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
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.