Pack Enters Miami Down a Man

No need for me to fumble a good story about an old friend. Let’s leave this one to a professional. Mr. Peeler, It’s all yours.


Nov. 16, 2016 Football
RALEIGH, N.C. – Earlier this fall, Wolfpack Club assistant director Chris Combs asked his father if he would like to go with his family to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, for the Paradise Jam with the NC State men’s basketball team.

“Sounds great,” Francis Combs says. “That’d be a good trip.”

There was a catch, however: Francis Combs would have to miss Saturday’s home football game against Miami at Carter-Finley Stadium, ending his remarkable streak of consecutive NC State football games at 598. The streak dates back to the opening game of the 1966 season, when Francis hitchhiked from Raleigh to East Lansing, Michigan, to serve as the spotter for radio announcers Bill Jackson and Wally Ausley.

For a few moments, Francis hesitated. The former baseball catcher and football player has spent his entire adult life chasing jersey numbers and interviews for the Wolfpack Radio Network, ever since his Wolfpack football career ended just prior to the ’66 season.

The late Frank Weedon gave him a job as a spotter and since then he’s been in the radio booth or the sidelines for 319 wins, 270 losses and nine ties. He’s been around 11 head football coaches and thousands of players, from All-Americans to walk-ons. He’s worked at all but two of NC State’s 28 postseason bowl games.

He didn’t always have a spot on the team plane, but Combs always found a way to the game, even when he had to talk his way past security guards and into the press box.

“I knew this streak would end sometime,” he says. “Going to so many consecutive games wasn’t something I ever really intended to do, something I hadn’t even thought of until about 10 years ago when I first counted them up.

“So I’m not really losing anything.”

And what he will gain is immeasurable: time with his three grandchildren, son and daughter-in-law.

“For my family, I’ll do anything,” Francis Combs says.

Recently, Chris Combs was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It’s the same disease that claimed the life of Jim “Catfish” Hunter, the former all-star pitcher who was a Perquimans High School teammate of twins Francis and Freddie Combs. While Hunter went straight to the major leagues, the Combs brothers came to NC State on baseball/football scholarships. They helped take the Wolfpack baseball team to the 1968 ACC title and the College World Series under baseball coach Sam Esposito, and Freddie was an All-American defensive back for head football coach Earle Edwards.

Francis Combs later spent four years in the New York Yankees farm system. After his professional career ended, he frequently traveled with Hunter and the Oakland A’s and New York Yankees, serving as a frequent batting practice pitcher for several American League and five World Series champion teams.

When his sons Chris and Ryan were born, he began coaching them in little league, travel and high school teams and watched both of them play baseball for the Wolfpack.

Now, he’s turned his attention to helping Chris and his wife Gena raise awareness for a disease that affects about 16,000 people in the United States and about 350,000 people worldwide. There are approximately 500 people in North Carolina living with ALS.

Additionally, they hope to raise $150,000 as a team at the Triangle Walk to Defeat ALS on April 22 to benefit the ALS Association North Carolina Chapter, which is named in memory of Hunter. The NC State men’s basketball coaching staff is also raising awareness about ALS research by growing beards during November in support of Chris Combs.

At a recent fundraiser, with the help of baseball coach Elliott Avent, football coach Dave Doeren and basketball coach Mark Gottfried and the Wolfpack Club staff, the Combses raised more than $1 million for Project ALS, a New York-based non-profit whose mission is to identify and support leading scientific research toward the first effective treatments for ALS.

Francis Combs— who earlier this fall won the Ronnie Shavlik Award of Merit, the highest honor a former student-athlete can receive from the Wolfpack Club—has some tinges of regret about ending his streak two games shy of 600.

“But there is a good reason for it,” he says. “And that makes it worth it.”

[email protected]
NC State News Services


Multiple ACC Championship ring bearer...If they had given us rings back then, that is. Famous for being Lou Holtz's favorite target...of flying clipboards, and responsible for the creation of wholey new obscenities off the tongue of Sam Esposito, between and outside the white lines. Son of a HoF basketball coach.


Home Forums Pack Enters Miami Down a Man

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    No need for me to fumble a good story about an old friend. Let’s leave this one to a professional. Mr. Peeler, It’s all yours. ———————–
    [See the full post at: Pack Enters Miami Down a Man]


    Resurrected an older Chris post.

    Sort of hoped someone might call in a favor and arrange a “Angel” flight for Francis.

    As you pointed out, no need to pontificate.

    Folks can still donate at Chris’ site.

    My 10 year beard is a bit longer

    gso packbacker

    I had no clue about Chris’ Dad so thanks for sharing the article as well as that picture. That picture takes me right back to my youth.

    Although an Orioles fan in the mid-70s (other half of the family were Yankee fans), I had a special affinity for both Catfish and Reggie (who left the O’s the prior year). To me, these guy were larger than life, but in different ways.

    Living just 30 minutes outside of the city a bunch of kids (ages 10-15) took the bus in and caught the Yanks-Red Sox matchup in September of ’77. Remember it like yesterday as Reggie crushed a game-winning homerun. To this day, I have never been part of a celebration like that. Of course, upper deck seats in right field at Yankee stadium during that day were pretty raucous anyway. Not quite soccer hooligans, but close.

    As for Catfish, I was fortunate to meet him at a Juvenille Diabetes fundraiser in Greensboro. Easily the most down-to-earth “sports celebrity” I’ve ever met and kind enough to sign a table decoration (i.e., an A’s baseball pennant) for me.

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane!


    To paraphrase Will Rogers on Catfish Hunter.

    I’ve never met a man who didn’t like him


    Francis is in some pretty rarefied air in that pic.
    Hunter, Jackson and Piniella.

    Francis stopped me from going on the field at the infamous, Maryland “Orange Bowl” game. I had observed an assistant coach aiding and abetting some players…Felt it was my responsibility to set the young coach straight.


    Cow – that coach doesn’t coach Penn state by any chance does he?

    As far as this article. Glad these 2 have a chance to do this. I can’t imagine how bittersweet this will be.

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