For Some Reason I Keep Going-A Look At UNC Football


With great pleasure I’d like to introduce you to Keeping It Heel’s new staff writer Paul Lambeth.    Paul has been a UNC football season ticket holder since 1983 and is crazy all things Heel.  In his first article with keeping it heel Paul takes a deep look into UNC Football history, present and future, enjoy!

For some reason I keep going.

I keep going for the hope of something special. Of seeing it come in bits and pieces, to see it come close but to in the end watch fate brush by like a stranger in the proverbial night. I keep going even when I know I am doing myself no favors by investing the time and funds to do so.

I am a Tar Heel football supporter, and I have been at every home game from the opener in 1983 against then Memphis State. I have seen every conceivable manner of weirdness and misfortune that can befall a team. I also have seen glimpses and hints of potential greatness that make following the chase worthwhile. I love the grace of Kenan Stadium, the atmosphere of Franklin Street, even Ron Stutts over on WCHL. UNC football has never quite attained the ability to consistently compete, but the saga behind the quest has always made for good theater.

This is not to say I do not care about what goes on with our basketball brethren, like most Heels I feel the spiritual connection that has been formed thru not only the deeds and consistency of the program. But by the manner of those who have led it. That however is something for another time.

Tar Heel football has always been, and maybe is destined to always be, the woulda shoulda coulda of college football. Even in the hallowed days of antiquity when Choo-Choo Justice led the Heels into the Coliseum, the Heels always ended up getting fed to the Lions or to at least the Irish in Yankee Stadium or Georgia and Oklahoma in the Tulane’s “Sugar Bowl”. This is a program that last won a conference championship in 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was bumping about Chapel Hill ravaging and pillaging and causing mass mayhem and hysteria. Whose last appearance in a bowl contest named after a commodity and not a tire chain was in January 1st 1950 when the Heels were served up as a side dish to Rice. This is a program that last went undefeated season in ’98, 1898. Actually thru the first half of the 20th century Carolina football was a pretty fair squad, never a world beater but with more winning seasons than not.

But in the 2nd half of the 20th to the present there have been long stretches in the darkness. Perhaps the ominous signs started in 1952 when the season was shorted to eight games due to a polio outbreak on campus. Yes you read correctly, that season ended in a 2-6 mark and signaled the end of the very solid Carl Snavely who had the moniker of “The Dutch Master”. Making him sound more like a cigar manufacturer who sponsored Jimmy the Greek in the 70’s as opposed to someone who was known for his mastery of the single wing.

Carolina got him once on the way up going 15-2-1 in 1934-35, and then in essence on the way down after he had his most productive seasons at Cornell as he went 44-33-4 for the Heels from 1945-52, the final three of which were slender in the win column. Snavely will be most famously remembered for forfeiting a game against Dartmouth. Cornell was famously given a fifth down by accident; compare that to Bill McCartney at Colorado when he had the exact thing happen fifty years later. Snavely’s assistant, the John Bunting/Carl Torbush combination of his era George Barclay followed for three unimpressive years.

Modern Carolina football started with “Sunny” Jim Tatum. Like the Calvary he came riding in to rescue Tar Heel Football. And after a rough 2-7-1 start in 1956 he posted back-to-back 6-4 campaigns in ’57 and ’58 and seemed to have the Heels on the verge of being a player. A tick had a different plan for Jim Tatum.

“Gentleman” Jim Hickey followed from 1959-66.  All of which fell at the .500 mark or lower sans the ACC title and Gator Bowl winning team in 1963 when Hickey had the fortune to have a future NFL starter in Ken Willard running the ball for him. Along with freshly enshrined Hall of Fame inductee Chris Hanburger knocking opponents into oblivion. A team trotted out and celebrated at every opportunity and with good reason because they had a little something special for the era. However in 1966 with a team thought to have potential the Heels totally flamed out to a very ugly 2-8 as the Heels skidded home losers of seven in a row with the Heels failing to score in the first two and not posting a touchdown in the first four.

