PEELER: USC Spoils Carter Stadium Dedication
Editor's note: This story was originally published in "The Wolfpacker." It is reprinted with permission of Coman Publishing Company © 2009.
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. - There is no doubt that Oct. 8, 1966, was the most anticipated day in the history of NC State football. It was "Dedication Day," when the gates of sparkling new Carter Stadium opened for the first time as a permanent home for a program that had all but abandoned its on-campus stadium over the previous two decades.
In separate articles, the game program declared the afternoon one of "the most glorious" and "most important" in school history. That was long before the school ever celebrated basketabll national championships on the Brickyard or shut down Hillsborough Street by dragging captured goalposts from the fairgrounds to campus.
There may have been more glorious post-game football celebrations, like on Oct. 6, 1974, when Lou Holtz's second team knocked off North Carolina, 28-26. Or Nov. 1, 1986, when Danny Peebles caught Erik Kramer's Hail Mary pass after time expired to beat South Carolina, 23-22. Or Sept. 12, 1998, when NC State's defense picked off six passes from an eventual Heisman Trophy winner and the Wolfpack beat second-ranked Florida State, 24-7.
There have been other good days since then as well.
But nothing matched the sense of anticipation on that warm October day 43 years ago, when Earle Edwards' dream of opening a replacement for crumbling old Riddick Stadium finally came true.
"The excitement and anticipation of this day has been a big thing for all of us at State, and particularly to me," Edwards said at the time. "I can't think of anything that could spoil it for me. Of course, a win would add further excitement, but this new stadium has been something that we have needed for a long time and soothing that took a long time in attaining.
"The response to our drive to build Carter Stadium has been wonderful from all over the state."
Put it in perspective: Edwards had won outright or shared three consecutive ACC Championships the previous three seasons, and played a total of nine home games at Riddick Stadium, just one more than the 2009 team will have at Carter-Finley this year alone.
The day was filled with festivities, from naming Diane Davis "Miss Carter Stadium" to honoring fund-raiser Walker Martin for his tireless efforts to raise the more than $1.75 million dollars to fund the $3.7 million construction project (the rest of the funds were borrowed). Named for brothers Harry and W.J. Carter, a pair of textile executives who were both NC State alumni, the stadium was the essence of modernity in 1966, made of pre-stressed concrete slabs resting on pre-formed concrete supports.
It was indeed a dream for Edwards, who had toiled his previous 12 years at NC State by taking his team where ever he was offered a decent guarantee. The team played just three home games for eight consecutive seasons. (In 1960, Roman Gabriel's junior year, the Wolfpack played its final home game of the season on Oct. 8.)
So the veteran coach was truly desperate to show off his team on a regular basis to an adoring crowd in Raleigh.
South Carolina, the opponent for the first game in the new stadium, was similarly excited, albeit for different reasons. The Gamecocks had just hired a new coach, Paul Dietzel, who had guided LSU to the 1958 national championship. His inaugural squad had lost its first three games and fans were itching for the ballyhooed coach to get his first win.
So, at a combined 1-5, the two squads that day were not exactly up to playing a game for the ages. The Wolfpack had lost to defending Rose Bowl Champion champion Michigan State in the season opener and 10-7 at North Carolina. It beat Wake Forest the week before in Winston-Salem, 15-12, for its only win of the season to that point.
State had a veteran team, with 11 senior starters. But the loss to the Spartans, who were ranked No. 1 for much of the 1966 season, was devastating to the Wolfpack, which lost four starters for significant parts of the season, including All-ACC defensive end Pete Sokalsky.
The Gamecocks jumped out to an early lead against a porous Wolfpack defense, leading 21-7 at the half. The first touchdown came just two minutes into the game, after the Wolfpack fumbled the ball away at its own 17-yard line on its first play from scrimmage in the new stadium. The second came on a 98-yard punt return by South Carolina's Bobby Bryant, a two-sport star who was also a lefthanded pitcher for the Gamecock baseball team.
At the end of the afternoon, USC had blitzed the Pack defense for 31 points, despite running just 55 plays from scrimmage, to the Wolfpack's 84. The final score, 31-21 in South Carolina's favor, dampened the celebratory spirit of the crowd of 35,200 spectators, but did not ruin the day.
Rowe, who Edwards once called the finest receiver in school history, was the Wolfpack's star in the contest. The undersized (5-9, 190 pounds) wingback from Burnham, Pa., smashed the school record with 47 receptions in 1966. While that doesn't look like many compared to Torry Holt's current record of 88 catches in 1998, it was nearly twice the previous single-season record of 26, set by George Bloomquist in 1946. Rowe finished his career with a then-record 83 catches over three years.
"Gary's not very tall for a receiver," Edwards said, "but he can catch anything near him. He traps the ball, he jumps for it. He goes anywhere for the ball and catches it. What makes him a fine receiver? Gary has great hands, knows how to get in the open and he knows what to do with the ball after he catches it."
Against the Gamecocks, Rowe caught three passes for 44 yards, averaged 24 yards on kickoff returns and gained 65 yards on a career-high 11 carries. He was the inaugural winner of the Dick Christy Award, established in honor of the Wolfpack's first ACC Player of the Year, who had died in a car accident just two months earlier near his hometown of Chester, Pa.
The award, given to NC State's top player against South Carolina, honored Christy's remarkable achievement in 1957, when he scored all 29 points in the Wolfpack's season-ending victory over South Carolina that gave NC State its first ACC Championship.
Like Christy, Rowe ended up as a tragic figure in Wolfpack football lore: he died in 1971 at the age of 33 of a massive heart attack.
In the second game at Carter, Florida's Steve Spurrier, who returns now as the head coach of the Gamecocks, led his eighth-ranked team to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns for a 17-10 victory over the upset-minded Wolfpack, which fell to 0-2 at its brand new home 1-4 on the season.
The Wolfpack broke its losing streak by going to Duke to beat the Blue Devils, 33-7, State's first win in Durham in 37 years. It finally won for the first time in Carter Stadium on Oct. 29, 1966, beating Virginia 42-21. Edwards' team followed with wins there over Maryland and Clemson, which had already clinched at least a share of the ACC championship.
The Tigers beat South Carolina in the final week of the season to win the title outright, but the 5-5 Wolfpack posted a 5-2 ACC record and finished second in the league.
You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.