duke spurrier kenan

Did you get as big of a kick as I did Sunday when Steve Spurrier gloated over his undefeated record against North Carolina?

C’mon, Head Ball Coach, surely winning a Heisman Trophy and a national championship are more impressive accomplishments to cackle over on your way to the Football Hall of Fame.

After all, the records of the four UNC teams you “swamped” were 5-6 (in Dick Crum’s last season), 1-10 and 1-10 (in Mack Brown’s first two) and 4-8 in Butch Davis’  only losing year in Chapel Hill (except of course losing his job in 2011).

Those vaunted Tar Heel teams were a combined 11-34 as you rolled over them in three years at Duke and the one meeting so far at South Carolina. That’s a real resume builder!

Actually, Spurrier has great affection for the Carolina where he almost coached. According to insiders, he wanted the UNC job after leaving the Washington Redskins midway through his second wash-out season in the NFL and nearly had it in 2004.

But, as the story goes, Carolina’s upset win over nationally ranked Miami that season squashed the subversive plan to replace favorite son John Bunting with the Head Ball Coach, who instead succeeded Lou Holtz at South Carolina.

Spurrier has never told that story in public but, after a cocktail or two, has been known to confirm it. The appointment would have sent lightning bolts across the Carolina blue sky because of Spurrier’s history with North Carolina while at Duke.

Recall (if you dare) his last game coaching the Blue Devils in 1989, before bolting for his alma mater Florida. It was Brown’s second season, after losing whatever good players he inherited from Crum and before his recruiting took hold. Duke was headed for its first bowl game in three decades when it swaggered over here looking for its third straight win vs. the Tar Heels — the first time the Blue Bellies would do that since the maiden days of the ACC more than 30 years earlier.

Duke rolled up 37 first downs and 656 yards of total offense on the way to a 41-0 slaughter. Chapel Hill’s Clarkston Hines caught eight balls for 162 yards and three touchdowns and running back Randy Cuthbert rumbled for 116 yards and one end sweep when he flattened a Tar Heel corner in the open field near the Duke sideline, which exploded in unison.

After the game, Spurrier needled his quarterback Dave Brown, who passed for 479 yards and two scores but missed a couple of open receivers in the end zone. Spurrier knew he was heading for Florida and apparently had promised a few Duke old grads that he would try to even the score from 1959 and Carolina’s famous 50-0 rout on Thanksgiving Day.

That’s when a Duke manager ran in and shouted that the electronic scoreboard in the southeast corner of the end zone was still showing the final score. The Duke sports information staff told the Head Ball Coach, “You may be leaving but we still have to live here. ” By that time, the Blue Devils had run back onto the field and flopped down in front of illuminated 41 under GUEST and 0 under CAROLINA. The picture above has since become a classic in the Duke annals.

Of course, Mack Brown (whom Spurrier kiddingly called “Mr. Football”) seethed with the rest of Tar Heel Nation and, while Duke changed coaches three times in his last eight years in Chapel Hill, he never lost that game again while outscoring the downtrodden Dukies by a collective 100 points in the midst of Carolina’s longest winning streak ever in the rivalry (13 in a row).

Brown went on to Texas where he became a real “Mr. Football” in the Lone Star State, matching Spurrier’s BCS championship at Florida with his own in the 2006 Rose Bowl. So you can see why after the Head Ball Coach tried the NFL, how polarizing his return to Kenan Stadium on the home sideline would have been. Fortunately, Connor Barth’s 44-yard boot as time expired against “The U” turned all that into an old wives’ tale at UNC.

Nevertheless, Spurrier won’t be far from our minds as long as he coaches in Columbia. After Thursday night’s season-opener down there on ESPN, the Battle of the Carolinas will move to Charlotte in 2015 in what could become a regular Border War. But Spurrier will be 70 by then, so he may be approaching his last cackle as the Head Ball Coach anywhere.

(Photo by Duke Sports Information)