It’ll be 30 years next month, but Mack Brown’s feeling about the infamous photo haven’t changed.
“I think it was pretty public, what I felt,” he said, “I think I called it classless, I think that is what I called it at that time.”
Duke had just finished a 41-0 embarrassment of North Carolina, and to add insult to injury, the Blue Devils went back on the field and took a team photo in front of the scoreboard to celebrate their ACC championship and win over their rival.
Things weren’t looking so good for Brown, who was 2-20 overall and 1-13 in the ACC after two seasons in Chapel Hill.
All these years later, Steve Spurrier, who spent three years at Duke before beginning a legendary run at Florida, wants to clear things up about that November day in Kenan Stadium.
“It had nothing to do with North Carolina,” he said. “It had everything to do with winning the ACC football championship.”
OK, maybe that’s not entirely the case.
“It had something to do with they beat us 50-0, several years back and this might have been the only chance we had to beat them 50-0,” Spurrier said. “We didn’t quite get it done. We got a whole bunch of yards and our defense played great that day…”
Taking a step back, Spurrier said the idea for the scoreboard photo had actually started several weeks earlier after the Blue Devils won at Maryland for the first time since 1960, taking a similar photo that day in College Park.
“I mentioned after, ‘Now, if we win the next four conference games’ — everybody had one loss then — I said, ‘We all know, we’ll be the champion. Everybody’s got at least one loss, and we’ll take a picture at North Carolina,’” Spurrier said. “We didn’t even talk about it.”
“We didn’t play real sharp, but obviously, we got 41, I guess that was good enough,” Spurrier said.
It wasn’t until the Blue Devils had returned to their locker room that they remembered the photo.
“We go in the locker room and one of the players said, ‘Coach, how about the picture in front of the scoreboard?’ I said, ‘Dang, you’re right, let’s go,’” Spurrier said. “We all went running back out and we got the picture in front of the scoreboard.”
Of course, Spurrier couldn’t resist the chance to get in a jab at Carolina.
“Some of the Tar Heel people, they’d already left the stadium when we took the picture, so it wasn’t like they were there to watch it,” he said. “I think basketball practice had started; they were already in the gym over there, I think, most of them.”
The only hint of regret from that day appears when he talked about exactly how the game transpired.
“Some of the little trick plays we ran at the end, I don’t know,” he said. “The players came down and said, ‘Coach, we’ve been practicing that double-pass all year; might as well use it now.’ I said, ‘OK, go ahead and call it.’ We didn’t hit anything; I’m going to tell you what, we should have scored 65 that day.”
That was the last time Spurrier would coach in the Battle for the Victory Bell, as he returned to his alma mater the next season, going on to a hall of fame career at Florida and South Carolina with a brief stopover in the NFL.
Hard feelings faded, as the Tar Heels used the 1989 game as fuel to run off eight straight wins in the series before Brown left for Texas, and in all, victories in 21 of the next 22 meetings.
“Steve is a good friend of mine now and I often tell him, ‘Thank you so much for taking that picture and making it a Christmas card because that helped us win eight straight after that, and I appreciate you being our motivator,’” Brown said.
Spurrier says the two haven’t often talked about the game, but Brown recalled one evening some years later that they were out to dinner with their wives, and Jerri Spurrier mentioned the 1989 debacle.
“Jerri looked at me and said, ‘I bet you hope there’s a day where you get to line up and beat Steve 41-0,’” Brown said. “I said, ‘No, I hope it’s 55,’ with Steve sitting there, but he understood that and we never played again.”
Since coaching the Orlando Apollos in the Alliance of American Football, Spurrier has been working in his official role as an ambassador at Florida in addition to traveling and seeing old friends. He’s kept an eye on Brown and the Tar Heels, too.
“I think he brings an energy and spirit to the guys, and certainly, they have played with a spirit and enthusiasm, you can tell they love each other and love the coaches and the coaches love them, and that is really important to real teams,” he said. “They’re having a good year. I guess if they’d beat Clemson, you’d say they they’re having a great year.”
Knowing his old nemesis and now good friend, Brown wouldn’t be shocked to see Spurrier, 74, to surprise everyone, just as he did, and end up back on the sidelines soon.
“He was coaching in the Alliance and doing a good job there and having a lot of fun with it, so I think you can plan on seeing Steve somewhere else again, probably,” he said. “You never know.”
The Head Ball Coach wouldn’t rule it out, either, but don’t count on it being in college.
“If I pop up though, it’s going to be maybe one of those pro leagues,” he said. “I don’t know. I need a year off after the Alliance. Maybe coach every other year would be good for a while. When those leagues go bust, maybe another one will pop up for a while. I may or may not coach. I’m not terribly anxious to go do it, to tell you the truth.”
The only thing he’s really looking forward to at the moment is catching some football this weekend.
“Should be a good game this week,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in that game.”