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Athletics

Lucas: Hey Woody

The Carolina community gathered in Carmichael Arena on April 8 to celebrate the life of Woody Durham, who passed away in March. Durham was the radio voice of the Tar Heels from 1971 to 2011.

People sit in Carmichael Arena.
Attendees listen to remarks during the Woody Durham memorial service in Carmichael Arena, Sunday, April 8, 2018 in Chapel Hill, N.C. The former play-by-play announcer died at the age of 76 on March 7. (UNC Athletic Communications/Jeffrey A. Camarati).

All of us already knew we believed Woody Durham was talking directly to us during his 40 years as the Carolina radio play-by-play man. What we found out on Sunday afternoon at Carmichael Auditorium (it’s Carmichael Arena now, but it should be Auditorium for today, because that’s what it was when Woody was perched above it calling the action for the Tar Heels) was that everyone else — no matter who they might be — believed exactly the same thing.

It was easy to believe that our relationship with Woody was unique. We were the ones he told to go where we go. We were the ones who turned down the sound or who stopped him in a hotel lobby to shake his hand or cornered him after a Rams Club meeting to tell him our funniest Tar Heel story.

Sunday afternoon’s celebration of Durham’s life, appropriately held at Carmichael Auditorium, was a reminder that everyone else was doing those things, too. The Durham family called them, “Hey Woody!” moments. That’s the greeting that his wife, Jean, and sons Wes and Taylor grew accustomed to hearing almost anywhere they went.

Out to eat as a family: “Hey Woody!”

Walking through an arena before a Tar Heel basketball game: “Hey Woody!”

On the golf course: “Hey Woody!”

Someone, almost every day, simply had to talk to Woody Durham. After all, he’d been talking to them for years, so it only seemed fair.

Sunday’s event at Carmichael included a series of speakers who knew Durham in a variety of roles throughout his personal and professional life. These were bold type names. John Bunting played during the Durham broadcasting era and also coached in that same timeframe. Eric Montross played and broadcasted with Durham. John Swofford played and then became the athletic director and then the commissioner of the ACC. But it felt more like an afternoon on the back porch with friends.

From the very beginning, when emcee Jones Angell recited several of Durham’s most famous calls, a murmur of recognition went through the crowd. They knew them, word for word: “Jumper from out on the left…good!” “The Tar Heels are going to win the national championship!” “Snap…spot…kick…it’s good!”

A Tar Heel fan from Eastern North Carolina named Roy Cooper helped set the tone early in the program. Officially, in your program, he’s the governor of the state of North Carolina. On this day, though, he was just a Carolina fan who’d spent most of March 1993 rocking his daughter in her swing four feet from the television while wearing the exact same Carolina blue onesie. That because where he went and what he did, and even today in 2018 he believes his ritual probably helped the Tar Heels win the title.

Don’t laugh—we’ve all done it.

We had a bloody Montross reference (from Swofford) and we had the actual Eric Montross himself, who revealed a great Woody story from the day of the 1993 championship game.

As the Tar Heels boarded the bus to make the short trip from the Hotel Intercontinental to the Louisiana Superdome, Durham grabbed senior leader George Lynch. “They may have the Fab Five,” Durham told Lynch, “but we have a team.”

And that’s why it worked so well for Durham to be our conduit to the Tar Heels. Not only were his words and tone on air almost identical to what we were thinking and feeling at any point in the game. But even when he wasn’t on the air, he was channeling every Tar Heel fan at that given moment.

So of course we’d stop him and say hello to him, grabbing our own “Hey Woody!” moment. We felt we’d known him for years. As his oldest son, Wes Durham, said from the podium, Woody loved being Woody…and we loved that he was Woody.

A host of attendees, including numerous Tar Heel football and basketball lettermen, many with patches that read “Woody” on their lapel, nodded in unison. All had known him the same way, from Phil Ford to Kelvin Bryant, Matt Doherty to Sean May to Paul Miller. All spent Sunday afternoon—the Sunday of the Masters, as Roy Williams pointed out via video because of a recruiting trip, a day Woody usually spent with son Taylor in front of the television—reliving some of those same stories.

Dick Baddour’s speech summed it up perfectly. The former Carolina athletic director read through the Tar Heel alma mater.

“Hark the sound of Tar Heel voices ringing clear and true,” he read.

He looked up. “That’s Woody,” he said.

“Singing Carolina’s praises shouting N-C-U,” he read.

Again, he looked up. “That’s Woody,” he said.

“Hail to the brightest star of all, clear its radiance shine. Carolina priceless gem, receive all praises thine.”

“That,” he said, “is Woody.”