Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Mr. Christy, Buddy and the Bandit

© Tim Peeler, 2017

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For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction: That’s how an NC State backup quarterback gave the world “Smokey and the Bandit.”

His name was Ernie Driscoll, which sounds more like a character in a car-chase movie than a college football player. But there he was on Oct. 12, 1957, trotting on the field, taking the place of starting quarterback Tom Katich in the final moments of the first half.

The Wolfpack offense, which featured soon-to-be All-American halfback Dick Christy and Dick “Spook” Hunter, couldn’t get anything going that afternoon at Doak Campbell Stadium against Florida State. That wasn’t unusual that season, as head coach Earle Edwards built his early program around defense and this senior-laden squad posted a school-record five shutouts during the year.

In this particular game, the Pack as a little road weary, having also played its first three games on the road at Chapel Hill, at Maryland, and at Clemson, with another trip back to Florida the following week in a Friday night game at Miami.

The good news was that Edwards and his team were 3-0 heading into the non-conference game against the Seminoles and were surprisingly in the driver’s seat for the first Atlantic Coast Conference football championship in school history.

Nothing that happened in these back-to-back trips to the Sunshine State would change that, since this was long before either the Seminoles or the Hurricanes joined the ACC.

Late in the first half against the Seminoles, there was no score in this contest, and Edwards was itching to make something happen. So he sent Driscoll in to throw a bomb.

This was an era, of course, where down-the-field passes were still pretty rare, when undersized quarterbacks struggled to throw for first downs, let alone stretching out the defense half the length of the field. Driscoll could do it, though, so Edwards sent Christy streaking down the sideline. What happened next is still a bit of a dispute.

Christy outran his man, made a quick cut and sailed untouched into the end zone—this was the official version from everyone on the Wolfpack sideline.

Or he slipped down the sidelines, went out of bounds and around the Seminole bench, then darted back onto the field in time to catch a wobbly throw against a gimpy cornerback named Buddy—that’s how the Seminoles saw it.

“Oh, he ran out of bounds,” the cornerback recalled 50 years after the game was over. “I think he ran behind the bench and came back on the field. He disappeared out of my eye line and then he was behind me, which is my side of the story and I’m sticking to it.”

Christy caught Driscoll’s pass in stride and went untouched into the end zone, scoring the only points in what turned out to be a 7-0 Wolfpack victory.

Florida State coach Tom Nugent stormed over to the sidelines to give his cornerback an earful, one that all but ended the player’s football career.

“I did come back out for the second half and I did play a little,” said the one-time highly touted recruit who had been an all-state fullback as a high school senior in West Palm Beach, Florida. “But some of the things that were said to me at halftime, I didn’t like a lot. I was playing on one leg. I had had a tremendous freshman year [in 1955 when freshmen were eligible to play]. Then I got hurt my sophomore season and had a knee operation. Then I was in a terrible automobile accident and lost my spleen and had my other knee operated on.

“The [defensive back] that played against Dick Christy that afternoon was not the same player I was as a freshman.”

He was so different, in fact, that he had to change his name: the Monday after losing to the Wolfpack, young Buddy Reynolds, the double-limping cornerback from Florida State, quit the football team to concentrate on his student acting career. After a summer of stock theater in New York, Reynolds shoved $80 into his sock, went back to a shortened form of his given name “Burton Leon” and lit out for Hollywood.
Burt Reynolds hams it up on the sidelines with Florida State's Bobby Bowden and NC State's Chuck Amato prior to the Wolfpack's 34-28 victory over the Seminoles on Nov. 10, 2001. (Photo by Florida State athletics.)

Soon after, Burt Reynolds began what turned out to be a six-decade career that included 80 feature films and some 300 television episodes, from “Deliverance” to “Evening Shade.” He turned down chances to be both James Bond and Han Solo, but he did manage to pick up an Academy Award nomination for his role in “Boogie Nights” and starred in two of the greatest football movies of all time, The Longest Yard and Semi-Tough.

Reynolds was one of a string of football players who crossed over to acting after and during their careers, a list that includes NC State’s own Roman Gabriel while he was with the Los Angeles Rams. Reynolds was the biggest star, obviously, but Gabriel, Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier, Joe Namath and O.J. Simpson all spent time in front of a camera, along with former NFL players Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, Carl Weathers, Fred Dryer, Bubba Smith, Ed Marinaro and Terry Bradshaw. [Most recently tight end Tony Gonzalez made his movie debut in xXx: The Return of Xander Cage.]

None of whom, obviously, ever reached the zenith of the profession in the way that former defensive lineman Alex Karras did when he uttered the immortal words in the movie Blazing Saddles: “Mongo just pawn in game of life.”

Gabriel never worked with Reynolds on screen, but they were tangentially connected in their college careers.

After NC State beat Florida State and ended Reynolds’ career, it ended up tying both Miami and Duke, losing to non-conference foe William & Mary, then beating South Carolina on Christy’s heroic effort of scoring all 29 points, including his first career field goal after time had expired in a 29-26 victory that gave the Wolfpack its first ACC championship.

