Due to a deadline issue there was not a column in the January 2 edition. Although dated, I hope you will enjoy.
I’m writing this column on Saturday afternoon while watching the college football national championship semifinals.
Since technological advances have created high definition television and the flat screens have gotten the size of most den walls, there is nothing better than watching the game from the comfort on your own recliner.
Snacks are no more than six to eight steps away in one direction the bathroom about the same in the opposite direction. There are no traffic issues, no parking issues, no weather issues, and no loud-mouth fan issues. There is no cost for a ticket, a bottle of water doesn’t cost five times what it’s worth, and you don’t have to share the bathroom with anyone. Finally, there is no guilty conscious for walking out on an ugly game that you paid good money to see.
I have heard all of those things said time and time again by friends who really love sports and may be strong supporters of a certain program, but see no value in attending a live sporting event. I understand completely those feelings, but for me, I find great pleasure in being part of the crowd.
My wife and I made our annual pilgrimage to Chapel Hill Saturday morning for a North Carolina basketball game as the Tar Heels hosted Davidson. Being a high school basketball coach, it makes it very hard to get to games during the season, but the early Saturday afternoon game during the holiday break was a good time for us to make a game.
Going to Saturday afternoon games for me started more than 50 years ago. My uncle, Harden Shumate, had season tickets for Duke football, but when he came down with Hodgkin’s disease, he was unable to attend the games and gave the tickets to my Dad so he and I could go.
I don’t remember a large number of famous players to come through Wallace Wade Stadium, but Duke did have Mike Curtis, a fullback at Duke and later an All-Pro linebacker with the Baltimore Colts. In 1963, I saw Navy’s Roger Staubach play and he went on to win the Heisman Trophy that year.
When NFL teams use to play exhibition games at various sites around the country, my Dad and I went to Groves Stadium in Winston-Salem for a New York Jets game. It was my only opportunity to see Joe Namath play in person. I saw Sam Snead and Gary Player play in the GGO and I saw the Knicks play in Madison Square Garden.
Much of the pleasure of going to the games for me is being part of the crowd. I will strike up a conversation with anyone and seldom do I miss an opportunity to meet someone new. If you look around in a large crowd you can sometimes find a familiar face.
We took a shuttle bus from Franklin Street over to the Smith Center and as I sat down and looked across the aisle, Al Wood was sitting in the adjacent seat. I recognized him right away, but I wasn’t sure if others on the bus did or not. It reminded me of the day a few years back when Michael Jordan walked by a group of basketball campers and the coaches all wanted his autograph and the campers had no idea who he was.
One gentleman finally began a conversation with Wood, but then I heard Al say, “Nah, that wasn’t me.” I responded to that saying, “How about 39 points in the national semifinal game against Virginia”? Wood answered, “Yeah, that was me.”
The 39 points is the sixth most points ever scored in a Final Four game and no player has topped that total since Wood’s output against Virginia in 1981. North Carolina had lost twice to Virginia during the regular season before winning that Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.
Before the national championship game Monday night against Indiana, President Ronald Reagan was shot in Washington in an attempted assassination. I asked Wood what kind of impact the shooting had on the players. “We didn’t know anything about it,” said Wood. It reminded me how shielded players were before cell phones and social media that the President of the United States could be shot and players have no knowledge of the event.
Wood said that 20 minutes before the game, the playing of the contest was still in doubt. “Coach (Dean) Smith and Coach (Bobby) Knight were in the hallway talking about playing the game. CBS was finally the one that decided the game would be played.”
That was 37 years ago and I didn’t know that story until today and I wouldn’t have heard it sitting in my recliner.