Woody Durham’s preparation for North Carolina’s season opener Saturday against James Madison will be a little different.
For four decades, it was an extensive, week-long process and an overwhelming amount of work. But after retiring in June, Durham won’t be heading to the press box for football games this season.
Instead, he’s trading his spotter’s board for some fried chicken. He’s handing in his drive chart for a pimento cheese sandwich. And he’s turning in all of his note pads for a Bloody Mary or two, maybe.
After 40 years of seemingly being ready for anything, Durham doesn’t know what will happen Saturday when he bypasses the press elevator at Kenan Stadium and heads for his friend’s tailgate party.
“I don’t know,” Durham said with a laugh Thursday before he spoke in front of Kiwanis Club members at Benvenue Country Club. “I haven’t been through that experience. I’ll know Saturday.”
Durham started as the “Voice of the Tar Heels” in 1971 and has called more than 1,800 football and men’s basketball games. He has followed those teams to 23 bowl games, 13 Final Fours and six national title games in basketball. He still sets aside the Tar Heels four national championships when recalling special moments in his career. The accomplishment itself outshines any other season.
But outside of those remarkable seasons, Durham points to the last year as one of the most memorable moments in his career.
The football team battled through a big handful of NCAA violations, which eventually led to the firing of coach Butch Davis, and the men’s basketball team found a way to replace three key players and win despite multiple injuries to make the Elite Eight — one game from Durham’s 14th Final Four.
“Those were two good seasons to walk away from,” Durham said.
Through all the years, Durham was a “prisoner of his preparation.”
A friend once asked to see what Durham used during football games. Durham kindly obliged and opened his bag. The work from the past week came flooding out — His spotter’s chart to help identify players, a couple note pads to keep running track of the game, a drive chart, a score chart and a game card with a short history of each team. Durham only uses a third of the work he does in preparation for games. But he did all of that prep work because he could never determine which third he would use.
“I had a lot of stuff in front of me, and I really wasn’t comfortable for a game until I had all that stuff,” he said.
UNC won 72 percent of its games with Durham calling games.
Durham has traveled from Charlotte to Madison Square Garden in one day to cover two games, and he once had a police escort after the Tar Heels’ bowl game in Charlotte — there was a home basketball game to cover.
He made it just before tip-off.
In 40 years, Durham said he never missed a game because of illness, although, he joked that maybe he should have. He only missed 14 basketball games — all because of scheduling conflicts with football.
Covering two games in different locations wasn’t easy, but Durham, who did it multiple times during his career, welcomed it.
“I loved the challenge,” Durham said. “I wanted to do it, just to say that we had done it.”
Durham’s home office is on the second level of his house in Chapel Hill. At the top of the steps sits a desk.
On that desk is a small card. In preparation for Saturday’s game, Durham jotted down a few notes and figures on James Madison.
“A little bit of that still lingers,” Durham said.
He doesn’t miss the preparation, but he always will be ready for it.
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.