Got To Get A Gipper

January17/ 2000

… Suppose Lew Alcindor had gone to Holy Cross or Larry Miller to Duke or Charlie Scott to Davidson or Philip Rivers to Alabama (as a tight end!)…. They didn’t and with their final choices became “Keystone Recruits” at their respective schools.  BobLee discusses the “Keystone Recruit” concept and unveils yet another brand new Swaggerism …. “A Gipper” …. John Bunting really needs to “get a Gipper” but so does every coach at every level.  

    “A Gipper” obviously comes from the apochraphal story of Notre Dame’s George Gipp and his inspirational role per Knute Rockne in rallying his teammates.  Whether George ever uttered his “win one for The Gipper” or not, even the casual fan has some understanding of the term.  

We are applying this new term in conjunction with a less common phrase – “The Keystone Recruit”.  In a perfect world, a “Keystone Recruit” will be “a Gipper” … but not always.  The four athletes named above were both.  UNC’s Don McCauley was not “a Keystone” but certainly became a “Gipper”.  Is everyone thoroughly confused now?

“A Keystone Recruit” is a much heralded athlete who arrives at a school with press clippings out the wazoo and more “stars” than Heaven’s firmament on a chilly Fall night.  His arrival and subsequent career essentially redefines that school’s “image” in his sport.  A supporting cast is assembled to complement him and together they ride the glory train to whatever immortality there might be for athletes.

Now, before our Wuffie readers hit TILT on the apoplexy-meter … DAVID THOMPSON most definitely is in both the Keystone and Gipper Halls of Fame.  More on The Skywalker in a moment.

Ye Olde Legend In The Basement was once quoted to the effect that Rusty Clark might have been his most significant recruit as the lanky redhead was Carolina’s first legitimate “big man”.  With all due respect to Dr. Franklin Clark I nominate two others who overlapped his era of the late 60s – Larry Miller & Charlie Scott.  If either Miller had chosen Duke or Scott had chosen Davidson (came within a frog’s hair!) I maintain the Dean Smith Express might never have gained the momentum that propelled it to ethereal heights.

Casual historians all agree that Charlie Scott was significant from the door-opening racial perspective.  Had he joined Mike Malloy w/ Lefty at Davidson, would Phil Ford, Walter Davis, “Michael” and countless others have found their collegiate homes in Chapel Hill?  Fodder for sports bar debate.  I maintain that Charlie (and Larry) were significant beyond that level … they were individually THE BEST “Clutch Players” I have ever seen in person.  Every fan is partial to his era but this is my column.  If you chose Johnny Dawkins or Alex English or Albert King … get your own website and say so.

A “Gipper” almost always comes thru “in the clutch” … so, absolutely, Christian Laettner is also a Gipper Hall of Famer.  Not just for “the Kentucky shot” but for a similar one against Connecticut the year before and other assorted heroics.  Hate Laettner for all the reasons UNCers hate all Dookies but the sumbitch was “a Gipper”.

    Back to Larry Miller.  Mills was at the center of THE most incredible protracted game play I have ever seen in person.  1967 – Winston-Salem Memorial Auditorium – Score knotted and Deacons inbounding … less than :05 on the clock … Larry steals the ball at midcourt and dribbles thru all 12 Deacon players, their coaching staff, and the Stanford Marching Band to lay the ball in for a Carolina Victory.  You can have 8 points down with 17 seconds to go … or Dudley Bradley steals the ball … or Lorenzo Charles catches the “airball” … or a Laettner miracle … I’ll take that Miller play.  Larry Miller was a 6’4” Forward who, even with Larry Bird helping him, could probably not finish a Weekly Reader crossword puzzle, but the sumbitch simply would take charge when Destiny called.

Another Gipper Moment … Charlie Scott – Cole Field House – 1969 Eastern Regional Finals – Heels tied with Lefty’s Wildcats.  A handful of seconds on the clock but the ball in Charlie’s hands … breaks down the lane and goes up for the jumper with better pure form than Jerry West in the NBA logo.  Heels Win and Lefty’s Davidson Dynasty is dead before it was ever born.  Lefty stayed there in Cole Field House to guide “the UCLA of The East”.  Charlie Scott was a Keystone Recruit AND A Gipper.

    One can rate Gippers and their moments but its really not fair to do so … just gather their memories like arranging beautiful orchids in a porcelin vase.  William Neal Reynolds Coliseum … 1974 Eastern Regional – David Thompson comes crashing down from the Reynolds rafters to land on his head.  12,000 people stop breathing as David lies in a pool of blood.  David is carried off, life and future uncertain, and the moment is seemingly over … it wasn’t.  His teammates rally and then he appears on the sidelines head wrapped in gauze.  I was watching on TV from Atlanta and still get goosebumps from that one.  David had “one or two” other pretty solid performances during those days! 

