Almost two years ago, a few days before Christmas, a Rock Hill mom named Cindy Dudley asked her son what present he wanted to get his father.
"North Carolina," said the little boy named Christopher, who had just turned 3 years old.
Christopher, like all kids force-fed Heels, knew his father, Chris, lived and loved the Carolina Blue.
So, Cindy and her son went to a flag store in Pineville, N.C. Little Christopher picked out one of the nicest flags.
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"Nice, thick, heavy fabric, real high-quality, the kind that stands up to rain and wind and cold," said Chris Dudley, the dad who got that flag under the Christmas tree, wrapped up real nice.
The flag has a background of blue just like the sky that North Carolina fans brag was created just for them, with white letters "NC" like on the Tar Heel football helmets. Cindy bought a good quality metal pole to go with it, the kind that keeps the flag from wrapping around the pole.
Chris Dudley so loved the gift from his son that he didn't put it up for months. Finally, he put the flag up on a pole on his Rock Hill porch.
There it waved every day, next door to the lady's house with the Clemson flag that is still waving, until Tuesday morning.
"I was on my way out the door to go to the gym, and it was gone," Cindy Butler said.
The pole looked like it had been broken off, too.
She called the police. According to the police report filed in the case, what happened is described as petty larceny and damage to property less than $200. A wallet was found on the porch, the report states. The report also states that around 6 p.m. Tuesday, "dispatch received an anonymous call" stating that someone "was bragging at work about damaging and taking numerous flags around the city."
The wallet was entered into evidence, and the case is still active, according to the report.
"I asked him if he was sad, and all he said is, he wants the flag back," Cindy Dudley said of her son.
Christopher got off the school bus from his pre-kindergarten class Wednesday afternoon, but he didn't have much to say about what happened. He wore the kind of haircut that Marines wear: Almost no hair on the sides with just a little hair on top. The father, out of the Marines 17 years, still wears the Marines haircut.
The two men, father and son, went to the barber together Saturday.
When I asked Christopher who he watched on TV with his dad, what team his father follows so close, Christopher said, "North Carolina."
Even though his mother follows Duke.
Chris Butler grew up in Durham, N.C., son of a UNC professor. He went to the Dean Smith basketball camp as a kid. He went to the Tar Heel basketball games as a kid. He got disciplined in junior high for making fun of somebody about Duke.
He joined the Marines after high school, later graduated in engineering from North Carolina State and Georgia Tech. He sat in the student section of his own school and rooted for UNC. He was, is and always will be a passionate fan of the college basketball team that has perhaps the most passionate fans in America.
I have poked fun at Tar Heels fans before. But that was just for fun. Even my heart is not so hard, so cold, that it cannot be touched by the loss of a Tar Heel flag that was the present of a little boy to his father.
Sure, the flag can be replaced. Chris Dudley said he might go as soon as this weekend to get a new one. But will this little boy ever think that something he gave to his dad, that he saw every day when bounding down the steps to get on the school bus and again on the way home, will not be taken away?
I hope so.
Andrew Dys • 329-4065