That day, soon after the team buses pulled into Raleigh from Columbia, Gabriel called Edwards and told him he was coming to NC State to play football, basketball and baseball. By the time his career ended, he was a two-time All-American and a two-time ACC Player of the Year.

Reynolds, after a decade of smaller movie and television roles, made his big-screen break-through in 1972’s Deliverance and went on to become one of Hollywood’s favorite leading men during the 1970s and ‘80s. He remained close with the Seminole program, even getting a Hollywood friend to design FSU's famous gold pants.

He was frequently on the sidelines in Tallahassee, including on the afternoon of Nov. 10, 2001, when the Wolfpack--and Reynolds old friend Chuck "Chesty" Amato--became the first team to win an ACC game at Doak Campbell Stadium behind the arm of sophomore quarterback Philip Rivers.

Friday, September 15, 2017

What if Sheridan Had Come to NC State in 1982?

Former Furman coach Dick Sheridan compiled a 52-29-3 record as NC State's head coach from 1986-92) and went to six bowl games in seven seasons.
© Tim Peeler, 2017

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In the winter of 1982, when it was clear that Monte Kiffin was not going to last as NC State’s football coach despite his second winning season in three years, athletics director Willis Casey made a phone call to an up-and-coming coach down in Greenville, South Carolina.

Dick Sheridan had been the head coach at Furman for five years after five years as a Paladin assistant, and seemed quite similar to Casey to another young coach he once hired to lead the Wolfpack, Lou Holtz.

Casey had tried to hire other candidates during a whirlwind—and somewhat futile—three-week coaching search. Kiffin, hired three years before when Bo Rein left for LSU, had been a mostly successful coach, with a 16-17 overall record in Raleigh. However, he had been hired by NC State chancellor Joab Thomas, not athletics director Willis Casey, who had been “unavailable” to hire Rein’s replacement.

Kiffin had a good team in 1982, but all five of his team’s losses in the 6-5 season were against Top 20 teams. Then there was the matter of a recruiting turf battle over an in-state high school recruit with Clemson’s Danny Ford led to a visit from the NCAA and some self-imposed sanctions over what was essentially a minor recruiting violation, but the combination of losses, possible scandal and lack of support from Casey and the leaders of the Wolfpack Club was too much for Kiffin to remain.

The coach was let go 10 days after a 41-3 loss to Miami in the 1982 season finale.

Over the next three weeks, Casey had remarkably little success finding a replacement.
He tried to hire Tulsa head coach John Cooper, another promising young coach who later lead Ohio State to three Big Ten titles. But Cooper, who was both head football and athletics director at Tulsa, said no.

Casey then turned to Holy Cross coach Rick E. Carter, who had turned that small Division I-A school around after just two seasons. But the school would not give NC State permission to talk to Carter and made it known it would not release him from his five-year contract.

(Three years later, on Feb. 2, 1986, Carter was still the head coach of the Crusaders. However, he was depressed about the death of his father, the poor health of his mother, the lack of advancement in his profession and the school’s decision to de-emphasize football. He committed suicide by hanging himself at his home, sending shockwaves through the world of college football.)

After Casey was unable to get Carter in 1982, he turned 41-year-old Sheridan, who had just taken the Paladins to their first appearance I-AA playoffs. By all accounts, Sheridan was expected to be an excellent Division I-A head coach. Several bigger schools had already come calling.
South Carolina, Sheridan’s alma mater, was interested. But Sheridan had no use for the way athletics director Bob Marcum had treated head football coach Richard Bell, who was fired after just one season for refusing Marcum’s order to revamp his coaching staff.

Sheridan, who had a well-known stubborn streak long before he left Furman, made it clear he didn’t want to work under those circumstances.

“A coach is on the hot seat, not the athletic director,” Sheridan said at the time. “And I’m not willing to entrust these things to an athletic director. If South Carolina is looking for a coach that is willing to entrust critical decisions of the football program itself to the athletic director, then they are not looking for me.”

South Carolina hired Joe Morrison from New Mexico instead.

Duke also interviewed Sheridan to coach the Blue Devils after Red Wilson was fired following the 1982 season. When Sheridan said no, Duke athletics director Tom Butters hired Alabama-alum Steve Sloan from Mississippi State.

Casey was ready to offer the Wolfpack positon to Sheridan, his third attempt at replacing Kiffin. Sheridan also said no, but for reasons that had little to do with football.

Both Sheridan’s sons, Bobby and John, were enrolled at Travelers Rest High School and the coach wanted them to have the opportunity to graduate from there before he moved on.

“They had been in the same school district their whole academic careers and I didn’t want to move them,” Sheridan said this week. “It’s very unusual for a coach to have that situation for his family—I don’t know anybody who has ever done.

“It was important to me because they were both captains of the football team and presidents of the student body while they were there. If we had moved before they graduated, I don’t think that would have happened.”

So Sheridan elected to stay in Greenville.

That left Casey—who is rightly lauded for his ability to find young coaches like Holtz, Kay Yow, Richard Sykes, Bo Rein, Rollie Geiger, among others, for Wolfpack athletics—still searching for a replacement.

