Jan 20, 2020
Danny Talbott (1944-2020) … “Hometown Hero”
If you grew up in Eastern North Carolina in the early 1960s and you followed sports… you heard about Danny Talbott.
If you followed UNC Football in the mid 1960s… you remember Danny Talbott.
If you grew up in “small town America in the 1960s” hopefully… you knew “A Danny Talbott”.
If you were a kid who loved sports in the 1950-1960s, you likely read a Chip Hilton story. Between 1948-1966, a basketball coach named Clair Bee wrote a series of 24 books about a fictional small town high school athlete named “Chip Hilton”. “Chip” excelled at Football, Basketball and Baseball and led his Valley Falls High School to victories and championships.
“Chip Hilton” was “the package” … in addition to his athletic skills he was the quintessential “All American Boy”. … Chip’s girlfriend Maizy clerked at the drugstore where Chip worked part time as a stock boy.
The Chip Hilton books were alongside The Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew Mysteries. By todays standards, they were “corny” with predictable plots. Chip would ALWAYS engineer a game-winning rally … make the “buzzer-beater”… hit the walk-off homer. There were “life lessons” built-in to the stories consistent with mid-20th century America.
The citizens of Rocky Mount NC did not need to read about Chip Hilton in the early 60s. They had their very own. They had Danny Talbott… a 3-sport star who led his Rocky Mount High Blackbirds to multiple sate championships… with Hail Marys… Buzzer-beaters … and Walk-offs.
Danny and a group of his Rocky Mount Blackbirds buddies and his HS coach – Chris Carpenter came to Chapel Hill in 1963. At UNC, Danny excelled in Football and Baseball and even played Basketball for a year. He was ACC Player Of The Year in 1965 … and led Walt Rabb UNC Baseballers to Omaha in 1966.
Danny Talbott passed away today – Jan 19, 2020 – after a 10- year fight with multiple myeloma cancer. He was 75 years old.
In 2018, UNC Hospitals established The Danny Talbott Cancer Center in conjunction with Nash County / UNC Health.
I first met Danny Talbott in Fall 1965 in the old Kenan Fieldhouse… where The Blue Zone is now. He was the “Star QB” for Jim Hickey’s final two years as UNC FB coach. The ’65 and ’66 teams “struggled” leading to Hickey’s dismissal in Nov 1966. When healthy, Danny was outstanding but the teams were so-so.
To my knowledge, Danny holds no current records for Carolina Football. I’m sure numerous Tar Heel QBs over the past 55 years have much gaudier numbers. Current UNC QB Sam Howell likely has already surpassed Danny’s “numbers” in just one year.
I doubt if either Sam Howell or Mitch Tribisky have ever heard of Danny Talbott. It’s been 55 years. Sam and Mitch’s dads were not born when #10 was under center in Kenan Stadium.
QBs at area “hated rivals” – especially “QB U” in West Raleigh likewise have much “gaudier” stats not to mention their ongoing NFL legacies. Danny had a brief stint with the Redskins in the late 60s … and in minor league baseball with the Orioles… before returning to his hometown – Rocky Mount – to live his adult life contributing to his community and “being a friend”.
So, if Danny Talbott’s Total Sports Legacy doesn’t approach Michael Jordan or even his fellow Rocky Mount native – Phil Ford … not to mention dozens of other notable area athletes over the past 55+ years… why does he merit a BobLeeSays column?
Earlier this morning I got a phone call – as I knew I would – from a long-time friend of mine and of Danny’s… himself “a Hometown Hero” who admits “I grew up idolizing Danny Talbott”.
Everyone’s life is a series of “…roads diverging in a yellow wood” the ones we take “…makes all the difference”.
For Danny Talbott, to live a full life well beyond his playing days … To Always & Forever “Be Danny Talbott”. That’s Special!
Danny Talbott represented something about “America” that I’m not sure is surviving our country’s ever-evolving socio-cultural evolution.
Danny Talbott was a Small Town America “Hometown Hero”.
“Small town” is an arbitrary term. My hometown had 20,000. Danny’s Rocky Mount was closer to 40,000 “back then”. Paul Miller’s Ayden was less than 5,000 back in the mid 60s. Eastern NC (East of I-95) had dozens of such municipalities “back then”.
Some, like Greenville and Wilmington, have prospered to become “Metro Areas”. Others, like my Kinston and Danny’s Rocky Mount have never really recovered from the Demise of The Tobacco Industry. Their local economies are stagnant. When kids go off to college they usually don’t come back.
Back in the 60s – Rocky Mount – Kinston – Greenville – New Bern – Wilson – Goldsboro etc were proud thriving communities … straight out of “a Happy Days” episode. Where “Father Knows Best” and there were “Beaver Cleavers” in every neighborhood.
Church steeples – Soda fountains – Rickety wooden bleachers
… and Hometown Heroes.
For sure it was NOT “just an Eastern NC thing”. There were 20-30-40 such communities across NC – Shelby – Hickory – Rockingham – Asheboro – Henderson – Oxford – Valdese – Albemarle – Clinton – Reidsville … etc etc etc. And 1000’s more across America. Think “Hoosiers”.
NOTE: Yes… this was pre-Civil Rights Act. There were – and still are – “serious social issues”. Unlike apparently everyone on social media, I don’t have the answers to “those issues”.
Every town had a “Main Street” with an annual Christmas Parade… and there were “Friday Night Lights”. OK, maybe not to the fervor of Texas… but local high school sports teams were “a big deal”.
If you grew up in such a hometown in the early-mid 1960s… I hope you had “a Danny Talbott”…. A Hometown Hero you could be proud of …
Whether “he made it” to the pros … or if his high school heroics were the best it got – he made you proud. Maybe your town named something for him… or maybe not.
If your town has a “Floyd’s Barber Shop” and “Floyd” is still fogging a mirror, I bet he “remembers that one game when…..”. Even if the fog of 50 years has obscured a few details.
I got to know Danny better during The Bunting Era at UNC. He and Myrlene attended every game and always came by Kenan’s Choo Choo Lounge at halftime. On one especially memorable occasion in October 2004 a few of the guys hung around to watch the 2nd half on TV.
They were three former UNC QBs – Gayle (and Margie) Bomar … Albert (and Jackie) Long… Danny (and Myrlene) Talbott… and one Internet Legend.
Between us we had seen A LOT of Football … but nothing quite like That 2004 Game’s Ending. If you haven’t figured it out yet … IT was the TA McLendon’s Knee Game. YOWSA! … like the 50,000 in Kenan and a regional TV audience, we were stunned as Referee Jim Knight ruled TA’s knee was down… overruling what woulda been the winning TD for NC State. It was Danny who broke the silence … “Well boys, I guess John (Bunting) just saved his job…”.
I plan to be in Rocky Mount later this week. I’ll see a lot of old familiar faces. It will be SRO for sure.
Chip Hilton had his buddies – “Biggie,” “Soapy,” “Speed” and “Fireball”. For Danny Talbott it will be Marion – CQ – Brent – Billy – Wrennie – Digit – etc etc etc … The room will be full of Blackbirds and Tar Heels aplenty. They will share “Remember that time that Danny …” stories.
Hometown Heroes – like Old Soldiers – Never Die. They Live Forever. Thru those wonderful “Remember Whens…” they leave for us.
Thanks for The Memories, DT…