12th Man Dreams
Never having played high school or college football, I often thought about what I, as a fan, could do that would actually have an effect on the outcomes of my favorite team's games. In September of 1962, it appeared that a golden opportunity presented itself.
A little background might be in order.
UNC did not have a particularly good team in '62. (3-7) and had not had a winning season since Jim Tatum's last team that went 6-4 in '58. It was Jim Hickey's 4th season and the Heels were in what I refer to as the "black hole". With the exception of the following year when we went 9-2 and beat Air Force 35-0 in the Gator Bowl, UNC went for 10 seasons without a winning record. But records don't mean much when you play a game with national exposure and, besides, I was much younger then and with youth, hope springs eternal. Translated, this means that in the mind of ole RamFanatic, we were going to beat the mighty Ohio State Buckeyes and we were going to do it on their home field.
A friend of mine, a fellow alum whom I had known since the 7th grade and his wife came up from Raleigh and picked me and my wife up in Charlottesville and we proceeded from there to Columbus Ohio. We thoroughly enjoyed the drive through the mountains of West Virginia and arrived in Columbus on Friday night before the game. It's a little fuzzy now but I remember news accounts on the car radio of the turmoil on the campus of the University of Mississippi revolving around the admission of James Meredith, the first black to be admitted to Ole Miss.
Friday night is now a blur but we must have done something exciting. Don't young people always find something to do. I'm sure we sampled the Columbus night life even if it was limited to the cocktail lounge in the Holiday Inn. I do remember meeting an ex Naval Academy basketball player in the bar and we had a great time talking about how it was next to impossible to beat Everett Case's N.C. State Wolfpack in Reynolds Coliseum. He had played on Navy teams that had played there several times and to say that he thought the officiating was biased would be an understatement. With thinking like that you know he and I bonded immediately as friends.
Saturday morning as we rose for breakfast, I noticed that the maintenance man was posting something on the marquee in front of the motel. Ordinarily I don't notice things of this sort but something told me to go out and see what he was putting up. I strongly suspected the post was going to have something to o with the UNC-Ohio State football game.
I stood to the side and he put up the letters and it didn't take me long to get the drift. I didn't say anything to the gentleman because I knew he was just doing what he was told but when he finished, I was seething.
He had posted: OHIO STATE BEATS UNC ____TO______.
I had trouble getting my breakfast down while I deliberated a strategy to use the posting to UNC's advantage. The old 12th man persona was emerging.
I finally decided that to notify the Carolina team of the posting might serve as a motivator for the team and just might help lead us to victory. Somehow I found out where the UNC team was staying and I called and reached an Asst. Coach and proceeded to tell him where we were and what was on the marquee. I told him that if it could be arranged, I thought the bus taking the team to the stadium should ride by the motel and let each player see for themselves how little respect Ohio State people had for UNC football. He thanked me and indicated that he would pass the information on to Coach Hickey to see what could be done.
I never found out if the team bus came by our motel but you can imagine how I was feeling when we were tied (I think) with Ohio State a halftime. I know we were playing them close. The second half was an entirely different story as the Buckeyes with Paul Warfield leading the way broke the game open and finally won 41-7. I refused to look at the marquee when we returned to the motel.
One memory stands out from the game that both surprised me and, for a second, frightened me. Without any warning whatsoever, before the game the crowd erupted into a tremendous cheer. I looked frantically to what could be causing the commotion but to no avail. Finally, I saw what it was. The drum major could be seen in a tunnel at the end of the stadium and as he strutted out onto the field followed by the marching band, pandemonium resulted. What a tradition. A feeling I will never forget and had I been an Ohio State player, I think it would have put me into the right frame of mind to give my all to old alma mater. Maybe someday our "walk" will serve the same purpose. It's getting better each game and I predict, in time, it will become a real Tar Heel tradition.
Now you might think that this is the end of the story but you would be wrong. Three years later in '65, one Saturday afternoon I received a phone call from my traveling buddy in Raleigh who was breathless and could hardly talk. At the time I was still in Charlottesville and couldn't get the Ohio State-UNC game on the radio. I could hardly understand what he was saying but I finally figured it out. He was saying we were going to beat Ohio State and I could hear the announcer on he radio in the background. I asked him if he was sure because I try to protect myself in situations like this. Don't want any last minute heroics by the opposition to snatch the victory away. He finally convinced me it was for real, We did indeed beat Ohio State that day 14-3 in one of the biggest victories in UNC football history. What made this more amazing was the fact that we were 4-6 hat year. You can bet the first thought I had after we got the victory in the bank was whether that same set up was on the marquee in front of the Holiday Inn. Oh, would I have enjoyed that if it was and if I had been there I would have done everything in my power to prevent them from taking it down. Fanatics don't forget and don't you forget that.