Monday, March 23, 2015

Before There Was #IHateChristianLaettner, There Was 'We All Hate Frank McGuire!'

UNC Coach Frank McGuire
The Spark That Started The
Intensity of the Duke/Carolina
Now that we are in the heart of the NCAA Tournament, and 3 teams from Tobacco Road, Duke, Carolina and NC State, are in the Sweet Sixteen (where they rightfully belong) for the first time since 2005 and for the 4th time ever, we thought it might be an interesting time to look backwards and see how the Duke/Carolina rivalry got as big as it has over the years.

Duke and Carolina have never met for the National Championship, although they have been to a combined 33 Final Fours in their storied history. In 1991, both made the Final Four where the the Tar Heels lost to Kansas (and to Roy Williams, oddly enough) in the semifinals (when Dean Smith was ejected for 2 technicals) and Duke upset UNLV on their way to their first NCAA Title.

They could meet again this year in the Final Four but only in the semifinals, not the championship game.

Either way, a Duke/Carolina Final Four game would be one for the ages. We all hope we get to see one before long.

Many of you saw the recent, very well-done and produced 30-for-30 ESPN special, "I Hate Christian Laettner'. Duke haters loved it because it confirmed why they hated Christian Laettner in the first place.

Duke fans loved it because they loved Christian Laettner for the very same reason Duke haters hated Christian Laettner.  Especially going to 4 straight Final Fours and winning the first 2 National Titles for Duke.

We heard many people say that that is when they thought the real rivalry started. Some said, no, it was when J.J. Redick was at Duke. Others said, no, it was when Wojo was there or when Gerald Henderson clobbered Tyler Hansborough with his elbow. Others said it was when Christian Laettner elbowed Eric Montross and left him with a bloody cheek.

All of those would have happened way too late in history to have 'started' the rivalry. As intense as any of those feelings were on both the Tar Heel and the Blue Devil side of things, the heated rivalry started much further back in the sports history between the two universities located about 8 miles away from each other on 15-501 which runs between Durham and Chapel Hill.

Many young people are now all caught up in the rivalry which resembles the storied feud between Hatfields and the McCoys where the younger generation never really knew 'why' they were trying to shoot people from the other side in the first place. They just knew that 'they were Hatfields (or McCoys) and we Hatfields (or vice-versa, we McCoys) shoot those darned old McCoys (or Hatfields)'. That is all there is to it.

There's a little history you need to know about the Duke/Carolina rivalry before you can really understand why it is such a heated rivalry today.

Long before there was a #IHateChristianLaettner to hate at Duke, or a J.J. Redick, or a Michael Jordan to hate at Carolina or a Tyler Hansborough, there was a basketball coach at Carolina named Frank McGuire. He brought home an undefeated national championship to Chapel Hill in 1957, 32-0 after enduring not 1 but 2 triple-overtime games in the Final Four, the second against the Goliath of college basketball at the time, Wilt Chamberlain of the University of Kansas. (There's that UNC/Kansas thing going on again)

Frank McGuire was an Irish Catholic dandy of a coach and snappy dresser who came south from St. John's to challenge the supremacy of Everett Case, the coach at NC State who was clobbering everyone in the ACC. Case put the state of North Carolina on the map of college basketball. College basketball in North Carolina before Everett Case came to NC State from Indiana was just a nice diversion between fall football and spring baseball and golf and tennis when the weather was nicer.

Coach McGuire at one point 'declared war' against Everett Case, which sparked things up considerably on Tobacco Road. Just as Dean Smith would later 'go to war' against Vic Bubas at Duke; then Norm Sloan at State would 'go to war' against Dean at Carolina; then Coach K would 'go to war' against Dean and now Roy and everyone else is 'going to war' against Coach K.

All in the name of good fun and college athletics, of course.

Up until the late '50s, the basketball games between Duke and Carolina were not considered the #1 rivalry in all of college sports as some consider it today. Far from it. The football games were considered much more important each year since Duke had been a powerhouse in Southern football circles since 1931 and Carolina had a flurry of success under Charlie 'Choo-Choo' Justice from 1946-1950 and later in the 50's.

While intense in spirit on the field, the football players enjoyed friendships off the field, no doubt tempered by their shared experiences in World War II after the war when they returned from battle. Coach Wallace Wade, the winningest coach in the South before the War, returned to coach only 4 years after the war, saying that after fighting in war and seeing the bloodshed and the loss of life on the battlefield, football just didn't seem that important any longer.

Southern football was a game of sport fueled by whiskey sours, tailgating picnics and pageantry on warm Indian summer afternoons late in the fall. It was a game played by gentlemen, for the most part, and coached by Southern gentlemen who enjoyed the camaraderie of the whole show. And the cocktails. And straight martinis. And beer.

Frank McGuire changed all that. He blew into the South from New Yawk City in 1952 where he challenged the supremacy of Everett Case and the Wolfpack at NC State. He won a national title in 1957. He dressed in expensive New York-tailored suits. He recruited Long Island and New York City Catholic and Jewish Yankees to the South. And he generally pissed off most everyone he came into contact with, both friend and foe alike.

