led Cota to toss the ball off the backboard and wait for Carter to gather it and slam it. And then...
"The place would've erupted if I had made that," Carter said. "We had done it one time in a pickup game and I made it. I know Coach Guthridge probably had a heart attack, but it felt natural. I wanted to make it so badly that I tried to dunk it too hard."
Carter still takes ribbing about the play from former teammate Antawn Jamison. "That's the most celebrated missed dunk I have ever seen in my life," Jamison said. "The guy was up there. I ask him, 'How could you miss that?' He says, 'I was too high.' I don't know how he missed it but if he made it that would've been first Carolina game stopped because everyone would've run off the floor.
"He loves it. He says, 'I'm the only person who can have people talk about my missed dunk more than the dunks other people make.'" In fact, it's been called the biggest what-if in UNC-Duke history.
It should be noted that Carter did, in fact, complete an off-the-backboard dunk at the Smith Center. This one came at the 2009 alumni game off a pass from Shammond Williams, when Carter was 32 years old but still jumped like he was 18:Adam Lucas is the editor of CAROLINA.