Woody Durham: A Carolina Legend

by Jim Longworth

Last week, award-winning sports broadcaster and long time voice of the Carolina Tarheels, Woody Durham, stopped by the ABC45 studio to appear on my “Triad Today” television program. It was the first time we had seen each other in 35 years, since hav ing worked together at WFMY-TV back in the mid 1970s.

Woody was in the Triad to promote his new book, Woody Durham: a Tarheel Voice, which is available from Blair Publishing, and most bookstores. His autobiography gives us a rare, inside look at Woody’s personal and professional life, and it is filled with great stories and a few revelations. For one thing, even though I worked with the man for several years, I never knew that his middle name is Lombardi. I suppose with a tag like that, Woody was destined to have a career in sports. But Woody was also destined to be a Carolina man from early on, as he told me on “Triad Today.”

Durham: “My Dad came back from WWII, we were living in Mebane at the time — I was born in 1941, and he and my mother had both grown up in the Carborro-Chapel Hill area. My dad had been a real football fan. He even told me about riding into Keenan Stadium on the running boards of Coca Cola trucks. So he and my Mom bought season tickets. They didn’t take me to every game that the Justice/ Weiner teams of the late 1940s played, but I really did become a football fan doing that.”

Woody himself was also a fine athlete in high school, but sports wasn’t the only thing on his mind. While attending a debate competition, he met his future wife Jean.

Longworth: “Jean said that it wasn’t love at first sight because you were arrogant. Is that true?” Durham: “Maybe I was trying to be older than 15. As a matter of fact, I told her that I was 16 so that she would think we were the same age, and she later found out that wasn’t quite the truth. I think that’s the only time I’ve given her an untruth.”

Truth is very important to Woody Durham, and so is having a good work ethic. Before I ever appeared on camera alongside Woody, I was a member of the WFMY studio production team, and it was my job to type in about a million high school football scores every Friday night, most of them on the fly, as Woody was delivering his live sports segment. Woody demanded perfection of himself, and he expected professionalism in those around him, so I was always anxious to do a good job for him. Ironically, it was Woody’s high standards that led him to retire as Carolina’s play-by-play man after 40 years in the broadcast booth.

In his book, Woody writes about the reason for his retiring as the voice of the Tarheels. It seems that, on occasion, he found himself starting to mispronounce the names of some visiting players. Those kinds of flubs are an everyday occurrence for us mere mortals, but not for Woody, so he stepped away from the microphone on game days. Truth is, Woody’s worst performance is still better than everyone else’s best, so no one wanted him to retire. In a sense, though, he hasn’t. He is now in constant demand as a public speaker, is promoting his book and actively supporting a number of charities, such as the Ronald McDonald House, for which he and Jean have raised millions of dollars. Speaking of which, you can purchase a special CD containing 25 Carolina moments, by visiting www. Proceeds go to the Ronald McDonald House.

On last week’s TV show I understandably referred to my old friend as a “legend.”

But Woody quickly corrected me.

Durham: “I tell people who say I’m a legend, that I had 900 lettermen, about six different coaches, almost 200 basketball lettermen and four coaches, all who during their tenure at Carolina, were honored as national coaches of the year. They all made old Woody sound pretty good on Saturday afternoons and on cold winter nights.”

Perhaps so, but those players and coaches would have been a lot less exciting to follow had it not been for Woody’s distinctive voice and his unceasing enthusiasm. Today Woody still wears his UNC class ring with great pride, and he’ll tell you that Carolina made him better. Carolina can say the same thing about Woody.

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11am on WMYV (cable channel 15).