Frank McGuire had a bad habit of shading the rules when it came to recruiting big-time talent to come to what was then a much more rural North Carolina than it is today. Sometimes he got caught. Which led to the spark that set the Duke/Carolina rivalry on fire.

You know when and why the Duke/Carolina rivalry went ballistic?

It had nothing to do with the basketball court. Some point to the incident in 1958 where UNC Coach Frank McGuire requested a police escort to protect his Carolina players off the court after a loss at Duke.

From The Duke Report:
'In 1958 when Carolina met Duke in Durham, they both had 10-3 ACC records. Bradley decided to go with a smaller, faster line-up. It proved a brilliant strategy. Carolina chased them doggedly the whole game. There was a brief scuffle late in the game but no violence. Duke Player, Bobby Joe Harris, called a timeout with two seconds in the game just to rub it in a little, but the fans were not about to wait for two seconds. They rushed the court and the refs just called the game. Duke had played a great game and won it 59-46. 
McGuire suddenly decided his players were in mortal danger. As fans and Duke players evacuated the gymnasium, McGuire kept his guys on the bench until a police escort was brought in to usher his boys to the locker room. Bill Murray, Duke manager of operations, (and Duke head football coach) was outraged. He shouted, “In all my coaching experience I have never seen a more obvious exhibition. It was the most revolting act by a college coach I’ve ever witnessed. He’s created a monster…”

Some people point to the Art Heyman/Larry Brown fight as the tipping point in the rivalry but the Heyman/Brown fight didn't happen til February 4, 1961 . That fight just fanned the flames of passion and anger that already existed into a fever pitch.

Duke University Coach and AD
Eddie Cameron
Here's the real reason why the Duke/Carolina rivalry spilled over onto the basketball court and spiked into a feverish pitch that has not abated to this day.

Eddie Cameron was the athletic director at Duke in the '50's and truly was one of the most distinguished and finest Southern gentleman ever in college athletics. Yes, he is the reason why 'Cameron Indoor Stadium' is no longer called 'Duke Indoor Stadium' as it had been since inception in 1940 until 1972.

He alleged, not only as Duke AD but also in the interests of the relatively new and young ACC Conference, that Frank McGuire was cheating his rear end off over at UNC recruiting Catholic and Jewish guys from Long Island and the Bronx. Even the UNC administration folks knew about McGuire's gilding of the lily...they wanted to get rid of McGuire as much as Duke wanted to see him go too.

Cameron alleged some serious recruiting violations, probably over the Heyman recruiting in 1958. Frank McGuire went crazy...he hated Cameron for some reason, maybe the fact that he was a southern gentleman and McGuire was not. Or maybe because he was a hot-tempered New York City Catholic Irishman.

McGuire went on the radio to talk about the allegations and to defend his practices. He let it slip that it was a vendetta against The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Tar Heel basketball program led by Eddie Cameron of Duke and, by the way, 'Eddie Cameron is a prick!'

Duke Football Coach
Bill Murray
Duke Head Football Coach Bill Murray was in his football office when he heard this. According to Murray himself after a few
drinks at my parents' New Year's Day Annual Party that lasted from noon to midnight every New Year's Day with a legion of Duke luminaries hanging around all day drinking whiskey from Wallace Wade to George McAfee (teetotaler compared to the other guys) to Dumpy Haigler to Herschel Caldwell to whoever was around at the time, this is what happened next:

Bill Murray ran out of his office in a storm and got in his 1950 Chevy or something like that and roared out of the Duke parking lot spitting gravel every which way. He was heading to Chapel Hill to kill Frank McGuire with his own two bare hands for having dared call his friend Eddie Cameron a 'prick'.*

If you ever shook hands with Bill Murray, you know they were vice-like clenches of death. You could hear your own hand cracking whenever he shook your hand....and Murray did it to everyone.

Somehow, one of his assistants managed to get in a car and somehow get ahead of a furious Bill Murray on 15-501 somewhere and headed him off at the pass. Maybe near Piney Mountain Road or Erwin Road or somewhere.

The assistant somehow calmed him down and got him to turn around and go back to Duke.

Otherwise, the Durham Morning Herald would have had this headline: 'Duke Football Head Coach Bill Murray Kills UNC Basketball Coach Frank McGuire With His Own Two Bare Hands'

And a jury in Durham would have found him 'not guilty'.

That is the precise moment when the 'spark got hot' in the Duke/Carolina rivalry according to the old-timers who knew what happened for sure. Each of them would point to this moment in time when the otherwise competitive but reasonably cordial feelings towards the other university took a major leap upwards in intensity and emotion and, yes, anger, mostly directed at Frank McGuire.

It was one thing to compete hard on the basketball court or football field and then acknowledge each other in the spirit of sportsmanship after the game.

It was an entirely other thing for a head basketball coach at one school call the AD at the other university 8 miles down the road a 'prick' in public. Those were fighting words back then.

The Duke/Carolina rivalry was never the same after. For better or for worse.

*Story corroborated with one unnamed source on deep background whose identity is not to be revealed. Since almost all of the people involved with this rivalry are now dead, and none of this was reported in a public newspaper at the time, we are almost on the same level of much modern-day reporting: You just have to 'trust us' that it is true.

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