“College football is approaching rather rapidly. And to many, it’s become a religion. It was a religion to me. At least once. Back in 1976. In Tampa.”
Those are the only five or six sentences I had written to post on The Lunar Report this week. It was supposed to be about a gathering of my family and their friends on the weekend of September 11 of that year. It was supposed to make fun of the Florida Gators who lost to my team after throwing the ball out of bounds on fourth down to stop the clock. It was supposed to be about my Aunt Edith who, on Sunday morning, had to put her bloody mary on top of the motel room television set so that she could hold her bible and hold prayer service. It was supposed to be funny.
Well, it’s not so funny anymore. I just learned that Bill Dooley, arguably the most successful football coach ever at The University Of North Carolina, passed away this morning. I remember Jim Hickey, the coach who took Carolina to the 1962 Gator Bowl game. But that’s my only memory of Coach Hickey. Most of my early memories of Carolina Football came from the man who took over for Hickey in 1967. From the man who died today.
Dooley brought us Don McCauley, Ron Rusnak, Ken Huff, Charles Waddell, Mike Voight, “Boom-Boom Betterson.” And Lawrence Taylor! He also brought his fans 69 wins in 11 seasons.
But to me, he mostly brought some wonderful memories. He was the only football coach we had when I was a student at Carolina. And I will admit my memories are a bit fuzzy. Even Bill Dooley couldn’t stop the flow of sweet bourbon on warm Saturday afternoons in Kenan Stadium. For me, my friends and a few times for my brother. He just couldn’t stop that.
In October of 1975, my senior year, my brother came from our home in Jacksonville, Florida to go with me to the Notre Dame game in Chapel Hill. My mom and dad sent a couple of things for my brother to give to me. One was a letter from my mom, telling us to enjoy ourselves and begging us not to drink at the game. The other was a twenty dollar bill from my dad with instructions to enjoy ourselves and to buy some bourbon. So what did I do? Well, my brother expected me to buy a pint and pocket the change. I bought a half gallon instead!
On the way into the stadium that day, I wrapped my sweater around the bottle. We were so excited about the game, I think, that we walked faster than we usually did. Somewhere near the entrance gate, I fumbled big time. That damned glass bottle of Jim Beam slipped from my sweater and hit the hard brick sidewalk we were walking on. I think I yelled, “Oh my God!” Then I looked down and saw the bottle just spinning on the brick. There were no breaks at all. I think I told my brother that, even though we were not the Irish, “we will be lucky today!”
And we were. For over three quarters. In the fourth quarter, Carolina led the always powerful and lucky Irish team, 14-0. That’s when Notre Dame put in their third string quarterback. That’s right. THIRD string guy! Joe-freakin’- Montana! That’s when the bottle broke! Figuratively. of course!
Well Bill Dooley didn’t win that game, but he gave my brother and me one of the best memories we have ever shared.
And, he gave us “Boom-Boom.” I’m not sure I appreciated that at the time. “Boom-Boom” and I shared a lecture class of some sort. I don’t remember the class, but I remember one day. I went to the bathroom or something, and when I returned, my text book was gone. After class, I looked everywhere for it. Nothing! So, I said, “What the hell?” and went to the student union to grab a bite to eat. And there he was. “Boom-Boom!” And he had my book. I could tell it was mine from the tattered spine I had tattered myself. So I approached him about it. When I got to his table, he flexed his arm muscles as he covered the book, and looked up at me. He was a strong man, and frankly, he scared the hell out of me. I read the look in his eyes. “So, what the hell do you want,” was what I read. I just held up my hands, backed away a bit and said something stupid, like, “Hey! Great class today, huh?” And then I got the hell out of there. What did I care anyway? I never read that damned book!
Coach. This is nonsense, but it’s nonsense that means the world to me. Thank you for the memories. The wins were great and fun.
But, damn it.
Thanks for the incredible memories!