Woody Durham would know what to say. The man whose voice was the soundtrack for a generation of Tar Heels was never lost for words, regardless of the magnitude of the moment. When that fateful pass left Georgetown guard Fred Brown’s hands and found its way into the arms of James Worthy, for example, Woody was right there on the call, his comforting Albemarle twang echoing from the radio and bringing the good news to the blue and white faithful.
Many a poorly-timed road trip in my childhood was accompanied by the long-time play-by-play announcer’s voice floating forth from the radio in my dad’s truck, the signal only occasionally broken by static as we drove further and further from the Chapel Hill-based tower; father and son alike hanging on Woody’s every word. There were also many fall Saturdays spent working in the front yard of my childhood home, raking leaves with the radio carrying Woody’s voice from Kenan Stadium to our waiting ears. I have many fond memories that revolve around that voice, and I vividly remember wondering to myself how he always knew what to say, regardless of what was happening.
So used to Woody’s voice were we, in fact, that even if we were home for the game and able to watch it on TV, it was common practice in our living room to turn the TV all the way down and the radio up to hear Woody’s call. Even if it was a few seconds behind, we all wordlessly agreed that win or lose, we’d rather have Woody break the news to us.
That old house was sold after the Heels won their last title. The two-year anniversary of Woody’s passing came and went back in March, right around the time the world started to end. These days, we find ourselves suddenly unable to go where we used to go, and similarly restricted from doing the things we’re used to doing. Tonight, I find myself sitting here staring at a blank screen, wishing that I had the same gift that Woody had to find the right words.
We’ve lost a lot, collectively. Things may never go back to the way they used to be, and we’ve had to face the uncomfortable and ongoing truth that the things we’ve always depended upon won’t always be there, whether that’s a voice that’s familiar enough to nearly be called a friend or simply the way we used to go about our days.
Woody would know what to say, I’m sure, even when none of us really knows what the future holds. In the absence of that gift, though, we can still cherish the memories we’ve got, and maybe even look forward to a future in which we can make more of those memories, even if the voice that’s intertwined with them is slightly different.