Bill Dooley took over in 1967 and by 1970 the Heels were contenders on a regular basis in a middling seven team ACC of the decade. After just missing out in 70’ titles followed in 1971 and 1972 and a co-title with Clemson in 1977. A half dozen bowl games in all, but with placid results as Dooley teams were 1-5 in postseason action with only a Sun Bowl win in ’72 saving the era from a complete goose egg.

By the end with Dooley pining for a place where he would not stand in the ever lengthening shadow of Dean Smith. Or perhaps as legend goes pining for the love of a young lady on campus who would become his wife Dooley split the scene for a dual gig at Va. Tech where he laid the foundation for what Beamer has built today. But he left Carolina football a lot better off than he found it.

Legend has it Dean had Tom Osborne ready willing and if the offer was made available for the job but that an insistence that Osborne go thru the public channels made this implausible for him. So Carolina ended up with a guy who immediately became very popular with bumper sticker makers in Raleigh and Durham as Dick Crum was made Tar Heel head man. Maybe it was because he looked more like a High School math teacher than a football coach. Maybe it was because he had the personality of a Brillo pad with enough abrasive traits to match. Maybe it was because he could not buy a break on the field when he needed it the most. No matter what history shows that it was a unique era for Carolina, one that showed tremendous promise of the potential of this program, but also one that by the end showed its limitations. Still the man did win four bowl games in a row. Though his last two times he got his teams to the postseason the results left much to be desired and by the time he was hip checked to the side the Heels were seen as plucky but slow. Still the guy never won less than five games in a season, which let’s be honest folks is pretty damn good for this program, but he also was the most aptly named man of all time and that in the end was his demise, in the end he should of smiled more.

Mack Brown showed up in late December 1987 smiling ear to ear. And he kept smiling thru two straight 1-10 seasons that had everyone frowning   Especially after Duke bitch slapped and humiliated the Heels to close the 1989 season 41-0 in a contest where Steve Spurrier had his team running reverses in the closing moments and posing in front of the scoreboard in the corner of the end zone for impromptu keepsakes of the event. Something the Blue Devils have only accomplished once since that time and not in their own abode.

But I digress.

Mack did in fact build a proper program, which was not appreciated in its time. During the time of Nirvana and the accession of gangster rap the conventional wisdom was Mack Brown was drive for show in that he could recruit and motivate and by god he could make you believe. But that Mack could not putt for the dough, that he could not fashion the great game plan to knock off the big dog of Florida State and that even the old codger George Welsh made Mack his b****, especially in Charlottesville. Mr. Jefferson’s  university and Carolina’s inability to win there was becoming a source of concern by the mid 1990’s and when Carolina squandered away a late 2 TD lead in the most convoluted of circumstances it turned Tar Heel football fan into feeling cursed. Mack though by the end, much like Dooley, was feeling there will never be a way he will be number one in the people’s hearts. So he went somewhere where he could, the rest is history as Mack used those lessons learned the hard way to return the Horns to national relevance.

Tar Heel football in the mean time has fallen into complete disrepair in the nearly fifteen years since. First came Torbush who could not maintain the fragile machine Mack had built. And then came Bunting who despite having the Heels in his veins, and Pink Floyd on his headset was completely lost from Jump Street and never stood a chance. Then you had Butch, and well we all see what happened there. But if Marvin Austin never makes a stupid drunken tweet the NCAA would have never thought to start looking.

Now a new era starts in Chapel Hill as Bubba Cunningham has the responsibility to guide Carolina back from territory they have never experienced. To unite and excite a fan base that has been wallowing in self-pity for two seasons. And which is worn out from infinite seasons of mediocrity stretching back generations. Or to pull back into the fold a lunatic fringe who feel there man was wronged and who are now like Tea Party members trying to throw a wrench in the system. Bubba is coming into a situation which some might call hopeless, others clueless, some would say worthless. Chicago II ends with the track “Where do we go from here?” for Bubba it should be a mantra. Nobody in college football is more of an enigma wrapped inside of the proverbial riddle.

The future of Carolina football is hazy as the summer sky in LA.

This post was written by Keeping It Heel’s new staff writer Paul Lambeth

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