First Game in Kenan
I have been a Tar Heel fan since 1938, but the first time I ever saw them play live was on Nov. 6, 1948. The game was against William and Mary who, at that time, had powerful football teams and were coached by Rube McCray. Carolina, of course, was enjoying its most successful run in history, having gone 8-2-1 and 8-2 the two previous seasons. Going into the game, the Heels were 6-0 with wins over Texas, Georgia, Wake Forest, N.C. State, LSU and Tennessee. There was no reason to think the Indians of W and M would not be victim number 7.
A little background on how I managed to see the game when every game in Kenan was sold out and some games were more than a sell out.
My older brother had a friend who was a student at Carolina and I had been pestering him to get me a ticket to a Carolina game. He would always say that maybe some day he would be able to produce one but deep down, I didn't really expect him to be able to deliver. One day, he announced that he was not going to be able to attend the game the following week and that I could have his ticket. After bouncing off the ceiling with excitement at the prospect of actually seeing the Tar Heels, reality set in and I realized that there was no one to attend the game with me and I didn't have transportation to Chapel Hill. Going from Raleigh to Chapel Hill and back was a much bigger deal in 1948 than it is today, but I was determined not to miss this opportunity to see the game. I'm sure my high school classmates grew weary of me talking about the fact that I was going to see a game involving the Tar Heels and what was even better, it was going to be in Kenan Stadium.
I finally came up with a game plan that I thought would work. First, I would go by myself since I didn't seem to have much choice in the matter. Second, I would catch the Trailways bus from the bus station in Raleigh to the bus station in Chapel Hill. I believe both stations are still located today where they were in 1948. In Raleigh, the station was on Morgan St. and in Chapel Hill, the station was located on W. Franklin St.
I was up at the crack of dawn that Saturday morning because it would be necessary for me to catch the city bus from our house just off Wake Forest Rd. in Raleigh to the bus station. I surely didn't want to be late on this day of days.
I don't remember anything special about the bus ride to Chapel Hill but when I disembarked from the bus in Chapel Hill, I could immediately feel the buzz and excitement associated with game day. Remember now, we were undefeated and had only W and M, Maryland, Duke and Virginia to complete an undefeated season. Heck, there was even talk that we might go undefeated and be the National Champs. If we were going to stumble, nobody thought it would be at home against W and M.
I do remember walking to Kenan Stadium and absorbing everything I saw. The buildings, the students, the shops, the usual rowdiness associated with games when you are a "big dog" and things are going right.
My friend who gave me the ticket said they might ask for identification at the student gate, but I was to tell them I left my student ID card at home. I was really worried about this because I didn't think I could take it if I made it to the stadium gate and then was denied entry. At any rate, I had no problem gaining entrance to Kenan and I took my seat in the middle of the student section. This is starting to sound a little like Andy in "What It Was Was Football," doesn't it? The atmosphere was exciting beyond description. Cheerleaders leading the students in cheers, Ramses, the Marching Band, the PA announcer, and the team taking the field in their Carolina Blue jerseys and white pants . For an instant, I thought I was an adult because after all, I was sitting in the Student section wasn't I, and college students to me, at the time, certainly qualified as adults. Since then, I have, on several occasions, reevaluated my perception of college students as adults and as they say, "The jury's still out" on that one. Just kidding.
The game itself is now a blur. I don't remember much cheering, just a lot of frustrated shouting for the team to "do something." Sorta like the guy who sat behind me in Kenan years later who after getting properly warmed up with his beverage of choice would shout over and over to any and everybody, "Hit somebody." We never could figure out exactly what he meant but we finally decided he was more interested in somebody getting hit than he was in the outcome of the game. We did the card tricks thing at half time and it ended like they always did with many of the cards being thrown down from the stands at the cheerleaders who were trying to give instructions. This was an idea that was popular on the West Coast at the time and was brought to Carolina by Norman Sper, UNC's head cheerleader who was from California. It never really caught on. I think alcohol had something to do with the failure of this activity to be embraced by the students. Besides, if you had to go to the toilet at halftime, this was a problem since most of the halftime period was taken up with the cards. Oh well, RIP.
Carolina never did score that day but neither did W and M and the game ended in a 0-0 tie. For some reason, I remember the name of the W and M fullback Jack "Flying" Cloud, a full blooded American Indian.
Filing out of Kenan Stadium was similar to leaving the grave after a funeral. Nobody said much and you could literally feel the disappointment of the Carolina fans. Need I say that the few W and M fans who had come down from Williamsburg were whooping it up since they were decided underdogs going into the game.
I walked back to the bus station through a quiet E. Franklin St. and got a "mouthful to eat." I didn't dare buy anything to eat or drink at the game considering the small budget I was on. The ride back to Raleigh and then to my house was uneventful. I didn't bother to tell anyone I knew on the city bus where I had been and I was already dreading going to school on Monday because I knew I was going to "get it." from my non- UNC friends. The dig that always got to me most was when they would say, "What Happened to Carolina?" No thought whatsoever, just a certified dig designed to inflict the maximum pain. I'm sure some of you know what I'm talking about even though the digs have gotten both more subtle and vicious over the years.
One thing I knew. Even though the Heels lost that day and our undefeated season was down the drain, I had experienced something that was unforgettable. While I took a circuitous route getting there, I decided that day I wanted to attend UNC. I have never regretted that decision.