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Tar Heel History: The shortest pro careers from UNC athletes

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These four Heels made it to the highest level in sports, they just didn’t get to stay there for very long.

Marlin Levison - Strib 06/24/05 - Assign#96912- This week Chishom celebrates the 100th anniversary of the only major league baseball appearance of the mysterious Archibald Moonlight Graham, who later became a physician on the Iron Range and was a subject Photo by MARLIN LEVISON/Star Tribune via Getty Images

When we talk about North Carolina Tar Heels that go on to play in the professional ranks, it’s usually about players that go on to long and fruitful careers. It makes sense that you would focus of the Michael Jordan, Mia Hamm, and Lawrence Taylors of the world. However, they are only one end of the spectrum on how a pro career can go.

Here are the stories of some Tar Heels who made it all the way to the professional ranks, only for things to end way sooner that they might’ve hoped.

Arguably the most famous person who is specifically known for having a short pro career happens to be a Tar Heel. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham is pretty much only known for his role in the novel “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella, and the movie based on it “Field of Dreams.”

While some liberties with his story are taken in the movie, it does accurately recount how his pro career played out: he came in to play the field for the Giants in the top of the ninth inning of a game.was due up to hit next when the final out of the game was made. Graham never played another major league game again, and finished his career notably having never gotten the chance to hit.

Before any of that, he attended and played baseball at UNC. He eventually left the university in 1902 to pursue a pro career, and played his single fleeting game on June 29, 1905.

Meanwhile in basketball, a genuine great of his era in Chapel Hill also only managed one professional game.

Tommy Kearns was the third leading scorer on the UNC undefeated national champion 1956-57 team. He followed that up by becoming an All-American the next season. In the ensuing NBA Draft, he went in the fourth round. It might not seem like much, but the league was smaller and he went 29th overall, so in today’s terms, he was a first round pick.

The team that selected him, the Syracuse Nationals, opened their 1958-59 season against the Detroit Pistons. Kearns and the Nationals won, with the rookie playing seven minutes and scoring two points off the bench.

Those seven minutes and two points would be the only of his professional career. In a small league with not many roster spots, a long career wasn’t in the cards for him. Former player and current Nationals coach, Paul Seymour, opted to return to the court to become a player/coach and Kearns was released after just one game. He never caught on anywhere else and went into other fields shortly after.

As best I can tell, the shortest NFL careers for a Tar Heel is three games, although I could be missing something. If that is the case, then there are two Carolina players who took part in just three games at the next level. Funnily enough, both of there three games came in the same three week span in the same NFL season. That may seem like a weird coincidence, but there’s an explanation.

In the 1987 NFL season, the player’s union went on a 24-day strike following week two. The teams then brought in replacement players for weeks three, four, and five. That meant there were plenty of open spots, and a pair of Tar Heels filled them. Linebacker Carl Carr and wide receiver Eric Streater each played in those three weeks for the Lions and Buccaneers respectively.

Their two teams actually faced off in the first of those three games. Streater caught a touchdown and Carr recorded a sack in a 31-27 win for Tampa Bay. Both played another two games, but were retained that year or ever again when the regular players came back from the strike.

While it’s not really weird that their short careers overlapped when you factor in the circumstances. However what is weird is that they not only would’ve been college teammates, but they were born within a couple days of each other (March 21, 1964 for Streater, March 26, 1964 for Carr).

While at least some of those guys (hopefully all) ended up with perfectly good lives otherwise, there’s probably part of them that wishes they could’ve had a slightly longer pro career.

Sources

https://blogs.lib.unc.edu/uarms/2019/01/25/archibald-wright-moonlight-graham/

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BRO/BRO190506290.shtml

https://vault.si.com/vault/2012/07/09/tommy-kearns

https://www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/195810190SYR.html

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/C/CarrCa20.htm#defense

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/198710040det.htm

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/S/StreEr20.htm