The game was not of national significance.  Just two bitter rivals in a backyard brawl.  But watch the tape of Don McCauley’s final game in Kenan and that classic picture of “the athlete, having given his all, exiting the competitive arena triumphant”.  #23 from Garden City Long Island did not arrive in Chapel Hill with the “Keystone’s” pomp and promise of Miller or Scott or a Thompson at Raleigh.  He was recruited as a DB … he left four years later on the legendary level of a Choo Choo and matched by darn few if any in the ensuing 30+ years.  

The Philip Rivers Saga is still a hot topic.  The very first action by Chuck Amato and it certainly defined the first four years of The Amato Era and continues to cast a shadow on Wolfpack Football.  September 2003 “on the banks of the Olantangy” in “The Shoe” – as fine a Quarterback performance in the 2nd half and OTs as this self-proclaimed veteran pundit as ever witnessed.  History will record that Philip’s team lost that game.  Verily but for mere inches at the goal line, a Montana-esque performance that COULD have propelled Rivers, Amato, and his team to unattained glory.  Cruelty is a specialty of The Sports Gods.  Rivers had many other fine games over an outstanding four year career but that was a special day “on the banks of the Olantangy”.

Rival critics may demean Philip’s college career for it lack of national achievement.  I am not among them.  #17 From Athens was/is a Gipper and the final chapter in The Philip Rivers Saga has yet to be written.

In recent weeks, on the BCS stage, we’ve seen Matt Lienart and Vince Young secure their Gipper credentials when Destiny called … with promise of more such opportunities in the weeks to come.  Will Marcus Vick step up this Saturday when Miami comes to Lane … he better or its By By BCS.

To the present … John Bunting remains like a tragic Greek hero tormented by the gods … a 5-year program consistent only in its inconsistency.  In one hand a sack full of heart-breaking losses.  I was with a Deacon today and their 2001 2nd half miracle comeback was revisted … YEOW … that one still hurts.  But balanced in the other hand by a sack full of arguably the most wonderful victories in UNC FB history … FSU and Miami “no way Jose” upsets and bitter rivalry brawls resulting in the narrowest of unexpected Tar Heel victories.  For every Ying Win a Yang Loss … a fanbase bitterly divided and confused as to whether the program is going up, down, or somehow sideways.

I wish for Coach Bunting that special “gift” that every coach searchs for – The Keystone Recruit – John really needs “a Gipper”.  

I despise “the recruiting game”.  I would rather gargle razorblades than read lunatic ramblings about “blue chippers” and “how many stars” and “40 times” … YUCK! Steve Logan said recently (I’m a BIG Steve Logan fan BTW) that a coach doesn’t create a “gamebreaker” by coaching … he finds’em.  That rarest of athlete who consistently rises to the moment when Destiny calls.  

A QB is the usual position as he handles the ball on every offensive play.  Carolina has had “great defensive players” – ‘Dre Bly, Lawrence Taylor, Julius Peppers for three – and they made great plays but opponents can strategy around them.  Ronald Curry had legitimate Gipper potential but circumstances within the program and the injuries negated him (and continues to “at the next level”).

Whether John entices a Five Star Blue-Chipper to Chapel Hill or walks out on Navy Field one day and finds “the next Don McCauley” … very soon the UNC Football Program needs that rarest of athletes (Miller, Scott, Thompson, Rivers, Laettner, McCauley, etc) who hears that confident voice within him that says:

“if it is to be … it’s up to me … 

give me the ball, Coach”.


 Swagger’s Stumper

 David’s Fall in ’74: 

(1) Who was the opponent?

(2) What was the official’s call on the play? 


   Ray Guy was the only punter ever drafted in 1st round of the NFL draft … and only man to hit the scoreboard in the Superdome with a punt (talk about “hang time”!).

   BobLee stirred up a hornet’s nest with his recent side comment about the trevails of a certain eccentric howler monkey in a cyber cesspool.  Shoulda known better … never rollerskate in a buffalo herd or a cyber cesspool.

   Investigating Jim “Boss” Black is “politically motivated” … indicting “Scooter” is “politically motivated” … Tom Delay’s tribulations are “politically motivated” … every Supreme Court nominee is “a dark day for America” due to “politically motivated” reasons.  Ever get the feeling that daily life in America has gotten just a tad “overly politicized” … ya think?  We could use a few “Gippers” on both sides of the political aisle methinks. … … a pal opined he was soooo weary of the never-ending back & forth political mudslinging.  I reminded him that is why God invented The Food Channel.  Best therapy out there for “the latest news from Washington” … 

   I’ve filed an official complaint with Hokie Jim … ONE MORE cut-away shot of Marcus Vick’s big brother “picking his nose”, “fingering his bling bling”, or “scratching himself” and I’m heading up to Bristol Ct with mayhem on my mind … ENOUGH ON THE BIG BRO CRAP, ESPN!  Hey, I luv ya Herbie and Tirico but ENUFF!

   Must See TV … Boston Legal on Tuesday nights on ABC.  Same folks who did LA Law and Allie McBeal.  William Shattner is a certified hoot as “Denny Crane”.

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