Break out your voodoo dolls, it's time to exorcise some demons! May have mixed a couple of metaphors with that shout out to Dawn Bunting, but that's okay.
The Story Behind the Item
John Bunting served as head football coach at the University of North Carolina for the entirety of my undergraduate career. In all, he sat at the helm for six seasons, doing his best to guide the football program to success. Things didn't exactly pan out on the whole "success" front, but it wasn't for the great Buntino's lack of trying or a shortage of love for the school. So I'd like to dedicate this post to him and share the top five memories that he played a part in helping create in my life. In no particular order...
Punting from the 50 against GT
It was near the end of the season in 2006. Our hero (Bunting) had already been fired but was coaching out the remainder of the season. If memory serves, the Yellow Jackets were pretty good that season. ...Yes, I just looked it up, and that was the year they went to the ACC Championship and lost in that hideous 9-6 game against Wake Forest.
Anyway, fans and media obviously expected the Jackets to clobber the Heels, but with less than five minutes to go it was 7-0, Tech. Carolina had the ball at midfield, but it was fourth down. I believe it was fourth and short, but I'll admit I don't remember that detail for sure. So what does Bunting do? Does he gamble with house money and go for it to try to tie it up? No. No, he does not. He punts it. From the 50. With less than five minutes remaining. Down seven.
As soon as the game ended, with the Heels falling 7-0, I walked straight from Kenan to the Dean Dome for an exhibition basketball game. The entire walk, I ranted to anyone who would listen that it made no sense not to go for it there, especially if you've already been fired and therefore cannot be fired again for taking a risk that didn't pay off! Woo boy was I heated. I often get heated after basketball losses. Less so after football losses, but man that one really got my goat.
In hindsight, I'll say two things in Bunting's defense. First, Carolina did get the ball back, but when you've got a defense that gave up 42 points to Furman you just can't possibly expect them to stop Georgia Tech in that situation. Second, Joe Dailey was the quarterback, so I guess it didn't really matter if we went for it or not - offense wasn't really our thing. Don't get me wrong, I love Joe - but he threw a lot of picks.
Connor Barth kicks past Miami
A top five Hurricane squad came into Kenan to face a Tar Heel team with a losing record that had just given up nearly 700 yards of offense to Utah. Yet somehow, Connor Barth managed to kick a game-winning field goal right through the uprights to slay the giant as time expired.
To this day, that game remains the only time I've ever stormed the field following a game. I couldn't get close enough to the goal posts to assist in their dismantling (turns out that no matter how it looks on television, much like a highway construction project, the entire task is really accomplished by approximately seven guys, with everyone else just watching and motivating). Though I did come close to rushing the field after we beat Wake Forest the fifth home game of my sophomore year. It was Carolina's first home football win of my collegiate career. And yes, I came to Chapel Hill as a freshman.
It's also the only time I recall going to Franklin Street to celebrate a football victory. Done it for plenty o' basketball games, but that's the only gridiron one. We went to Hector's. The original Hector's, up on the second floor where it belonged. Aw, Hector's. I miss Hector's. Truly a great night of my college experience, though considering it likely temporarily saved Bunting's job, I'm not entirely sure the single night of pleasure was worth the ensuing two years of pain.
Bunting's motivation of my former roommate
Stillman, my former partner on Carolina Water Cooler (for the few of you that actually remember that website) went to an event just prior to the 2006 football season and heard Johnny Boy speak. At the event's conclusion, he informed me that he'd just left and that he was so pumped up for the start of what was sure to be our breakout football season that he would run through a wall for John Bunting.
Despite my protests to the contrary, he said he'd have none of my negative thoughts about the team, and that we were finally turning the corner. After losing six of our first seven games, with the lone win a three point squeaker over Furman, he had come around to the "fire Bunting" camp and agreed with the decision to let him go. But man, from my albeit limited witnessing of this skill set, the guy was apparently a masterful short term motivator.
T.A. McLendon was not in
It was my junior year, and I was sitting practically on the goal line at which T.A. attempted to hurdle his way into the end zone. I saw them put the points on the board. I saw them take the points off the board. I saw him get stuffed and fumble. And I walked out of the stadium laughing hysterically at the Wolfpack fans sitting stunned in their seats. It was no Connor Barth vs. Miami, but it was a good night.
