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About That 1980 UNC-Duke Game

Last week in the run-up to the UNC-SCAR game much was made of Steve Spurrier's return to Chapel Hill for the first time since he led Duke into Kenan in 1989 and soundly beat the Heels 41-0. During the course of that game, Spurrier basically emptied the playbook on an overmatched UNC team using various trick plays which, in effect, embarrassed the home team. The State ran an article last week in which Spurrier discussed that game and revealed his motivation for running the score up on UNC that day in 1989 and that motivation was a UNC win over Duke in 1980 when Spurrier was an assistant coach in Durham.

Being the intrepid blogger I am I called Spurrier out for his fairly childish response nine years after the fact and I would really leave it at that except when I wrote that post I had sent an email to one of my readers asking if he had any recollections about the game. He did not but he did send me a link to a Tar Heel Blue article written by SID Emeritus Rick Brewer about the game in question. Let's just say that account is quite different from the what Spurrier told the The State. In last week's article Spurrier said:

Today, Spurrier admits what possessed him to embarrass another coach and team in front of their fans. He points to 1980, when Spurrier was a Duke assistant and the Blue Devils lost 44-21 to UNC in Chapel Hill.

Late in that game, UNC coach Dick Crum inserted starter Kelvin Bryant to ensure that the running back would join teammate Amos Lawrence as a 1,000-yard rusher for the season. On one drive, Bryant carried the ball on five consecutive plays, and as Spurrier tells it, the Kenan Stadium public-address announcer kept fans abreast of his yardage total.

“I took my losing butt back to Durham, and we didn’t cry about it,” Spurrier said. “I figured maybe someday I’ll be on that sideline and can tack on some yards against those guys.”

Just so we are clear. Spurrier complained that Dick Crum reinserted Kelvin Bryant into the game for the purpose of having the tailback pass the 1000 yard mark. This was viewed as showing Duke up and Spurrier decided at that moment if he had the chance to run the score up on UNC he would.

Now bearing that in mind let's take a look at what Rick Brewer wrote two years ago about the game.

Even all that couldn't overshadow Amos Lawrence and Kelvin Bryant. The two Carolina tailbacks each went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark and both had two touchdowns.

Lawrence had not practiced all week because of a cold. He still ran for 143 yards, pushing his season total to 1,118. That gave him four 1,000-yard seasons. At that time Tony Dorsett was the only other Division 1 player to accomplish that feat.

Bryant needed 160 yards that day to reach 1,000. He finished with 199 and 1,039 for the year. After his last carry it was Lawrence who went back onto the field to bring him to the sidelines.

"The coaches told me before the game that I was going to get the ball a lot today," said Bryant. "Once Amos went over 1,000 they were going to try to let me do the same. I was a little worried at the half because I only had 35."

Lawrence had gone over 1,000 on the sixth play of the game when he broke off a 56-yard touchdown run. So in the second half Bryant got 19 carries for 164 yards to push him past 1,000.


Despite falling behind by 23 points, Duke was able to get back into the game in the second half.

Lawrence's 56-yard sprint and a nine-yard run by Bryant had given the Tar Heels a 14-0 lead with 7:47 remaining in the first quarter.

One possession later Steve Streater placed a punt on the Duke two-yard line. Taylor dropped Mike Grayson for a safety on third down and the lead was 16-0. After the free kick Carolina went 41 yards and Bryant scored from the two.

A touchdown pass by Bennett cut the lead to 23-7 at halftime.

"Our lead was probably too comfortable at the half," admitted Thompson. "If it had been closer I think we would have played better in the second half. But, you have to give Duke credit for never quitting."

Two fumbles in the first four minutes of the third quarter led to Blue Devil touchdowns. It was suddenly 23-21.

Forget any other kind of fighting. This was now a dogfight.

Duke got the ball back and moved to the Carolina 49. That set up the play of the day. On an afternoon filled with offense and name-calling, it was a defensive play by the smallest guy on the field that changed the game.

On third down Bennett threw over the middle only to have the ball bounce off his receiver's hands. Streater raced for the ball and tipped it in the air three times before getting it under control. He returned his third interception of the day to the Tar Heel 41. Ten plays later Elkins scored from the four and the lead was back to 30-21.

Fullback Billy Johnson and Lawrence added two-yard touchdown runs in the final period.

