Humans, the finest of all seasons is almost officially upon us. If you look closely, there are some leaves beginning to change, I wore a long-sleeved shirt the other day without immediately suffering heat stroke, and actual meaningful football games begin this Thursday at PM6, when North Carolina travels southward, into a den of garnet deviants who fight birds for sport.
UNC again finds themselves situated in a role of football prominence, opening the season in prime-time national television against a highly ranked SEC opponent for the second time in 4 years. The Cackalacky Border War has the potential to be, at the very least, a great deal of fun, pitting the demented genius Steve Spurrier against the younger, probably just as demented Larry Fedora, and the blazing Fed Spread against a very, very stout Defense.
Lots of eyeballs will be on this game, even outside of our fair state and the one below us. Fans across the country will have their eyes wide-open and glued to this game for the same reason that I will have mine covered: we are terrified of what Jadeveon Clowney, Gamecock’s defensive end/level-6 Kaiju, is going to do.
Because it could be anything. We’ve all been inundated with that clip from the Michigan game, to the point where we understand that Clowney is some kind of superhuman missile-person who can’t be stopped from getting into the backfield. If you told me that he would record 5 sacks, I’d believe you, and if you also told me that he would walk onto the field to WWE Superstar The Undertaker’s theme music and pop a football with his bare hands, I’d believe that too.
We tend, though, as a society of football fans, to think of Clowney as a separate being from the other players on the field, but he’s not. He’s an unstoppable force, sure, but to prove that he needs movable objects, and with those men lie my concerns. So without further ado…
Who Has The Most to Fear from The Clownpocalypse?
5. James Hurst
Hurst bottoms out the list, which seems odd at first glance, since he’ll be the gentleman saddled with the most Clowney responsibility, and won’t have the luxury of some kind of exo-suit to help him (guys, Pacific Rim is really good). But here’s why he’s so low: no one expects anyone to be able to block Jadeveon, and the majority of people watching this game will have no idea how good Hurst actually is (really really really good is how good). All Hurst has to do is play to the level that he’s proven he’s capable of, and keep Clowney under some semblance of control for even the smallest majority of the game, and he will have exceeded the expectations of most of the country. He’ll have help, of course, as it seems reasonable to double-team the guy, and one thing that gets lost in the concussive grandeur of that play against Michigan is that Clowney is a mortal, blockable human being. His impact on that game was pretty minimal up until that point, and only a missed assignment let him get into the backfield untouched.
4. UNC’s committee of running backs
Universally beloved tailback Giovanni Bernard’s departure leaves some size-infinity shoes to be filled, and that unenviable task will fall on A.J. Blue, Romar Morris, and freshman Khris Francis (who positively stole the show in the spring game). Blue is a bruiser, Morris brings more flash to the table, and Francis showed flashes in the spring game of that same kind of patient hyper-awareness that made Gio so good, so the best case scenario for UNC is that they’ll always have one of three fresh, differently skilled backs to rotate into the game. The problem with that is three separate bodies for Jadeveon Clowney to separate from their heads.
These guys have all probably seen the Michigan clip as many times as we have (and realistically, I’ve seen it 20 times without even searching for it; that’s how ubiquitous it was) if not more, given its particular relevance to them.
Regardless, these are the three bodies that Clowney is most likely to collide with after getting a head of steam, and for that they all edge out Hurst on our list.
3. UNC Fans
Physical pain heals. As the great Shane “Footsteps” Falco has said, “pain heals, chicks dig scars, glory lasts forever.” Maybe these guys get their bells rung, maybe they get the wind knocked out of them, but they’re young, and some time in an ice bath is going to placate 80% of what happens on a football field.
On the other hand, a state full of people will be watching this game, yearning for some kind of sign from the real Carolina that’ll signify actual football relevance, and by virtue of that yearning we take players and turn them into our heroes, unloading our hopes and dreams into them.
Now, by all accounts, Jadeveon Clowney is a humble, easygoing guy who rightly equates twitter with trouble and keeps out of the limelight (one conversation with Jay-Z notwithstanding) but because of the way stories and the human brain work, UNC fans will have no choice but to see him as a villain. If he puts a hit on anyone that takes them off the field for even, like, two weeks, he’ll occupy the same space as Bernard Pollard in Patriots fans’ minds, and he’ll seep into our nightmares.
I’ll put it this way, once, in 2011, I watched South Carolina play Arkansas, a team I am entirely apathetic toward, and I was scared of Clowney for two weeks after. I can’t imagine what I’ll feel when he’s charging towards…
2. Bryn Renner
Renner, after a hit against Wake Forest that had him looking like the most concussed man on Earth, spent a lot of time last season finding creative new ways to get hit in the head every week. When he’s operating at full capacity, I honestly believe he’s the second best quarterback in the ACC (and not just because I’m hugely biased. If I were just hugely biased I would say that he’s better than Tahj Boyd, which is only true when Boyd is off his game). After South Carolina, UNC has a very forgiving schedule. They navigate the ACC without Clemson or Florida State, and are in the best position they’ve been in since the Mack Brown days to win 9 or 10 games. This can happen with a healthy Bryn Renner, but being the target for a transcendent, physics-defying, singularly talented defensive end is not the best way to stay healthy.
1. South Carolina Fans
I have this friend with a lot of theories, who is a USC fan and believes in what he calls the Chicken Curse. The Chicken Curse is, as you’d expect, the malevolent force by which the University of South Carolina Football Gamecocks find themselves on the cusp, in recent years, of great success only to have it snatched away by evil forces, or Florida. The curse injured Marcus Lattimore twice, and I think there are more than a few in Gamecock nation who fear that Clowney will be the latest casualty, and that’s a special kind of acute psychic agony, and that trumps any fear that I or Bryn Renner or Larry Fedora have.
I won’t, even jokingly, wish any physical harm on a football player who doesn’t play for State, but I would have no problem with a manifestation of the curse that keeps Clowney hovering 6-10 feet off the ground for 4 hours starting Thursday at 6 (on ESPN).
 I don’t believe that Fedora ever speaks in an even, mellow tone. Between his initial press conference, seeing him on the sidelines, and the basketball games he’s popped up at, I think Larry is like Nic Cage in that all of his dialogue is either screamed or whispered. I also imagine him with a stopwatch at all times, watching people performing slow activities with the same mix of bewilderment and disgust that John Calipari has for players over the age of 20.
 If I’m Larry Fedora, I institute a ban on that clip in June. I install keyboard monitors on all of my running backs’ laptops. Either that or I loop it over and over again in the locker room until it loses all of its power, like when you say the word “room” over and over again and it just turns into a sound without meaning that you’re making.
 Not that you care, but my favorite active sports curse is the Curse of the Billy Goat currently setting teeth to their gnashing and garments to their rending in Chicago, Illinois, USA, because this is what the guy with the titular goat actually said: “them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”