He himself is gone, but Woody Durham’s words will live forever.
They came over AM and FM waves, from Murphy to Manteo, as the Tar Heel Sports Network put it. From 1971 to 2011, thousands of North Carolinians tuned in to hear Durham, who died on Wednesday morning at the age of 76, call UNC football and men’s basketball games on the radio.
His voice — deep and soothing and easy to listen to — was synonymous with some of the most iconic moments in North Carolina sports history. Durham did the play-by-play for over 1,800 broadcasts, among them 23 bowl games, 13 Final Fours and four national championships.
From 1974, when UNC sank a game-tying halfcourt shot to complete an eight-point comeback in 17 seconds against Duke and eventually win in overtime:
"Kupchak will make the long frontcourt pass, gets it to Walter Davis … two, one, Walter takes the shot … It's good! The game is tied! Unbelievable!"
From 1982, as UNC trailed Georgetown by one point in the national championship game in New Orleans:
"Black holding high, goes to Doherty … Doherty in the double team, gives it back to Black with 20 seconds left to play … goes back to Michael Jordan, jumper from out on the left — good!"
And from 2004, when unranked North Carolina beat No. 4 Miami on a game-winning field goal:
"Greg Warren snapping. Jared Hall holding. Connor Barth for the possible win … snap, spot, kick away, high enough, long enough … It's good! It's good! Carolina has won the game on a 42-yard field goal by freshman Connor Barth … Good gosh, Gertie!"
Durham died peacefully in his Chapel Hill home at 12:45 a.m. from complications with primary progressive aphasia. The disease, which he revealed to the public in June of 2016, slowly robbed him of his memory and the communication skills his Hall of Fame career revolved around.
“Our family is grateful for the incredible support my dad and our family received throughout his illness,” Woody’s son Wes Durham said in a statement. “From the medical teams to the general public, it’s been amazing. We hold to and will always cherish the wonderful memories he left for our family and Carolina fans throughout the world."
Wes was in Brooklyn on Wednesday night to call UNC’s 78-59 win over Syracuse in the second round of the 2018 ACC Tournament. He also accepted the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association’s Bob Bradley Spirit and Courage Award on behalf of his father. In an interview with the News & Observer, Wes detailed how, a few weeks ago, Woody emphasized to his wife Jean that Wes needed to be in Brooklyn, no matter what.
Durham will also be inducted into the National Sports Media Association’s Hall of Fame in June. It will add to the slew of honors he has already earned, including awards from the UNC General Alumni Association, UNC Board of Trustees, ACC and NCHSAA.
Born in Mebane and raised in Albemarle, Durham came to UNC as an undergraduate in the fall of 1959. His name first appeared in The Daily Tar Heel on Oct. 20 of that year — he had been elected as intramural manager for Stacy Residence Hall.
Durham worked with UNC-TV as a sports reporter and called UNC baseball games at WCHL Chapelboro while in college. After graduating from UNC in 1963, Durham worked in the Carolinas for eight years before returning to his alma mater in 1971 to become its new play-by-play announcer for basketball and football.
“Woody was synonymous with Carolina Athletics for decades and his voice was gospel to generations of Tar Heels who trusted his every word,” said John Swofford, former UNC athletic director and current ACC commissioner.
Durham’s radio career spanned the careers of four men’s basketball coaches: Dean Smith, Bill Guthridge, Matt Doherty and Roy Williams. He called the games of countless UNC greats like James Worthy, Michael Jordan, Jerry Stackhouse, Antawn Jamison and Tyler Hansbrough.
During football games at Kenan Stadium, the student section would chant his name gently until it grew into a roar: “Woody! Woody! Woody!” He would stick his head out from the press box and give them a wave. Durham’s football career spanned six head coaches and players like Lawrence Taylor, Dre’ Bly and Julius Peppers.
“His voice was the sound of Carolina and it will forever ring clear and true,” said Dick Baddour, UNC’s athletic director from 1997 to 2011. “But it was always more than the sound of his voice; his success was determined by his professional approach, his preparation and his ability to develop the human side of the student athletes and coaches who represented his alma mater.”
After Durham retired in 2011, his 40th year in radio, he continued to appear at UNC basketball and football games with his wife. On Feb. 17, 2016, North Carolina honored him during a halftime ceremony. Beaming in front of full-capacity crowd, he received his Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame — and a standing ovation.
“Woody meant so much to me personally and professionally, and I feel honored to have worked with him and learned from him,” said Jones Angell, Durham’s successor, in a statement. “We try to reach the standard of excellence Woody set for 40 years through his passion and professionalism on every broadcast on the Tar Heel Sports Network.”
Durham is survived by Jean, his wife of 54 years; sons Wes and Taylor; and grandchildren Emily and Will. A celebration of life is planned for Sunday, April 8, in Carmichael Arena.
Many a fan remembers muting the TV broadcast and “turning on Woody.” After all, he was right there beside them, as the voice of the Tar Heels for everything: Kelvin Bryant's six-touchdown game against East Carolina in 1981, Stackhouse's reverse dunk against Duke in 1995 and Marvin Williams' game-winning putback against the Blue Devils in 2005.
Every pregame video montage will echo his voice throughout the Smith Center, as he calls the final seconds of the 1982, 1993, 2005 and 2009 national championships.
“Woody loved the Tar Heels, and players, coaches and fans of all ages loved him right back,” Roy Williams said in a statement. “We should all ‘go where we go and do what we do’ and say a prayer for Woody and his family. There will never be another quite like him.”