On Dec. 21, 1982, he turned to the cradle of coaches, Miami of Ohio, to hire 37-year-old Tom Reed as the Wolfpack’s next coach. Reed, however, was not of the same mold of former Miami coaches like Bo Schembechler, Ara Parseghian, Woody Hayes, Paul Brown and Weeb Ewbank, and he never really got over the title of “Dick Crum disciple.” Reed had been an assistant under the North Carolina head coach while Crum was the head coach Miami.

For the next three seasons, Reed posted 3-8 records. His program hit rock bottom on the fifth week of the 1985 season, when the Wolfpack lost 42-20 to Sheridan’s Furman team at Carter-Finley Stadium. It was the Wolfpack’s second consecutive loss to the Paladins and Furman’s fourth straight season of beating a larger NCAA Division I-A (now FBC series) opponent.

When Reed was fired following the 1985 season, Casey made sure he did not lose Sheridan the second time around. A week after the Paladins lost to Georgia Southern in one of the best I-AA championship games ever played, Sheridan resigned his positions as Furman's football coach and athletics director to be named NC State's head coach. [Read coverage of that surprising turn of events here in the archives of Technician.]

Sheridan  inherited a strong crop of talent that included first-team All-ACC quarterback Erik Kramer, wide receiver Haywood Jeffires, Nasrallah Worthen, kicker Mike Cofer, all of whom played in the NFL.

Over the next seven seasons, Sheridan took the Wolfpack to six bowl games. He posted a 52-29-3 record over seven years, until he announced just before the 1993 season that he was retiring, ostensibly for health reasons. However, in intervening years, Sheridan has confessed that NC State’s treatment of longtime friend, men’s basketball coach and athletics director Jim Valvano had as much to do with his decision to leave the school as his health issues.

Sheridan retired to Surfside Beach, South Carolina, and has been involved in commercial and residential real estate ever since.

He’s pondered the question of whether anything would have been different for NC State’s program if he had taken the head football position in the winter of ’82 instead of ’85 many times through the years. He remains adamant that he wouldn’t have changed a thing.

“I made that decision for personal reasons,” Sheridan says. “I don’t know how it would have turned out if I had come to NC State earlier. But I am proud that I was able to stay at Furman until the boys finished their high school careers.

“That was important to me, and important to them.”

The 76-year-old Sheridan hopes to attend Saturday’s noon game between his two former teams at Carter-Finley Stadium, especially since one of his former Furman players and NC State graduate assistants, Clay Hendrix, is now the head coach of the Paladins.

First, however, he has to take care of some minor damage to his home caused last week by Hurricane Irma.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Four NFL Starting QBs? It's Happened Before

Jacoby Brissett with his new team. Will he start on Sunday?
(photo by Colts.com)
© Tim Peeler, 2017

NOTE: If you enjoy reading "One Brick Back" and would like to help offset research expenses for stories such as this one, please make a small donation to the cause and help keep posts like this free of ads.

One of my personal mantras, as someone who is fascinated with the eccentricities of history, is “everything that happens has happened before.”

So invariably, when something wildly interesting occurs and someone asks, breathlessly, “has that ever happened?” my immediate answer is always “Yes.”

That's usually the right answer 99 percent of the time. It can just take a while to prove it.

Such is the interesting case this weekend of NC State football possibly having four alumni as NFL starting quarterbacks: Philip Rivers of the Los Angeles Chargers, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, Mike Glennon of the Chicago Bears and Jacoby Brissett of the Indianapolis Colts.

I wrote about this possibility last week, in this post about the total number of NFL starts for quarterbacks from various colleges. NC State ranks No. 12 with an updated total of 503, after Rivers, Wilson and Glennon started for their teams last week.

Brissett could take Jeff Tolzien's starting position with the Colts this week, which caused someone to ask: “Has one school ever produced four starting NFL quarterbacks at the same time?”

And the answer, as usual, is yes.

Three other schools—Miami, Michigan and Southern California—had alumni quarterbacks starting for NFL teams in the same season.

In 1993, Miami's Jim Kelly started for Buffalo, Vinny Testaverde started for Cleveland and Dallas, Bernie Kosar started for Cleveland and Craig Erickson started for Tampa Bay.

In 2004, Michigan's Tom Brady started for New England, Brian Griese started for Cincinnati, Drew Henson started fro Dallas and John Navarre started for Arizona.

In 2009, Southern Cal's Carson Palmer started for Cincinnati, Matt Cassell started for Kansas City, March Sanchez started for the New York Jets and Matt Leinart started for Arizona.

So it's happened before. Still, it's an amazing accomplishment that one school can produce 12.5 percent of one of the world's most elite and highly paid professions. The odds of anyone becoming an NFL starter are astronomical. The odds of being the starter at quarterback are even higher. The odds that four of 32 of those starters would come from one school are similar to the chances of winning the Powerball lottery.

Of course, since Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles starting quarterback, was born in Raleigh and lived here until the age of 3 before his family moved to North Dakota, that means five NFL quarterbacks have gotten their starts in Raleigh.

Has one city ever produced that many NFL starting quarterbacks?

Probably, but I don't have time to look it up.