Bunting unwittingly recording an intro to the Carolina Water Cooler radio show
The year was 2006. The Carolina Water Cooler website had just launched in June, and for the fall Stillman and I were debuting a "radio show." (Hindsight: should have called it a "podcast.") What the radio show needed was a killer intro. Enter Meet the Heels, 2006.
I waited in the John Bunting autograph line for 30 minutes to an hour armed with a poster and a recorder. When I got to the front of the line, while Coach was signing my poster, I asked him to say "you're listening to Carolina Water Cooler radio" into the recorder. I clicked record as he replied with "you're listening to Carolina Water Cooler radio?" That's right, he said it as a question, clearly confused about what the heck I was talking about. But I confirmed he was correct, and, I assume to get rid of me and on to the next person as quickly as possible, he repeated it back into the recorder in his jovial voice.
Stillman and I convinced several players to state their names and say the same phrase, then Stillman worked his editing magic and turned it into a montage of various guys saying their name and introducing the show, culminating in Bunting himself booming the final repetition. I think it took exactly one show for the University to contact us and demand we stop running the intro, as it could be construed as the players' endorsing our show. They did concede that they couldn't force us to remove the Bunting clip, but without the players, his wasn't overly useful, so that ended that. For the record, in case you work for the NCAA, we did not pay any players to record the clips, so back off!
A by-product of that last memory was that I emerged with John Bunting's John Hancock. He slapped his name right on the ol' 2006 Carolina Football poster. Even without this poster, I'd forever remember the three wins from that year - Furman, State, and Duke. But this just provides a little more documentation along with an autograph of the man that made it happen. Or should I say allowed it to happen? Either way.
Carolina Collectibles Description
This poster features a few blasts from the past. Five individuals above the "Carolina Football" and interlocking NC printed in the middle of the poster - Kyndraus Guy, Ronnie McGill, Larry Edwards, Trimane Goddard, and Brian Chacos. Two more in the bottom right - Kareen Taylor and Jesse Holley.
No offense to those guys, but not a lot of star power on that 2006 squad. I mean, at this point Brian Chacos is probably best known for his role in the Ram's Club and on the radio. And Jesse Holley likely for his stint as a basketball walk on. But none of these seven guys are necessarily the first ones that come to mind when you think of the best to ever wear a Tar Heel football uniform. (Still love ya, though, guys!)
The lower left quadrant features the schedule for the 2006 season. It was hard to get a good shot of it without a glare, so if you're looking at any one row and trying to figure out what it says so you can remember the outcome, the answer is almost assuredly "someone better than Carolina, Carolina lost." Unless you're looking at the Furman, NC State, or Duke rows - but wins over FCS opponents shouldn't really be celebrated.
Carolina Collectibles Comparison: John Bunting
Feels like cheating to do this two weeks in a row, but it just makes sense. Of course the poster autographed by John Bunting should be compared to John Bunting. Who else would I compare it to?
Not only does it have John Bunting scrawled across it by the man himself, but there are actual comparisons, as well. I framed this poster simply because it was signed by the head coach, not necessarily because anything else about the poster was especially noteworthy or worth preserving. Similarly, Bunting was hired in large part because of his connection to Carolina and his love for the University, but not based on a proven track record of collegiate head coaching success.
It also hangs in our bonus room on the same wall that features autographed posters of Mack Brown, Butch Davis, and Larry Fedora. Someone with no knowledge of Carolina football history would walk in and assume this signed poster has just as much value as Mack's. Similarly, the record books will always show that John Bunting coached the University of North Carolina for six seasons. He'll be listed right there between Carl Torbush and Butch Davis for all time, and no one can ever take that away.
Carolina Collectibles Rating: 3 Stars
While his coaching career wasn't as successful as anyone would have liked, it's still nice to have an autographed poster from Bunting's reign. The guy truly bled Carolina blue and was so doggone lovable that it hurt to see him lose games and, eventually, his job. But this is still America, and people are ultimately evaluated based on their results. So I decided to award this signed poster one star for each game the team won in the 2006 season. It was just going to be 2.5 stars (half credit for the Furman victory), but given the fact that it's signed, I gave an additional half star for an even three.