I know that the timing of News & Observer’s string of articles around the 40th anniversary of NC State’s 1974 National Championship Basketball this morning was pre-determined…nonetheless, this one focusing on the shift of power really stung. Despite the torture it created for me this morning it is worth reading; particularly for our younger audience.
If Ford had gone to N.C. State, perhaps the Wolfpack would have continued its most dominant stretch in history against UNC. Between Feb. 29, 1972, and Jan. 4, 1975, the Wolfpack defeated the Tar Heels nine consecutive times.
To put that into perspective, N.C. State has defeated UNC nine times – total – since 1993, and just 23 times since Ford, then a freshman, helped end that nine-game winning streak in 1975. The UNC-N.C. State series has become so one-sided it’s difficult to remember that, at one time, it was the primary rivalry in North Carolina – and one of the most passionate in the country.
“I still look at State as the rivalry,” Ford said. “It was the big game when I was in school.”
Ford arrived at UNC amid somewhat perilous times. N.C. State, primarily because of Thompson, had become the best college basketball program in North Carolina.
On a smaller scale, the early-to-mid 1970s rekindled memories of a stretch in the 1940s and ’50s when N.C. State beat UNC in 20 out of their 21 games. UNC then hired Frank McGuire in 1952, and he gradually built the Tar Heels into the national power they’ve usually been since.
In the mid-’70s, with N.C. State threatening the Tar Heels’ superiority, Ford’s arrival couldn’t have come at a better time. He went to UNC in the summer of 1974, not long after N.C. State had won the national championship, and more than any other player he turned the series back in the Tar Heels’ favor.
Yet the shift in power in the ACC, and the state, didn’t happen easily. N.C. State beat UNC in the Big Four Tournament in Greensboro in Ford’s first game in the rivalry. The Tar Heels endured another loss to the Wolfpack in January of 1975 in Reynolds Coliseum. It would be the last time until 1983, the Pack’s second championship season, that any UNC team lost twice in a row against N.C. State.
Of course, we ALL now know that one of the ways the Tar heels secured their ‘dynasty’ over the Wolfpack (and the rest of college basketball) was through the meticulous execution of a corrupt academic system that included hundreds (if not thousands) of ghost classes and HUNDREDS of unauthorized grade changes aimed at keeping the best athletes eligible and on the court. But, that doesn’t matter. You see, this is the way it works. IT DOESN’T MATTER.
Think about it like this — despite all of the evidence and proof that the N&O itself is responsible for uncovering, when the historians write articles like this one they still don’t think to realize or highlight that the academic fraud purported by of the last few DECADES significantly contributed to one program’s ability to dominate the other. OF COURSE Carolina has dominated State, they’ve had the benefit of players who didn’t have to do the academic work of their competition and recruiting the best talent in the country on the foundation of ‘winning’ and ‘tradition’ and national media exposure all built on a cycle of cheating.
We all knew it for years. Now the rest of the world knows it. But, does it matter at all when even the journalists who are responsible for uncovering the details on the fraud don’t even mention it in articles about the very topic of the program’s success?
During Ford’s next three years, UNC went 6-3 against N.C. State. The Tar Heels have controlled the rivalry since, and Ford expressed surprise when told that the Wolfpack had beaten UNC just 23 times since he helped end their streak 39 year ago.
Ford remembers a different time, when N.C. State was every bit as formidable an opponent as Duke is now.
“I didn’t know that,” Ford said, when told just how rare N.C. State victories against UNC have become. “But I know that N.C. State was the big game when I was in school, and it was the big game when I was in high school. And it’s still a big game to me. I think it’s lost some of its luster with the Duke-Carolina game now.
“But with us old guys, we still remember the N.C. State-Carolina days.”