Not long after the end of the 1997 regular season, Mack Brown left UNC to take the head coach job at Texas. As he did not coach the bowl game, his final game was a 50-14 blowout of Duke, finishing off a 10-1 regular season.
Cut to 2019, and he’s back. When the Tar Heels take the field on August 31st, it will be the first time in nearly 22 years that Brown has led a UNC team. Needless to say, a lot has changed in the time since. To illustrate that point, let’s look back at what the world looked like back on November 22, 1997:
Several members of the new UNC coaching staff were in the early days of their coaching careers. New defensive coordinator Jay Bateman was in his very first year as a coach, as an assistant at Division III Hampden-Sydney in a season where they went winless. Offensive coordinator Phil Longo was a high school coach, and still three years away from getting into the college ranks.
A couple weren’t done playing. Dre Bly was in his sophomore year, playing for Brown at UNC and winning All-American honors. Running backs coach Robert Gillespie hadn’t entered college yet.
Meanwhile, Tim Brewster was an assistant at UNC the first time around as well. Ten years after the 1997 season, he would be named head coach at Minnesota, a gig he is now nearly a decade removed from.
Most players currently on the roster would not have even been born in 1997. Most of the incoming college freshman this year were born in late 2000 to 2001, meaning the seniors were probably born in late 1997 to 1998. Between birthdays late in the year and players who redshirted, there are probably a couple members of the current roster who had been born by the date of that Duke game, but they’re almost definitely a small minority on this year’s roster.
In the college football world, 1997 was the season where Michigan and Nebraska split the national title in the final season before the BCS was implemented. Charles Woodson won the Heisman Trophy and is still the last defensive player to win the award. He had a pretty long playing career in the NFL, but even he has been retired for four years now.
Today, the two pre-eminent powers in the sports are Clemson and Alabama. The Crimson Tide went 4-7, as future coach Nick Saban was going 7-5 at Michigan State. Clemson finished 7-5, losing the Peach Bowl while Dabo Swinney was an assistant for that losing Alabama team.
The Big 12 still had 12 teams, while the Big Ten had 11. Both the Big West and the WAC were still football conferences. Colorado State won the WAC, while Nevada and Utah State split the Big West. Today, all three of those teams are conference opponents in a completely different third conference: the Mountain West.
Titanic would be the highest grossing film of 1997, but that had yet to come out in the United States. The number one movie the week of UNC’s win over Duke was The Jackal staring Bruce Willis and Richard Gere.
The number one song in the US has endured a bit more: It was “Candle in the Wind 1997” by Elton John, which had come out after the death of Princess Diana. Think about that: Mack Brown’s last stint at UNC was so long ago that Princess Diana had just died.