Heel, Ram, Gym, Java
OK, for our game against football arch-rival NC State, stories about a Heel, a ram, a gym and java. First, the timeless question, “What’s a Tar Heel?” Well, there are several versions but, for the one I’ve heard most, let’s return to NC’s colonial history. We have a lot of pine trees and, along the coast where our state’s history began, tall long-leaf pines.
Those “boys” were the basis for our colonial economy—tar, pitch and turpentine. Visitors to North Carolina recounted and recorded the spectacle of seeing many barefooted North Carolinians who regularly walked through these long-leaf pine forests and, because of it, bore tarred resin on the bottom of their heels.
The tree and naval stores became so associated with our colony and state, it, of course, became not only our state’s nickname but this University’s moniker. Now for many years, being called a “Tar Heel” was a slap in the face. The term implied a backward rube but, interestingly, the Civil War helped to change all that. The story goes that it was in the spring of 1864 when, after a battle in Virginia, a group of Virginians and North Carolinians hooted at one another. After being teased about whether there was any tar left down in the Old North State, one North Carolinian retorted that maybe some more should be found and placed on the heels of the Virginians so they might stick better in the next fight. The exchange was communicated to Robert E. Lee who smiled and mused aloud, “God bless those Tar-Heeled boys.” Hence, like tar, our nickname stuck and honorably so.
So now that we’ve talked about the Tar Heel thing, what’s the story behind a ram as our mascot? Back in 1924, cheerleader Vic Huggins reasoned that if Georgia had a bulldog and NC State had a wolf—well, the Heels needed something. Huggins persuaded athletic business manager Charlie Woollen to fork over $25 and the search began. Shipped from Texas to Chapel Hill and introduced at a pep rally before the VMI game…Ta-Dah…
…a not-so-impressive Rameses made his debut. But why a ram? Two seasons earlier a bruising fullback, Jack Merritt, led Carolina to a 9-1 record. So bruising he was nicknamed “the battering ram.” A-ha—Huggins’ inspiration. Rameses’ first game was November 8, 1924. Carolina was locked in a scoreless tie with a then-powerful VMI team. Late in the game, Bunn Hackney was called upon to attempt a field goal. Before going in, he rubbed Rameses’ head and then promptly drop-kicked a 30-yard field goal to win the game, 3-0. Rameses’ storied presence began. Now, from a ram to a gym.
Woollen Gym, which was home to the 1957 National Champions, was a nice facility but Head Coach Frank McGuire wanted better. He wanted one to rival NC State’s Reynolds Coliseum. It would take a while. In 1955, there were leaks and it was going to cost $20,000 to get ’em fixed. UNC officials complained but were told the state didn’t have the money. Well, the VP of UNC, William D. Carmichael, had a solution.
The Monday, following a Saturday home game against State, word came in that $20,000 had just been allocated from the Emergency Contingency Fund. What happened in the course of 2 days? Well, it seems Carmichael got some tickets for the State game and gave them to members of the Appropriations Committee of the General Assembly. It rained like crazy that Saturday and their seats just happened to be directly under the leaks. Problem solved. And finally, that java thing.