The Madness of March: Two Championships Uniquely Remembered (Part Two)

This is part two of A View to Hugh contributor Jack Hilliard’s personal look back at two of Carolina’s NCAA basketball championships.  The Tar Heels championship aspirations for 2012 fell short, with a loss in its “Elite Eight” match-up against Kansas last week.  Thirty years ago today, the Tar Heel squad made it all the way to the top.

A dear coworker of mine, Bill Richards, passed away on March 18th while watching the Tar Heels play their “Sweet Sixteen” game against Creighton in the NCAA tournament.  In addition to being an avid UNC football and basketball fan, Bill was the senior digitization technician in the Carolina Digital Library and Archives.  His knowledge and skills with scanning technologies, Photoshop, and high-end inkjet printing were formidable, and he taught me most of what little (by comparison) that I know on those topics.  In 1982, Bill was the Chief Photographer for the Chapel Hill Newspaper,  In 1988, he began working as a photographer and graphic designer in the UNC Office of Sports information.  He began working in the Library Photographic Service  in 1998, but continued working for Sports information into the 2000s. This post is dedication to one of the best colleagues with whom I have ever worked.

1982 NCAA trophy and the UNC Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower

1982 NCAA trophy and the UNC Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower

Twenty five years after Frank McGuire’s 1957 miracle, the University of North Carolina was in position to win another NCAA championship.  Like the 1957 team, the 1982 team won 30 games going into the final four.  The only difference: the ’57 team hadn’t lost, while the ’82 team had lost twice.  Unlike 1957 championship game, however, Hugh Morton was there.

On the night of March 29, 1982 many Tar Heel fans will remember hearing Woody Durham, the voice of the Tar Heels, exclaim:

“The Tar Heels are going to win the National Championship.”

Those words triggered a Franklin Street celebration of epic proportions.  30,000 fans and alumni came out to celebrate.  The party had been 25 years in the making.  I recall working that night at WFMY-TV and we had our microwave truck on Franklin Street.  News 2 Anchor Sybil Robson reported as the celebration surrounded her.  It was good TV.  Eddie Marks, writing in the Greensboro Daily News, on March 30th described the celebration:

“Pandemonium, hysteria, fireworks and beer.  This is the stuff national championships are made of.”

The celebration finally ended about 4:00 a.m.

University of North Carolina men's basketball head coach Dean Smith on sidelines during Final Four, March 1982

University of North Carolina men's basketball head coach Dean Smith on sidelines, with Assistant Coach Roy Williams and Assistant Coach Eddie Fogler sitting on bench in background. (Cropped by the editor.)

The 1981-82 UNC Tar Heel team was head coach Dean Smith’s 21st team, and was his best to date. The semifinal win over Houston and the national championship victory over Coach John Thompson’s Georgetown Hoyas marked Smith’s 467th and 468th wins.  It was his first National Championship.  (Smith would go on to win a second NCAA championship in 1993 and would win a total 879 games before his retirement on October 9, 1997.)

Wide-angle shot of the Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, March 1982

Wide-angle shot of the Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, site of UNC's NCAA men's National Championship games, March 27-29, 1982

The 1982 NCAA final game was played before 61,612 fans in the Louisiana Superdome.  It was the 44th NCAA tournament final and it marked the first game to be televised by CBS Sports under a new NCAA contract.  That contract is still in effect, and CBS marks the 31st anniversary of NCAA championships this month. (NBC had carried the championship game since 1969.)  But on this night in ‘82 Gary Bender and Billy Packer brought the game to fans across the country.

With 32 seconds left and trailing by one, Coach Smith called a time out, set a play, and told Michael Jordan to “knock it down.”  Jordan did just that, providing the margin for the 63-62 victory.

University of North Carolina Tar Heels men's basketball player Michael Jordan cutting basketball net after winning the 1982 NCAA championship.

University of North Carolina Tar Heels men's basketball player Michael Jordan cutting basketball net after winning the 1982 NCAA championship.

Morton remembered the confusion after the game as the security folks tried to get Coach Smith and his team off the court.  Morton said Smith grabbed him by the arm and said, “Stick with me.”  He then turned to the security guard, pointed at Morton and said, “He’s with us.”  This provided Hugh Morton a unique opportunity for some fantastic pictures.

Former UNC Head Coach Frank McGuire (right) congratulates Head Coach Dean Smith after winning the 1982 NCAA championship.

Former UNC Head Coach Frank McGuire (right) congratulates Head Coach Dean Smith after winning the 1982 NCAA championship.

Frank McGuire was one of the first to congratulate Coach Smith and Morton got the shot.  In the aftermath of the victory hugs and smiles, there were some tears.  Georgetown All America Eric “Sleepy” Floyd could not hold back his emotions.  His 18-point effort simply had not been enough.  He congratulated his friend and fellow Gastonian Tar Heel All America James Worthy.  Again, Morton captured the emotion of the moment.

James Worthy and Eric "Sleepy" Floyd after the 1982 NCAA Championship game.

James Worthy and Eric "Sleepy" Floyd. Coach Dean Smith looks on. (P081_NTBR2_002047_22; cropped by editor.)

The headline in the Greensboro Daily News on Wednesday, March 31st described the Tar Heel Tuesday afternoon welcome back to Chapel Hill as a “Blue Frenzy.”  20,000 cheering fans packed the north side of Kenan Stadium long before the scheduled 3:00 p.m. celebration.  There were T-shirt vendors selling souvenirs from the back of station wagons parked at the Stadium gate.  A Franklin Street bakery was set up selling Carolina blue gingerbread men.

The official party began when “Voice of the Tar Heels” Woody Durham ran onto the field and yelled, “How ‘bout them Heels!”  Then the team bus arrived from Raleigh-Durham Airport and each team member spoke to the delight of the crowd.

As the homecoming celebration began to wrap up, Sky 2, Sky 5 and Chopper 11, helicopters from three of North Carolina’s TV stations jockeyed for position overhead, trying to get that perfect aerial crowd shot for the evening news.  That too was good TV.

2 thoughts on “The Madness of March: Two Championships Uniquely Remembered (Part Two)

  1. Stephen,
    Teresa forwarded this article wherein you mentioned my late brother, Bill Richards. I cannot tell you how much that your remembrance meant to the both of us !
    thank you,
    Kate Richards Wilt
    Louisville, Ky

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>