A Man For All Times

The following article appeared in the Sunday, August 24th edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. It is being posted with the permission of its author, long time sports writer Jennings Culley.


It has been 63 years since he basked in stardom at the University of North Carolina , but the exploits of Paul Severin remain prominent in Tar Heels football lore.

Severin was the school's first two time All-American. He was an end with the knack for making the big play in the big game. It didn't matter whether it was on offense or defense. He was in the middle of both.

His junior year (1939), he caught a touchdown pass as the Heels rallied to tie Tulane. The next week, he caught two TD passes in a win over Pennsylvania.

The next season, he ran down Duke's Steve Lach and made a touchdown-saving tackle to preserve a 6-3 win over the archrivals.

That one play endeared him to UNC fans forever.

Saturday, Severin, a retired coach and insurance executive in Ashland, will hear the cheers again. He will be honored at the UNC-Florida State game, and his No. 87 jersey will be hung on the facade of Kenan Stadium.

"Football has always been a big part of my life," said Severin, now 85. "It's meant so much to me, financially, friendship-wise, in so many ways."

Growing up in Natrona, Pa., Severin was acquainted with the soup lines of the depression. He was a strapping lad who figured he would wind up in the steel mills of Pittsburgh. But his high school coach plugged him into what college folk called the Pennsylvania Pipeline.

"He started rattling off the names of schools he could help me get in," Severin recalled. "When he got to North Carolina, I said, 'That's for me.' One of my neighbors, George Barclay, had gone there and made All-America as a linebacker.

Severin's first varsity game in 1938 set the tone. He was playing behind a senior letterman. Wake Forest was pounding the ball over left end, and Carolina was giving ground freely. UNC coach Ray Wolf bellowed, "Severin, get in there."

"I was so worked up, I shot across the line on the first play and threw the quarterback for a 12 yard loss," Severin said. "The next play, I stopped the sweep and we shut down the drive."

"After the game, the guy I replaced came up, shook my hand and said "The position's yours." Severin was locked in on a team that ran the double wing and utilized the pass more than most. Jim Lalane and George Stirnweiss (later a Yankees infielder) were the standout backs on teams that went 20-7-2

Severin caught only nine passes as a junior, but five were for touchdowns. His senior year, he led the team in receptions. But his defensive prowess brought equal acclaim, and he made the Associated Press All-America both seasons.

Severin played basketball on a UNC team led by George Glamack that won the Southern Conference title. He lettered in golf, too, a game he had learned as a caddie in Pennsylvania.

After World War II, Severin was an assistant coach under Wolf at the University of Florida when friends tried to get Severin to become a club golf pro. Severin said he hadn't had his fill of coaching.

So in 1950, he came to Randolph-Macon College as head coach and for eight years he molded teams that compiled a 37-26-7 record, including three Mason-Dixon Conference championships. He left coaching for the insurance business.

"It was a big decision.... I liked coaching so much," Severin said. "My wife [Carolyn] wondered if I was doing the right thing."

He not only became a successful insurance man, he became a champion senior golfer. Over the years, he won the city, state and North and South senior titles and was once ranked in the top 10 of national senior golfers.

But to Carolina football fans, he'll always be remembered as "the man who caught Steve Lach from behind."