It's been nearly a year since North Carolina's Tar Heels ended a quarter-century of frustration by defeating Georgetown 63-62 to win the NCAA basketball title. But if you walked into The Shrunken Head Boutique on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill today, you'd think they'd won it yesterday. A tape of Woody Durham, the voice of the Tar Heel Sports Network, machine-guns the play-by-play of that game: "...it's good, over the top of Ewing! Michael Jordan gets his 14th point!" The tape runs continuously every working day, and it's music to the ears of the customers—bank presidents from Charlotte, insurance salesmen from Greensboro, farm young 'uns from Pink Hill—who still flock to the store to buy a piece of the glory.
The championship ended 25 years of disappointment for the Tar Heels, and to Coach Dean Smith it was the end of 20 years of fielding one national power after another and falling short after reaching the Final Four six times. But for many other North Carolinians the win marked the start of a multimillion-dollar souvenir industry.
Within minutes after Sleepy Floyd's last desperate shot fell short in New Orleans' Superdome, T shirts and bumper stickers hailing the Tar Heels' championship were being sold on the streets of Chapel Hill. A university official says he knows of one student who took a chance, had 10,000 bumper stickers printed in advance of the opening tip-off and sold them within 24 hours after the game.
The Shrunken Head Boutique, which does its own printing, opened up after the game and peddled shirts and stickers right out of its front door.
When Carolina reached the finals in 1977, optimistic UNC school stores had iron-ons for T shirts all ready, but, alas, the Tar Heels lost to Marquette. The iron-ons were stored away, gathering dust. More cautious this time, the management of the school stores drew up designs for shirts but told the producers not to print and ship them until the title was secure. Faced with a two-day wait and not wanting better-prepared entrepreneurs to steal away potential profits, management hauled out the old iron-ons, snipped off the reference to 1977, ironed the decals onto shirts and sold close to 400 of them the day after the game.
Within three days, stores around the state had set up special sections for game souvenirs. The alumni newsletter and Carolina Blue, a newspaper devoted solely to UNC athletics, bristled with ads for championship goods.
This happens whenever and wherever college teams win championships, although not generally to the extent it happened in North Carolina. Or in neighboring South Carolina after Clemson won the mythical football title a few months earlier. Clemson people are wonderfully crazy, too.
The most popular Tar Heel items have been the usual—T shirts and bumper stickers. The Shrunken Head Boutique carries perhaps 25 different T shirts that tell the world who won, while the UNC school stores have an additional half-dozen styles. Other outlets phrase it their own way. The bestselling bumper stickers say things like DEAN IS MEAN IN NEW ORLEANS and NOW MORE THAN EVER, CAROLINA NCAA CHAMPIONS NO. 1 and BY DAMN DEAN DID IT and—straight to the point—ON THE SEVENTH TRY, DEAN CREATED A CHAMPION.
Also on sale, proclaiming the Tar Heels champs, are combs, pencils, pens, coffee mugs, napkins, ashtrays, banners, pillowcases, tennis towels, wristbands, beach towels and blankets, clocks, buttons, decals, pseudo license plates, photos, posters, plaques, paintings, key chains, paperweights, handkerchiefs, plastic telephone covers, several kinds of drinking glasses, greeting cards, umbrellas, liquid soap, sunglasses, bibs, aprons, can coolers, playing cards, golf balls, rugs, mirrors, a record entitled Here we come New Orleans, a cookie cutter shaped like a foot (Tar Heels, get it?) and even Christmas ornaments.
Clothing items include five-piece ensembles for infants, socks, shirts, belts, shoes, shoestrings, slacks, sweaters, wind-breakers, underwear, caps, visors, cowboy hats, jogging shorts, jogging suits and nightshirts.
You can get a man's 10-karat-gold signet ring for $195 and a "Tar Heel Four Corner Rug" for $500. Don't laugh. The manufacturer of the rug says that he's sold more than two dozen of them.
