If there was one redeeming quality to the season-ending proceedings in Kenan Stadium and that 35-7 beatdown by N.C. State, it was the appearance of former Tar Heel cornerback Dre Bly at halftime. Bly was recognized at halftime for his impending induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Bly becomes the sixth Tar Heel inducted, following fellow players Charlie Justice, Art Weiner and Don McCauley and coaches Carl Snavely and Jim Tatum. The annual induction dinner and ceremony will be held at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City on Tuesday, Dec. 9.
“I’ve been telling people it’s perceived as an individual award, but to me it’s a team award,” Bly said. “I couldn’t have done any of the things I did without the supporting cast I had—Greg Ellis and Brian Simmons and the rest of the guys I played with.
“I was able to make so many plays because of all the talented guys around me. Robert Williams was the corner on the other side, and he was probably the best cover corner to ever come through Carolina. And when you had guys rushing the quarterback like we did, he didn’t have much time. Quarterbacks made some bad throws against us.”
Bly was redshirted in 1995 and then started three years from 1996-98 before turning pro and launching a successful and lengthy NFL career. A three-time All-ACC selection and finalist for the 1997 Bronko Nagurski Trophy, he set the conference record with 20 career and 11 single-season interceptions, and both marks still stand as school records. The 1996 ACC Rookie of the Year, he helped the Tar Heels to an impressive 28-8 record during his time in Chapel Hill, leading them to a No. 10 ranking in 1996 and a No. 6 ranking in 1997.
Perhaps most noticeable and remarkable—particularly in these tough times for good Carolina defensive play—was the back-to-back years in 1996-97 when the Tar Heels allowed only 220 yards and 11.5 points a game.
“We were probably two of the greatest defenses to ever to come through college football,” Bly says. “Look at how we changed the game. People starting going to man coverage. We picked our spots blitzing. We actually didn’t blitz a lot, but we were still able to pressure the quarterback because our line was so good. One of the reasons I was able to accomplish what I did was the supporting cast.”
In Kenan Stadium last Saturday were assistant coaches Kenny Browning, who recruited Bly out of the Tidewater area of Virginia, and Ron Case, who coached the defensive backfield. Both of them as well as head coach Mack Brown noted Bly’s ability to bait an opposing quarterback into thinking his man was open, only to be hovering a close distance by and able to use his uncanny quickness and instincts to catch up and make a play on the ball.
“He was so quick and had such a knack for catching the ball,” Brown remembers. “He had great speed and instincts as well.”