Carolina Constant

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – For four decades, Woody Durham served as the Tar Heel fan base's connection to its beloved basketball and football programs over the radio waves. His retirement leaves a void that may take decades to fill.

After his wife Jean had gone to bed one night earlier this week, Durham retired to his upstairs home office and went through the UNC media guide, counting every football and basketball player that had played since his first year as the school's play-by-play man in 1971. He eventually arrived at roughly 1100 student-athletes – 900 football and 200 basketball.

But while that total is staggering, it pales in comparison to the number of Tar Heel fans that grew up to his voice. Durham relayed an email during his retirement press conference on Wednesday from a woman that remembered sitting in her child seat listening to him call a North Carolina game while her father drove the car.

There are countless stories in that same vein – tales of fathers, mothers, sons and daughters bonding during ball games with Durham's voice present in the background. While it may have never been his intent, Durham has effectively sewn himself into the fabric of UNC's deep-rooted culture.

When Georgetown's Fred Brown mistakenly pass the ball to James Worthy in the closing seconds of the 1982 national championship game, Durham's word choice was simple and to the point: "The Tar Heels are going to win the national championship."

For those not familiar with the call, it may not seem like much. But for a 1963 UNC graduate that had waited patiently along with the rest of the Tar Heel fan base for legendary coach Dean Smith to win his first national title, Durham's emotion flooded the airwaves and choked up thousands of fans listening on the radio.

Durham's lasting legacy won't be that he was a 13-time recipient of the N.C. Sportscaster of the Year Award or that he was a member of four different Halls of Fame. It's that he was a Tar Heel, through and through.

North Carolina athletics rests very close to the hearts of all Tar Heel fans and it takes a tremendous amount of trust to find comfort when someone else is serving as your window to the field of play. Durham earned that trust time and time again.

He avoided clichéd phrases, but came up with one of his own that struck a chord with a large majority of his listeners: "Go where you go and do what you do."

"I knew how superstitious fans were," Durham said on Wednesday. "Not just Coach [Roy] Williams and me, but fans are superstitious. They've got a favorite chair. They've got a favorite place they stand. They get in a car and drive around the block. Or they turn the radio off for five minutes and then turn it back on."

Durham also understood the importance of pride across the state of North Carolina. He placed an emphasis on the finite details that national broadcasters so often miss. Where a player grew up, who his high school coach was, what his hopes were for after college and who he most looked up to.

Those details may not seem like much, but they form the foundation for a personal relationship between announcer and fan. Durham shared a story about Walter Davis starting in his very first game in Charlotte and how the standout basketball player sent a message to the radio team to let them know that he was from Pineville, N.C., not Charlotte.

"The public address announcer in the coliseum was making a big deal over Charlotte's own Walter Davis starting the game," Durham said. "We're laughing on the radio because we're talking about [how] Walter's really from Pineville. Well, the following week I got letters from the Pineville mayor and the Pineville chamber of commerce. I think they were going to give me the key to the city if I had gone down there in person."

But the curtain closes on everyone's career at some point. Durham indicated that he had not been pleased with his level of presentation in recent years and that was a driving force in his decision to retire.

"I just wasn't as accurate or as timely as I thought I needed to be and as I thought I had been through the years," Durham said. "That was really the first indication…

"I noticed it in the 2009-10 season. I said, ‘Well, I'll be better in 2010-11.' And I thought I was until certain stages of the season when it seemed to start happening to me again. And I remember in my conversation with Cawood [Ledford] – when it's time, you'll know. And so I felt like I knew it was time."

That doesn't mean the transition will be an easy one, however.

"Will I miss it come the first football game and the first basketball game, and when they play on the deck of that aircraft carrier on Nov. 11 out in San Diego?" Durham said. "You're darn right I'll miss it. But I don't want to be in the press box on game day. I'm not going to be looking over anybody's shoulder and I don't want anybody to look over his shoulder and see me there, because that wouldn't be right to whoever is the next person."

On Wednesday, Apr. 6, Durham hosted Butch Davis Live! from the Top of the Hill restaurant in Chapel Hill. The radio call-in show would serve as the Hall of Famer's last official broadcast as the Voice of the Tar Heels, but Durham provided no clues that he would be packing away his microphone for good.

After asking Davis one final question in preparation for that weekend's spring game, Durham closed the show – and his career – the way he had so many times before, saying, "Thanks very much for listening. Good night."

And while Durham may be ready to step out of the limelight and into the shadows, what he may not realize is that a significant part of Carolina tradition is following close behind.

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