Eric Montross on His Bloody Duke Night, 'I Wear the Scars As a Badge of Honor'
Before speaking to Eric Montross, his reputation will meet you first. Friends, colleagues, and fans will converse to you about one of the nicest Tar Heels' they've ever come across. Montross is a leading example and legacy of his mentor and coach, Dean Smith.
Montross is one of 'Dean's Boys.' It's a title proudly worn and said by many players from Dean Smith's coaching era at North Carolina, 1961-1997. And with that title comes great responsibility.
The Indiana native didn't take long to bleed Carolina blue. The former McDonald's All-American played for Coach Smith from 1990-1994. During his tenure, Montross appeared in 139 games, averaging 11.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game. In 1993, he won an NCAA Championship and was named an All-American in his junior and senior years.
His freshman year was something he couldn't believe. Entering North Carolina was more than just concerning himself with UNC vs. Duke; Becoming a college student meant more rigorous schoolwork than what he was used to in high school. With new mounted pressure, Montross didn't know fully what he was experiencing.
"You know, it took a while for me to really understand it didn't take long. It's like after you get through that first round of freshman year, you start to really see, 'Man, this is so much fun.' It's so cool to be able to experience something like this, that has so much passion behind it."
One of his more memorable games involves the university 8 miles up the road, Duke University, in 1992.
Dubbed the 'Bloody Montross' game, North Carolina defeated Duke in the last seconds, 75-73 in the Smith Center. The image of Montross shooting free throws through a gash under his left eye, blood trickling down, became an iconic photo in Carolina history. Montross finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks.
"I can wear the scars with a badge of honor now because we won that game; If we didn't win, that would be a bad deal." he chuckled.
When asked about the comparison to Tyler Hansbrough's bloody night with Duke, Montross saw a difference in his experience. Two significant factors were being a spectator, not a player, and the intent behind the injury.
March 4, 2007, 15 years later, Tyler Hansbrough, arguably the greatest Tar Heel, took an elbow to the face by Duke's Gerald Henderson. The injury resulted in a broken nose and playing in a protective mask for the postseason. Henderson was ejected from the game and served a one-game suspension. Heel teammate Marcus Ginyard had to shoot Hansbrough's free-throws while he got bandaged up.
"It was a different deal. I was a spectator for that versus being someone that was in the moment. And there was also kind of the malicious side to that one (Hansbrough injury); There wasn't with mine. They end up looking the same because we're both dressed in red. But I think that is very different because of how it happened and the root of why it happened. Nonetheless, it is etched in people's memories because of those visuals."
When you watch back over those two iconic Duke games, what stands out to you the most? Although the years are drastically different, as well as the quality, the intensity, the passion and the energy still remains. North Carolina vs Duke will always be the superior rivalry. You can't teach this type of fandom!
(It's worth noting that Carolina won both games)
As a former player and now broadcaster, Montross's history with North Carolina spans over 40 years. He's seen the highs and lows of the program he just can't seem to shake; A program he contributes his growth and commitment to humanity. Whether you see him on campus or contributing to charities, Montross continues to lead by example, as Coach Smith taught him.
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