Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Say it ain't so, Woody!

Woody Durham, the durable voice of the UNC Tar Heels'  football and men's basketball programs since the surface of the Earth cooled, is hanging it up -- and a lot of us dyed in the (Rameses') wool fans are wondering how we're going to spend Saturday afternoons in the fall and icy winter evenings without the voice of the man who has called more than 1,800 games since he took the mic in 1971.

In a world beset by economic turmoil, budget shortfalls, earthquake and tsunami damage and tornadoes that raked the southeast and took the lives of many North Carolinians, the question of who tells Tar Heel fans what's going on is a small one.  Point taken.  But for those who follow college sports closely and who become accustomed to the voices as well as the personalities of play-by-play officials and color analysts, it's an important thing.  I still miss Gary Dornburg, the N.C. State announcer for whom a lunchtime favorite was named at the Mecca restaurant in downtown Raleigh: The Gary Dornburger.

I've been addicted to listening to Carolina sports since at least the days of Bill Currie Curry, the announcer that Sports Illustrated once called The Mouth of the South, but Woody Durham has been a regular visitor in our home and cars for most of my career. I graduated from UNC in 1968, soon went into the Army and wound up in the Washington D.C. area. There were no internet streaming broadcasts in those days, but a Maryland lawyer friend quickly clued me in to the fact that on certain evenings when the stars were lined up right, you could hear Tar Heel basketball broadcasts on Charlotte's WBT radio flowing up the Shenandoah Valley.  Some evenings we'd hop in the car, drive northwest from D.C. towards Frederick Md. and when the wind was right, pick up Woody.

Years later after moving to Raleigh, I sometimes helped Gene Wang of UPI keep score at Tar Heel home games. One winter night after Wake Forest beat the stuffing out of the Tar Heels at Carmichael Auditorium in Chapel Hill, Woody wearily wound up his post-game show, flipped off the switch on his mic, swiveled in his chair and pronounced, "That was an old-fashioned ass-whuppin'."  Indeed it was.

Some phrases have long stuck with me. Sometimes he'd sign on this way: "The Tar Heel Sports Network is on the air!"  At times when the Tar Heels were rolling or making another improbable comeback, you hear him bellow: "Go to war, Miss Agnes!"  And when a timeout came when things were tight and the Tar Heels were trying to hang on to squeak out another win, he'd advise listeners they had just enough time to "Go where you go and do what you do" because this one was going down to the wire.  And we can never forget how he loved to introduce a favorite player, Al Wood in the late 1970s: "The Gray, Georgia junior."  It rolled off the tongue so easily that my wife still wonders how the "Gray, Georgia junior" is getting along.

It's hard to imagine Tar Heels sports -- football and men's basketball, anyway -- without the Woodyisms, his clear affection for the players, and his sometimes frank assessment of how badly the Heels were playing.  Everything changes, sooner or later, and we'll be telling Woody Durham stories a long time. But we'll be spending autumn afternoons and winter evenings with some other voice in our living room.  I hope they pick half as well as when they chose ol' Woody.


Anonymous said...

Amen, brother. I grew up listening to Woody, graduated from UNC in the late 80's and even named my dog "Woody" and I hate to think that we've heard our last call of "Ohhhh, My!!!" I am truly saddened today.

Mark said...

I grew up in Raleigh listening to Carolina and State games on local radio. I agree with your sentiment about Gary Dornburg even though I was not an N.C. State fan. One thing you can bet on is Woody's replacement will have a UNC pedigree but will likely not be a native North Carolinian like Woody. Regionalism is passing away and no one even notices how rich and vibrant it is until it's gone.

Anonymous said...

I also loved Woody doing the Tar Heel games. At one time, Woody alternated with Jim Thacker working the tv games. I hated Woody and that nasal din, like chalk on a chalkboard. Thank you, UNC, for taking him away from my ears. Now, please take Mick Mixon.

Anonymous said...

INTERESTING insider piece on the Woody Durham retirement. His commentary was informed and uniquely accurate. Greatly appreciated by those of us who turned down tv volume and watched while we followed the game on radio. Not as colorful as Bad Bill Curry, but sobriety can take a little of the edge off.

Anonymous said...

Sad and sickening the news media is so fixated on sports. A number of great UNC teachers have retired and no response from the news media. A UNC entertainer retires and the news media acts like it is a major tragedy.

Anonymous said...

>> A number of great UNC teachers have retired
>> and no response from the news media.

You mean like that professor who exhibited “deliberate neglect” of a computer system yet got reinstated (with back pay and $175K in legal fees) so she can receive a full pension and lifetime healthcare?

P.S.: Woody Durham was an employee of Learfield Sports, NOT of the University, so taxpayers weren't paying him (unlike the multi-million-dollar bill they'll be stuck with for the aforementioned prof).