Batten: Kelvins Amazing Day
Even though he was just a freshman at Appalachian State, Everett Withers heard about what happened in Chapel Hill on September 12, 1981.
"I certainly remember hearing about the six-touchdown day,'' UNC's current head football coach said earlier this week.
Thirty years have passed, but the performance at Kenan Stadium that day by Kelvin Bryant still holds sacred place in the Tar Heel record books and in the minds of UNC faithful.
After having shared the tailback job at "Famous'' Amos Lawrence for two years, the then junior Bryant made his first career start that day in the 1981 season opener against East Carolina one to remember.
"Special K,'' as Bryant would be called after the ECU game, rushed for 211 yards and a school-record six touchdowns in a 56-0 rout by UNC that remains the most lopsided margin of victory in the in-state rivalry, which resumes Saturday for the 14th time in Greenville.
Rick Brewer, UNC's sports information director emeritus, has witnessed most of the great individual performances by Tar Heel athletes for the past four decades. Brewer believes Bryant's effort stands among the best.
"You have to talk about (Don) McCauley's (279-yard, 5-touchdown day against Duke in 1970),'' Brewer said. "In basketball, Kenny Smith scored 41 points at Clemson and Charlie Scott had a 40-point game. Phil (Ford) and (Michael) Jordan had some big games, too.
"But Bryant's performance that day ... I can't imagine anything being that good.''
Making the game even more memorable was the intrigue that preceded it and the poignant gesture by Bryant that created the perfect ending.
According to Brewer, during the days of practice leading up to the ECU game, personnel at the UNC School of Law noticed some unfamiliar faces hanging an area that offered a clear view of the football practice field. The school of law sits just above the Tar Heel practice facilities at Navy Field.
The visitors seemed to be paying close attention to UNC's football practice, so the dean of the law school was informed. He eventually confronted the men and asked them to leave.
The next day then Tar Heel coach Dick Crum asked Brewer to bring him a copy of the ECU media guide. The guide was taken to the law school where the dean identified the two strangers as a pair of graduate assistant coaches on the staff of ECU coach Ed Emory.
"Coach Crum was so ticked off,'' Brewer said. "He didn't want to play them anyway.''
If that wasn't enough to motivate the Tar Heels, an ECU fraternity called a Raleigh newspaper during the same week and announced it had kidnapped Ramses, the UNC mascot.
So when Bryant took to the field that day there was already an air of intensity in Kenan Stadium.
That intensity, on the ECU side at least, would be quickly squashed by Bryant, who scored first on a 1-yard run in the opening quarter.
Bryant, a stoic, quiet Southern gentleman from Tarboro, continued his romp in the second quarter by scoring on a 45-yard jaunt. When he raced into the end zone at the end of that run, Bryant pointed to former UNC teammate Steve Streater.
Streater, a star safety and punter for the Tar Heels the previous year, had been paralyzed in a car accident the previous spring. He was seated in a wheelchair parked near the end zone in front of the old field house at Kenan that afternoon.
Touchdown runs of 4 and 7 yards by Bryant followed in the second quarter.
When Bryant capped his performance with touchdown runs of 32 and 4 yards in the third period, he strolled up to Streater and handed him the ball.
"It was something I wanted to do,'' Bryant told reporters after the game. "We didn't talk about it or anything. I just wanted to do it.''
Bryant could have added more touchdowns and yards to an already impressive day, but Crum decided it was time to call the dogs off ECU with 7:14 left in the third period. Bryant remained on the sidelines the rest of the afternoon as the Tar Heels finished off the victory.
Now living in his hometown of Tarboro, Bryant is still an unassuming hero who shies away from publicity. But he's remained an avid supporter of the Tar Heels, according to Withers.
"Kelvin is a friend of the program,'' Withers said. "In fact, I think he's planning on being in Greenville this weekend, and we're looking forward to having him around.
"He's an inspiration to a lot of our kids. Hopefully, he'll help us with a little bit of his magic this weekend.''