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November 25, 2011

Sammy: What I'm Thankful For

OK, I know Thanksgiving has passed, so this is a little late. But did you really expect me to put my fork down and turn away from the turkey, ham, dressing with giblet gravy, turnips, collard greens, hush puppies, sweet potato, squash and cranberries on my plate to start typing?

After having the good fortune to feed on such a feast at my mother's table, football came back into focus as I watched UNC's favorite ex, Mack Brown, and his Texas Longhorns do battle with the Texas A&M Aggies.

Something about seeing the shots of Mack all intense on the sidelines made me start thinking how really good things used to be for Tar Heel football.

Eventually, I also began to realize that despite all the issues that have plagued the program at UNC the past year and a half, there's still plenty of reasons to be thankful.

So, although it's a bit late, here's what I'm thankful for in regards to Tar Heel football.

---First, I'm thankful for Charlie "Choo Choo'' Justice. Every time someone tries to tell me UNC is only a basketball school, I tell'em to go do some research about Justice. "Choo Choo'' was an original and one of those bigger-than-life type heroes that simply doesn't exist anymore in college football or anywhere else. His legend was born before Frank McGuire, Dean Smith or Michael Jordan graced the the Chapel Hill campus. That, my friends, is a football tradition.

---Speaking of great men, we all should be thankful for Everett Withers. Withers was put in an impossible situation as interim coach when Butch Davis was fired prior to the start of preseason practice. While all UNC fans would have liked more wins this season, I don't know if anyone in could have performed more nobly or professionally than Withers under the circumstances. Even if you didn't like his comments that apparently fueled N.C. State's victory over the Tar Heels, you had to admire him his intentions.

---I'm thankful that the NCAA investigation is coming to an end. Or, maybe I should say I'm hopeful it's coming to an end because I'd much rather be writing about football than NCAA violations.

---I'm thankful for Casey Barth. Casey has been such a picture of consistency since he walked on campus as a freshman that I don't think I really appreciated his skills until he wasn't there to handle the placekicking. Hopefully, the NCAA will grant him a sixth year of eligibility and we'll see him against next fall.

---Tar Heels everywhere should be thankful for Jonathan Linton. Since 1997, Linton's name has been repeated year after year after year because he was the last Tar Heel to rush for 1,000 yards in a season until this year. But while we've been touting his football skills, Linton has been serving our country as a special agent in the diplomatic security sector of the U.S. Department of State. Now that's a guy I'd be thankful was watching my back.

---I'm thankful for Giovani Bernard because he's re-established the 1,000-yard rushing tradition that ended with Linton in 1997. Keep it going Gio!

---The Blue Zone. Yes, I'm thankful for the controversial addition to Kenan Stadium. I loved the old field house. Spent my formative years as a sportswriter covering the Tar Heels of Dick Crum and Brown in that building, and didn't like it when they decided to tear it down for the Blue Zone. But now that it's done, it actually looks nice and really hasn't diminished the beauty of Kenan Stadium at all.

---I'm thankful the Tar Heels are still going to a bowl game because the players on this team deserve it.

---Ohio State. Yep, thankful for the Buckeyes because they saw the value of scheduling a home-and-home series with North Carolina. The Tar Heels have played many of the nation's big-time programs in recent years like Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Texas. Like those games, an Ohio State series will be impressive to recruits. I can't wait for 2015 to get here.

---With the regular-season finale against Duke upon us, I'm also thankful for the original No. 23 at North Carolina - Don McCauley. On November 21, 1970, McCauley gave one of the greatest performances by a Tar Heel ever when he rushed for 279 yards and five touchdowns in a 59-34 victory against the Blue Devils. McCauley also surpassed O.J. Simpson's single-season NCAA record for rushing yardage with that effort.

---Finally, I'm thankful for Steve Spurrier. Yeah, you read it right. The Ole Ball Coach stood in front of the scoreboard at Kenan Stadium with his Duke squad to pose for a picture after beating the Tar Heels 41-0 in 1989. That arrogant act apparently put a hex on the Blue Devils because they've only beaten UNC once in the 21 meetings since that day. Thanks, Steve, for striking that pose.




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