There is more to the article that what I have excerpted here. Basically there was a lot of bad blood running that day which is fairly normal for a contest between Duke and UNC. Tar Heel players complained that Duke offensive linemen were holding and Duke players complained UNC players were talking too much. As for the actual play on the field, reading this article cast a completely different light on the game than what Spurrier presented. Consider the following facts from the Brewer account:

  • UNC had two tailbacks who eclipsed the 1000 yard mark Amos Lawrence and Kelvin Bryant. Lawrence was 25 yards short of the mark and ran for 143 to end up with 1119. Bryant was 160 yards short and ran for 199 yards to end with 1039. Both had two TDs.
  • As a team UNC ran for 432 yards total and only threw eight passes.
  • UNC led 23-0 16 minutes into the game.
  • Bryant scored both of his TDs in the first half.
  • UNC led Duke 23-7 at halftime.
  • Two quick turnovers enabled Duke to cut the Tar Heel lead to two at 23-21 four minutes into the 3rd quarter.
  • UNC followed with a TD to go up 30-21
  • Lawrence and FB Billy Johnson scored two TDs in the fourth quarter to make the final margin 44-21

So the question I have is did Steve Spurrier misrepresent the details of this game when he was interviewed by The State last week? No one can say for sure but based on the details provided by Brewer, Spurrier hardly seems justified being upset over the way Dick Crum and the Heels conducted themselves that day. And in light of these details running the score up on UNC to the tune of 41-0 was totally unjustified.

First of all, the game was still in doubt early in the third quarter. Duke had pulled within two before UNC got a key defensive play then plowed down field to extend the lead to nine. In the 1989 game UNC was never in the game and in the second half there was never a chance UNC was going to rally and threaten Duke. Secondly, the complaint about the insertion of Bryant back into the game rings a little hollow in light of these facts. UNC had two tailbacks which I assume they used interchangeably. Spurrier took issue with Bryant being in the game but it is not like Bryant was only running threat UNC had in the backfield. UNC also had Amos Lawrence who is one of the great players in UNC history. I suppose Spurrier would have preferred Crum have Lawrence in the game instead of Bryant given Lawrence actually led to the team in rushing. The 1980 version of the Tar Heels was heavily dependent on the run and the combination of Lawrence and Bryant. Having either one of those players in the game running the football was a normal aspect of the UNC offensive scheme and not really any attempt to run the score up. If Spurrier and Duke were so upset about this maybe they should have stepped up and actually stopped the run.

The way the scoring unfolded casts extreme doubt on the idea that UNC was running up the score or attempting to embarrass Duke. UNC was up 23-0 and had the lead cut to 23-21. Following that point in the game UNC scored against to go up 30-21. Since the Brewer piece indicates the final two UNC TDs came "in the final period" we can assume UNC was only leading 30-21 when the fourth quarter began. That is hardly a decided game. UNC went on to score twice and the individual who drew Spurrier's ire, Bryant, was not involved. In fact Lawrence scored in the fourth quarter and ended the season the Heels' leading rusher. Perhaps UNC should have let up after the first TD in the final period which put them up 37-21. Then again what exactly was UNC supposed to do? They only threw eight passes for the whole game. The normal UNC offense in 1980 was to run the ball and Crum employed two different players for that scheme. If all the Heels did was go out there and hand the ball off and Duke failed to stop them was UNC supposed to simply take a knee and give the ball back to Duke with a 16 point lead in the fourth quarter? If I am coaching a team that is up 16 in the fourth quarter and I have a chance to put points on the board then I probably would do it and then back off. As I said, if Duke did not like the fact UNC was running the ball down their throats then they should have manned up otherwise they should really quit whining or carry around nine year old vendettas.

UNC was an easy mark in 1989 and Duke had already sufficiently ripped the Heels when the trick plays starting coming from the Duke sideline. Based on the Brewer account the same cannot be said of the game in 1980. Everything from the way the scoring unfolded to Dick Crum's usage of his tailbacks and the point in which one could reasonably say the game was out of hand makes Spurrier's use of this game as justification for his classless behavior in 1989 complete and utter poppycock. The truth about Steve Spurrier is he was very fond of running the score up on his opponents. It was the same at Florida as it was that day in Chapel Hill.

So spare us the sad story about how poor Duke was pummeled by those mean old Tar Heels in 1980 as the reason why you were looking to hang 60 on UNC at Kenan. That just does not seem to be the case, at least not the way I read it.

Hat tip to reader Wayne for the link to the article. If anyone has the box score, news articles or any other info on this game I would love to see it