KREST: There’s only one choice for a State-Carolina rivalry prize: Bless Your Heart

When Blue meets Red, no one is thinking about pulled pork, pine needles or politicians. They’re saying, “Did you hear what they said?”

NC State players and coaches celebrate after UNC missed a field goal attempt in the second overtime to give the Wolfpack a 30-27 win in Chapel Hill over their rivals. (Chris Seward / AP Photo)

After leading the Wolfpack to a 30-27 double-overtime win over the Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium, NC State quarterback Ben Finley met the media. Coaches and sports information directors held their breaths as he began his remarks.

Finley mentioned State’s success in road games, at the stadium they call “Carter-Finley West,” Finley said, and all the collective breath was released with relief.

Finley’s older brother, Ryan, had gone 2-0 against Carolina in Chapel Hill. But he apparently wasn’t clear on which direction the team bus went when it left Raleigh as he christened Kenan Stadium “Carter-Finley North” after his final win over the Tar Heels.

All of which brings us to my point: There is only one appropriate trophy for the winner of the annual State-Carolina game, and that’s the Bless Your Heart Trophy.

College football is known for its historic rivalries, and most rivalries come with some type of prize awarded to the winner of each year’s game. Duke and UNC play for the Victory Bell, but nationally, some of the trophies have become more famous than the teams that play for them. Paul Bunyan’s Axe goes to the winner of Minnesota versus Wisconsin. Indiana and Purdue play for the Old Oaken Bucket. There’s the Little Brown Jug, the Golden Egg, the Iron Skillet and dozens more.

Each trophy has a backstory that no one knows, at least until the crew announcing the game does its prep prior to kickoff.

State and UNC is one of the best trophyless rivalries around. Over the years, plenty have been suggested, often related (like most other things in the state) to barbecue or the long-leaf pine. A few have played off the “Governor’s Cup” trophy awarded in many rivalries and suggested naming it after a famous North Carolina politician or UNC system president.

Those ideas are fine, but playing for the Brass Barbecue Tongs or the Jim Hunt Trophy isn’t going to capture the nation’s imagination the way that the Fremont Cannon (an actual cannon given to the winner of Nevada-UNLV) does.

More importantly, they don’t capture the true spirit of the rivalry. When Blue meets Red in Raleigh or Chapel Hill, no one is thinking about pulled pork, pine needles or politicians. The primary thought at game time (aside from “beat those guys”) is: “Did you hear what they said?”

Think about it: This year’s game alone featured the Carter-Finley North by North West clarification, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Months ago, Drake Maye issued an apology after saying, “Whether you want to admit it or not, growing up in Carolina, you’re gonna be a Carolina fan. Some people may say (NC) State, but really people who go to State just can’t get into Carolina.”

During the game, ESPN relayed comments from Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren, who told the crew, “They don’t like us, and we hate them,” then went on to accuse UNC coaches of bad-mouthing State in recruiting. And after State’s big win, defensive tackle Cory Durden made a lap of Kenan, waving goodbye to each section of Tar Heels fans while three of his Wolfpack teammates took the team flag and tried to plant it in the artificial turf at midfield.

The double overtime win brought back memories of the last game to go to overtime — 2018 in Kenan when the older Finley made his infamous “Carter-Finley North” comment. The game ended with players from both sides fighting in the end zone, which then Carolina coach Larry Fedora tried to brush off as “both teams celebrating” the end of the game.

That’s just two years from the rivalry, and it’s a whole lot of “bless your heart.”

So, we need a prize that encapsulates the true nature of State-Carolina and also captures the nation’s attention.

From players to coaches to fans, no one seems to be able to keep from running their mouths when it comes to the rivalry game. The person that tweeted video of Durden’s “goodbye” tour of Kenan was still getting State and Carolina fans sniping at each other in his mentions, four days after the fact.

It is a Southern rivalry at its core, and in the South, there’s really only one way to respond when someone starts running their mouth: “Well, bless your heart.”

Starting next year, the North State Journal proposes that the winning team be awarded a large trophy with a wooden base, holding up a brass replica of a heart. The winning team can paint the base in their school color, and we’ll call it the Bless Your Heart Trophy. It will rival Miami’s turnover chain for ESPN attention, and never has a rivalry prize been more appropriately named.

We’ll even pay to have the trophy minted if the schools agree to play for it.

And, if anyone out there thinks this is a bad idea, well, we have just one response to you.

Bless your heart.