The 1963 ACC championship team and landslide Gator Bowl winners have been under appreciated in the annals of Tar Heel football.
This squad’s place in history has unfortunately been sandwiched between eras—the four-year run of the post-war Charlie Justice teams on one side and the brief flirtations with greatness that the Bill Dooley, Dick Crum and Mack Brown eras enjoyed in more recent times.
The 1963 team was certainly a one-off in the eight-year regime directed by coach Jim Hickey—one 9-2 season amid three 5-5 seasons and four losing campaigns.
But it was nonetheless an outstanding team. It was Carolina’s first ACC title team and first bowl winner (a 35-0 romp over Air Force). It produced future NFL standouts Chris Hanburger and Ken Willard and from its womb emerged one of the top defensive coaches in NFL history, the late Bud Carson. Receiver Bob Lacey occupied a spot in the Tar Heel record books until the recent pass-happy offensive climates evolved. The team produced a legendary figure on Wall Street in Max Chapman and a host of coaches, athletic administrators, attorneys, businessmen and those from every walk of life.
“We had solid guys all down the roster,” says Joe Robinson, an end and fifth-year senior on that team. “You can have great leaders, but if you’ve got a bunch of rotten apples in the barrel, they’ll spoil the whole bunch. Everyone on the team had to recognize that it meant something, it was important to be a winner.”
“We had a bunch of guys who loved to compete and loved to be around one another,” adds tackle Gene Sigmon, another fifth-year senior. “We won the campus intramural basketball championship one year and finished second another. We did everything together off the field and had a bunch of really good athletes.”
The 1963 team will convene to celebrate its 50th anniversary this weekend. Forty-four team members are expected to attend; they will be feted with a dinner Friday night at the Blue Zone and recognized on-field between the first and second quarters of the Boston College game.
Planning to attend are Jim Alderman, John Atherton, Bill Axsell, Lee Baggett, Greg Battistello, Chuck Boggs, Dave Braine, Tom Brooks, Joseph Churchill, Robert Cowles, John Critcher, Lee Davis, Jimmy Eason, Junior Edge, Charlie Ephland, Vic Esposito, Clint Eudy, Joe Fratangelo, Frank Gallagher, Rich Gonzalez, John Hammett, Chris Hanburger, Ronnie Jackson, Sandy Kinney, Eddie Kesler, Gene Link, Joe Mark, Joe McLamb, Joseph Nance, Clint Neal, Glenn Ogburn, Raymond Paulos, Jim Ray, Joe Robinson, Patrick Shea, Chuck Sledge, Gene Sigmon, Roger Smith, Ed Stringer, Joe Twamley, Tommy Ward, Bill Warren, Barry Westfall, Ken Willard.