Note from Elizabeth: This latest post from JACK HILLIARD is certainly timely, though not in a good way, given the negative national attention currently being drawn to UNC’s football team. Here’s hoping the Heels can rise above the mess this Saturday in their latest match-up with LSU.
It’s being billed as the “Daytona 500 of College Football.” The Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game will match two projected preseason top-25-ranked teams: UNC’s Tar Heels and LSU’s Tigers. The game, scheduled for 8 PM on Saturday, September 4th in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, will be a nationally televised event on ABC Sports and will be the first game in Carolina’s 122nd season of college football.
UNC will be meeting LSU for the seventh time, but the Tar Heels have won only once during the series which dates back to 1948 . . . and that ’48 game is the one win. Following that win, UNC Head Coach Carl Snavely said, “Best game since Texas!” (referring to Carolina’s win over Texas to start the 1948 season).
LSU’s Tigers came into Kenan Stadium on October 23, 1948 to meet a Tar Heel team that had won 11 straight games and was ranked 3rd in the country. From the opening whistle, it was apparent that Coach Snavely had the Tar Heels ready to add a 12th game to the string. Charlie Justice and company were brilliant, much to the delight of the 41,000 fans on hand. Among them, in his special place along the Carolina sideline was photographer Hugh Morton. Once again, Morton captured on film that afternoon a classic photograph of Justice — an image that would be reproduced often in books and magazines when the Justice story is told.
When the dust settled on the Kenan turf, the final score was Tar Heels 34, Tigers 7. Carolina would go on to win four more games in 1948 and finish the season undefeated. A trip to the ’49 Sugar Bowl was their reward.
One year later, almost to the day, on October 22, 1949, Snavely’s Tar Heels were in Baton Rouge for a return engagement with the Tigers. The Tar Heels were still riding a 20-game regular season win streak. It was a night game, one of three during the Justice Era. On Friday afternoon Snavely put his troops through a vigorous workout that went into night. The lateness of the hour may have triggered a chain of events that played a part in the Tar Heel loss.
According to LSU Head Coach Gaynell Tinsley, it was the custom for the LSU grounds crew to water down the field following the visiting team’s practice, but since the Carolina practice lasted so long, Coach Tinsley told the crew to go on home and do the watering early Saturday morning. But after Carolina finished its workout, the LSU team managers took it upon themselves to go ahead and water the field. When the grounds crew came in on Saturday morning, they did as they had been told and watered the field also. By the time the Tar Heels arrived for the game, Tiger Stadium was under two inches of mud and water (according to Charlie Justice in a 1989 interview).
Ironically, the weather forecast for the Thursday before the game had been for rain, and Coach Tinsley, in his weekly news conference, indicated the Tigers would have a better chance on a muddy field, saying his players were better “mudders” than most teams. Well, it didn’t rain on Thursday, or Friday, or Saturday. Justice said it was “sunshine hot.” Sports writer Bud Montet wrote in Saturday’s “Baton Rouge Morning Advocate” that the Tiger turf was in perfect shape, adding, “if no further rain . . . Choo Choo Justice will have as fine a field to run on as he’s ever seen in his college career.”
Needless to say, Justice, Weiner & Company had problems keeping their footing on the slick field, much to the delight of many of the 43,000 in attendance. LSU, as predicted, played much better on the wet turf and snapped the Tar Heel winning streak by a 13 to 7 score.
“How wet was the field?” One Sunday morning daily jokingly put it this way: “There was a three-inch drop in the Mississippi River over the weekend.” And when the 1950 Yackety Yack came out, the lead sentence for the game read: “On a muddy field in a city where it hadn’t rained in a week, the Tar Heels dropped their first game in 21 appearances.” John Lardner, writing in Newsweek magazine, titled his column “The Water-Sprinkler Blues.”
The Tigers continued their winning ways when they came to Chapel Hill in 1961 for Homecoming, and haven’t looked back since, winning in ’64, ’85 and ’86.
The 7th game in the series could be the charm for the Heels. At least the field will be dry inside the Georgia Dome!