Carolina Canners, Inc. of Cheraw, S.C. rushed Carolina Blue Soda onto the market and within two months had distributed 120,000 cases, 24 cans to the case. Carolina Blue Soda was a pale blue, grape-flavored drink. It sold for $1 a can in many stores but went for $2.59 a six-pack or 43¢ a can at Fowler's Food Store in Chapel Hill. Asked what Carolina Blue Soda was like, Linda Woods, one of Dean Smith's secretaries, thought for a moment and said, "It was like drinking your swimming pool."
Coca-Cola bottlers in North Carolina issued commemorative bottles of Coke that sold for 63¢ (the winners' score) at most major outlets. About 1.1 million were sold in the first month, and in July the bottlers gave the school a small percentage of the proceeds—some $21,000.
That was one of only three enterprises to which Smith, via radio spots, lent his name. He also wrote the foreword of a book, March to the Top, which was co-authored by one of his assistants, Eddie Fogler, and Art Chansky. And Smith is autographing 16 X 20 photographs, price $150 apiece, with proceeds going to the fund for the school's new $30.5 million, 21,100-seat athletic center. The photo, taken with six seconds left in the game, shows James Worthy dribbling the basketball after making the critical steal, with a scoreboard showing what was to be the final score in the background, along with some joyful Tar Heel players.
Smith turned down a number of offers from which he could have profited personally. He said he feels the school, not he, should benefit.
Except for the Coca-Cola bottles and the autographed photos, the school is receiving no income from the marketing blitz. As one might expect, Athletic Director John Swofford admits to mixed feelings about that. "Our biggest concern was that the merchandising be done in good taste," he says, "and generally it has. There have been pluses, such as free exposure for our program. And those who have produced these products had every right to do it because our logos [the school emblem, the UNC ram mascot emblem and the foot with tar on the heel] weren't registered trademarks.
"But more and more schools—Southern California, UCLA, Alabama and Florida for example—are licensing their logos and we're doing it, too, now. We don't want to take something away from the people who've supported our athletic program, but with the financial strain in colleges today, it's something to consider as a new source of revenue."
Swofford says he's been amazed at the extent of the fervor over the UNC championship. "There's not a great deal of difference in losing the championship game to a fine Indiana team the year before and winning the next year," he says, "but there obviously is with the public. It's just indicative, I suppose, of the Number One syndrome."
When asked to explain that syndrome among Tar Heel fans, Dr. James Wiggins, a UNC sociology professor, said, "I don't think anybody knows the answer. There haven't been, to my knowledge, any studies on the subject, and I wouldn't even venture a guess." Max Muhleman, a marketing executive in Charlotte, did venture a guess. "Ordinary people have few ways of associating with the team. When they buy a souvenir, they say to themselves, 'That's a little piece of James Worthy and the UNC championship.' I think part of it is a desire to impress others by associating themselves with a champion."
In The Shrunken Head, where you can buy your own Woody Durham play-byplay to listen to at home, the difference between being No. 1 and No. 2 is dramatic. Hanging on a wall, amid all the championship stuff, is one of the plaques the owners had made up before Carolina lost to Marquette in 1977. It reads, TAR HEELS, FIRST IN OUR HEARTS, FIRST IN THE NATION, NCAA CHAMPIONS. ALMOST.
The "almost" was added after the game. The plaques were not big sellers.
So step right up, folks, and get your souvenir of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels' NC-two-A basketball championship, the greatest thing that's happened to the state in 25 years, with all due respect to David Thompson, Jesse Helms and the nuclear power plant.
Now here's a little something no household should be without. It's a half-gallon jug made of clear glass, narrow at the neck, as you can see, corked at the top, and right there inside it, sitting as pretty as you please, is a Carolina Blue Soda can, just like the cans you drink your Bud from. And, you'll notice, the jug is tastefully decorated with two strands of Carolina blue rope. Ain't she a beauty? She's yours for only $8.95. Now, you may be wondering how the can got inside that jug....