On Feb 5. 1992, former UNC basketball player Eric Montross took a couple of cuts to the head against Duke in what went down as the "Bloody Montross" game. Exactly 30 years after that 75-73 UNC victory, North Carolina faces the Blue Devils for the two teams' first matchup of the season.
Daily Tar Heel Assistant Sports Editor Jeremiah Holloway sat down with Montross to talk about that iconic game, playing with now-North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis and the legacy of the UNC-Duke rivalry.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
The Daily Tar Heel: You had the initial cut on the side of the head and the first half, and then later, when you were guarding Christian Laettner, you had the cut on the face, and people can see it as you go to the free throw line. What do you remember about those plays?
Eric Montross: Well, I think we gotta put the lens of this being three decades ago on this whole deal.
The first one was somebody's tooth on the side of my head ... and then the one that was under my eye … I had gone down for a loose ball underneath our basket. In the scrum, everybody's flying around. The game's really intense and arms are flying, elbows are flying and you just get popped.
When you get cut like that, you don't even realize you're cut. And so I think the thing that I remember the most is that I had to leave the game. I had to go out the tunnel to go get stitches. And I was really ticked off that I had to leave the game because this was the big game.
DTH: In real time, unlike people watching on TV, you're not really seeing the blood on your face. So when you were able to get back out there after they've stitched you up, did that give you any added energy? Did that change your mentality at all when you reentered the court?
EM: Maybe it did for others. I suppose that it raises your emotion a little bit, just because there's some level of trauma and there's a big game. But really the thing that I remember is just being mad that I wasn't able to be on the court. So I suppose that when I came back, I had a heightened intensity just because I wanted to get back on the court.
But certainly, blood has been the one thing that people always pay attention to.
DTH: Years later, there was the Tyler Hansbrough incident, where he caught a hit from Gerald Henderson and he had the blood dripping down his face. You mentioned that a lot of people pay attention to the blood. Did you harken back at all to 1992 when you saw that happen or did you just figure that's just part of the game?
EM: Mine was more of the incidental contact that created that cut. Upon replay and at the time, we knew what it looked like when Hansbrough got his nose busted. But we didn't know exactly how bad it looked until we were able to watch the replay.
And my guess is that everybody wearing a Duke blue uniform would say that it's the emotion of the game, and you kind of lose yourself in it. Everybody in a Carolina blue uniform would call it a cheap shot.
You think about moments that are etched in your memory bank, of Duke-Carolina rivalries. And certainly, those are two of them.
DTH: Going back to your game in 1992, I found a quote from you after the game saying, "If I don't have a little blood somewhere, then I haven't played hard."
You were just talking about the emotions that come from that game. So hearing that quote now, do you feel like that was representative of the mentality that you all had going into those games when you were at UNC?
EM: When you said that, I said, "wow, what a great quote."
When you play in that game, every ounce of your heart and soul goes into it. You want so badly to be a part of it. You give it your all and you don't mind sacrificing your body in some ways to get through it.
You see all the time, guys twist an ankle in a game and some of them return, some of them don't. In that game, you never want to go out.
DTH: You all went on to win that game. Was there an added feeling about beating a Duke team that happened to be both No. 1 at that time and even the reigning national champions?
EM: Absolutely. We're seven miles down the road and they have bragging rights on Tobacco Road. And when they came into town our junior year, we also said, "Okay, guys, this is our time."
We knew we were really good defensively. And we had a lot of good offensive pieces. But we also knew that they were still an exceptional team. And when you have two Hall of Fame coaches, and you've got the likes of Grant Hill and Laettner and (Bobby) Hurley and all that crowd along with our team, it couldn't help but have the bright lights attracted to that game.
But for something to be 30 years ago, I can see it, I can smell it. I can feel that emotion from that game. That's pretty incredible, that one moment can hold that kind of emotion. There are only a handful of dates in my life that hold that kind of emotion. And that's one of them.
DTH: Coincidentally, this year's first UNC-Duke game is actually going to be 30 years to the date. How surreal, if at all, is it to you that the rivalry still remains one of the most prominent if not the most prominent in college basketball today?
EM: It's a thrill to have been a part of it as a player. It's a thrill to still be able to be a part of it as a fan and as a broadcaster now.
I'm not necessarily surprised that it stays front and center for students, but the durable nature of that game and that rivalry, I think it just speaks to the institutions that represent these two teams. I think that when you look and you see that, over the years, so many of these games have been at nine o'clock at night so that the West Coast can watch them … that just tells you ... the national draw.
When you think of college basketball, you think of Carolina and Duke as a part of what defines the game of college basketball.
DTH: Another important aspect of that game, one of your teammates was Hubert Davis. He was a senior at that time and actually the leading scorer on that team. What do you remember about Hubert Davis as a teammate?
EM: Hubert was a wonderful teammate. He was 100 percent about the success of the team. It was always team first. And he was a scorer and he could have made it about himself. And at times, we probably wished he would have shot more because he was such a good scorer.
But there were so many really wonderful people that I played with as teammates at Carolina, and Hubert certainly falls into that bunch.
You want to create an atmosphere where you hold a bar really high for each other. And I'm talking about practice, I'm talking about running sprints in the offseason, running the preseason conditioning drills that we would do. Games were fun. Practices were where teams were made and individuals were made. And for us, Hubert just represented “team.”
DTH: How much are you looking forward to watching his first UNC-Duke game as a head coach at North Carolina?
EM: I hope he has a wonderful coaching game. I hope he empowers our players to go out and play to their maximum capacity. And I hope that they feel his enthusiasm for this rivalry and this moment in front of our home fans in the (Dean E.) Smith Center.
This game brings out the very best. It brings out the hardiest and the toughest and the greatest competitive spirits, and they perform on the nation's biggest stage.
I can tell you that I get asked more about what people call the "Bloody Montross" game than I do about the '93 National Championship win. Part of it is because the people that I'm around are in this geographic region and they remember that '92 game. But then at the same time you think, “well, they obviously also remember the national championship '93.”
But what they ask about is that Duke-Carolina game on Feb. 5 in 1992 and what that was like. That's what they want to know, that's what they want to crawl inside and understand and live through.
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