Some 70 players and managers from Carolina's 1977 ACC championship team will convene in Chapel Hill this weekend for a reunion around the Western Carolina game.
The Tar Heels under head coach Bill Dooley were 8-3-1 overall and 5-0-1 in the seven-team ACC, finishing a game ahead of Clemson despite the fact they tied the Tigers, 13-13. Clemson had one loss in the ACC, falling to Maryland at home in the season opener. The Tar Heels were ranked as high as 14th in the Associated Press poll and finished the year at 17th after losing to Nebraska 21-17 in the Liberty Bowl.
Carolina had seven first-team All-ACC players: defensive linemen Dee Hardison, Rod Broadway and Ken Sheets; linebacker Buddy Curry; defensive back Alan Caldwell; guard Mike Salzano; and tailback Amos Lawrence, who was also ACC Rookie of the Year. Lawrence rushed for 1,211 yards and a 6.3 average per carry.
The defense was strength of the team, allowing only 238 yards and 7.4 points a game. The only other defenses in Carolina history that can match that degree of proficiency were the back-to-back seasons of 1996-97, when those units averaged allowing 217 yards and 11.5 points a game.
“Our defense that year was so good and so dominating, they had so many weapons,” says Phil Ragazzo, an offensive lineman from 1974-77 and one of the organizers of the reunion. “There were no weak spots on that defense.”
There was also that weapon at tailback—a freshman from Virginia who played in stark contrast to the kind of tailbacks that had been generating thousand-yard seasons for Dooley on a regular basis.
“We were used to Mike Voight and James Betterson, these big backs who would just run over people,” Ragazzo says. “Then Amos Lawrence came in as a freshman in '77. We were running the same plays, but all he needed was a tiny bit of daylight. He had this spin move that had us dropping our jaws. I'll never forget Pat Watson, our line coach, re-running one of Amos's moves on the film projector. He said, ‘Look at this guy. All you have do is block a little.”
The team will have a reception and dinner Friday night at the Blue Zone in Kenan Stadium, be recognized on the field in Kenan Stadium during the game and then continue their festivities Saturday night at Top of the Hill on Franklin Street.
“It's been fun planning this and going down memory lane,” says Ragazzo, who has worked with teammates Bill Span, Scott Davison, Alan Caldwell and others to plan the reunion. “The enthusiasm for it has been universal down through the roster. Several guys got fired up and spread the word and then a few more got fired up. It kind of built on itself from there.”