Growing up in North Crackalacky in the mid-20th century was a wholesome, unspoiled coming of age. Lot of fresh vegetables, church music and hard work. Lived in a nice house on a hill in a small town; had a TV in the living room but tuned to the Ed Sullivan show, Friday Night fights, I Love Lucy, Omnibus and college sports.
We always ate the evening meal together as a family, and that’s where we got our “news” about what was happening – Daddy being the moderator/reporter. Our early lives were home-centered but we socialized at school, at church, at Dad’s business place and with relatives mostly at their farms. We learned about the world from National Geographics in the school library and from the set of encyclopedias everyone had at home. Sometimes come Saturday afternoons we went to Sunrise Theater double features; cost a quarter.
Summer vacations were big. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Birthdays not so much.
Ah, but from the mid-50s on there was ACC basketball to celebrate with Tobacco Road’s own Dixie Classic in December, the ACC tourney in February and come March there was the national championship. In North Carolina during the season you could not go to a grocery store, or talk with anyone after church, or to anyone pumping your gas, that the subject of ACC round ball was not discussed. Coaches Everett Case at NC State, and Bones McKinney from Wake and Vic Bubbas from Duke and Frank McGuire, then Dean Smith, from UNC were quoted in NC newspapers and in casual conversations everywhere. Dad, who played basketball in college, talked about them at supper. And their tall, lanky players.
Then in 1957, with TV making the NCAA tournament games accessible live black and white, it took UNC three over-times to beat Michigan State in the quarterfinals to set up the championship game against Kansas. Watching that game on TV with Dad was a resonant, once in a lifetime, thing…. which began when UNC’s 5-11 guard Tommy Kerns jumped center against Kansas’ 7 foot 1 inch giant Wilt Chamberlain. Completely unexpected, Dad kept saying, “Look at that, just look at that.”
Every shot of the 55 minute affair was contested, ever second a thrill. Went into another triple over-time… UNC’s Joe Quigg went to the line to take a couple of free throws in the last seconds… Fans were screaming. Everyone on the floor, bent, hands on knees tired. Joe Quigg stood tall though. First one in, then the second shot arching up and in. A few seconds left for Kansas but UNC steals the ball.
It’s all over in a roaring instant and then a monstrous unbelieving quiet, because the game was played in Kansas City, Missouri a short drive from the Kansas U. campus. No instant replays. It’s just over. Final score: Kansas 53, UNC 54. Carolina players jumping around on the court, Dad and I howling.
UNC without a loss all season. What a ride. What a game.
We live our lives on many levels. Family, work, friends, travel, hates, envies, fatigue, joys, hopes… and for me since that Saturday game 23 March 1957 there is, every year, the incredibly stellar March madness…
It’s gettin’ time to bring it on again.
God bless America, sun sweetened southern vegtables and the post season college basketball tourney.
Go deep Heels.