From the staff

Column: When this college basketball season zigged, I Zagged

togburn@newsobserver.comMarch 21, 2013 

A Gonzaga flag now graces the backyard of the Ogburn house, where a UNC flag had long flown.


It’s March Madness, and across the Triangle, people are proudly supporting their teams in the NCAA tournament. UNC. N.C. State. Duke. Maybe Indiana or Ohio State or Miami.

And flapping in the breeze behind my house, where a blue Tar Heels flag has flown for years, is a large banner that cheers on ... Gonzaga.

I fought the Zags, and the Zags won.

See, my wife is a proud graduate of Gonzaga University, the private campus that has nearly 8,000 students in Spokane, Wash.

When we met 17 years ago, I’ll confess that I didn’t know much – OK, anything – about Gonzaga. (It’s Gon-ZAG-a, not Gon-ZAH-ga. They hate it when TV people mispronounce it.)

But in the ensuing years, I’ve learned, along with most sports fans, as college basketball has put Gonzaga on the national radar. Since the mid-1990s, the Zags have been a regular fixture when the NCAA brackets are announced.

As a Tar Heel grad, from a family of mostly Tar Heel fans, I eagerly embraced the Zags at tourney time – as long as they stayed out in those West brackets and didn’t really threaten my Heels.

I even forgave them in 2006 when Gonzaga defeated UNC in a regular-season game. It was November, after all, and not a March game that really meant something.

My family followed suit, cheering for my wife’s alma mater when they weren’t playing UNC. (And my nephews, who inexplicably pull for a Triangle team that’s a darker shade of blue than Carolina, gladly cheered on the Zags even when they took on the Heels. I’ve always wondered about those boys.)

A lark of a flag

When we moved into our current home, it had a holder on the back of the house to hang a flag from. We had a Christmas flag, an Easter flag, a Halloween flag and a U.S. flag for patriotic holidays. And during basketball season, a Tar Heels flag.

Ever the good sport, I even ordered a Gonzaga one from Spokane for my wife. (I had to order it. Those Zag flags aren’t really easy to find around here.)

Sometimes we might even fly it. But it was really more of a lark than anything else.

It’s not like we were going to replace the Heels flag with it, am I right?

There was really no way to argue this was there?

I mean, this is North Carolina, and we’re talking the Heels. Five-time national champions. Storied college home of Jordan, Worthy, McAdoo, Cunningham.

And Gonzaga? Well, it can count John Stockton and Adam Morrison as hoops alumni. And for all their success, the Zags haven’t cracked the Final Four yet.

I mean, no contest. Get back to me when your team is ranked No. 1 in the nation.


The chatter begins ...

So, the chatter to change the flag started a few weeks back. “Um, excuse me, I was looking at the rankings, where my Zags are No. 1. For the first time ever. I don’t remember seeing your Heels. Are they, um, ranked?”

I tried to hold off. That Gonzaga flag is big and red and has a bulldog on it. People might think we support Georgia, and we wouldn’t want that. If your team is always going by the name Zags, why do they even have a bulldog on the flag? (Says the guy whose Tar Heel team has a ram for a mascot.)

Plus, Carolina seemed to have gotten it together as the regular season was coming to an end. They needed my support. They needed the flag in the backyard of the Ogburn house in Raleigh!

But on the Sunday after a particularly disappointing UNC loss at home to Duke, I gave in. Since there was no way we were ever going to find one of those “House Divided” flags with UNC and Gonzaga on it, the Zags won out. For now.

Here’s the thing, though. Since the flag switch, the Heels have been playing some of their best basketball. Save for a disappointing last couple of minutes in the final game, they came close to even winning the ACC tournament.

Maybe, in some sort of weird way, taking down the admittedly ratty UNC flag and putting up the Gonzaga one is providing good karma to both teams.

So, as the flag in the backyard says, “Go Zags!”

And if by flying that it helps my Heels against Villanova, all the better.

Thad Ogburn is metro editor of The News & Observer. or 919-829-8987

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