All-Stars enhance area history

Staff WriterJanuary 24, 2011 

In terms of impact and popularity, the NHL All-Star Game trails the Stanley Cup playoffs and possibly the league's outdoor Winter Classic event.

So what?

For Raleigh, Wake County and the Triangle, the right to host Sunday's game and the weeklong gathering of hockey's movers, shakers and star players is a big deal and improbable accomplishment.

As much as the game itself, the event gives the Carolina Hurricanes, their fans and the region a reason to celebrate.

It's as much an initiation into the sport's inner sanctum as a game. The game itself, the final score, the details and awards likely will be soon forgotten. But the impact of the All-Star event will linger.

At this stage in the process, it's easy to forget exactly how long and hard the area had to work for All-Star host privileges. The lobbying began more than five years ago, and the goal was more elusive than an echo's source.

The area couldn't go out and claim the All-Star Game the way the Canes seized the Cup in 2006.

This weekend is the culmination of long negotiations, positioning and regional promoting by the city, county and region.

Exactly where and how it will rank overall in Triangle sports importance may not entirely be known for years. But the All-Star Game is a strong contender for the area's top shelf in that regard, and that's saying a good deal.

Here are a few of the region's most memorable events:

Carl Yastrzemski's pro debut, 1959

After signing Yastrzemski out of Notre Dame, the Boston Red Sox promoted the second baseman as a hitter in the Ted Williams mold.

To begin the grooming process, the Red Sox sent the 19-year-old to the Raleigh Caps of the old Carolina Class B League and often dispatched Williams himself to Raleigh to provide private batting lessons.

Even in cramped, rickety Devereux Meadow with its severely limited parking lot along Peace Street between West Street and Capital Boulevard, tickets to the Caps games that summer became precious.

As many fans often showed up for batting practice - when Williams was apt to be in town and take a few swings - as for the games.

Yaz didn't disappoint. He batted .377 with 15 home runs and 170 hits in 120 games.

The following summer, he was moved to the outfield, sent to Class AAA Minneapolis and from there to the Red Sox, where he began a Hall of Fame career.

Duke international track meets, 1970s

Behind the leadership of track icons Leroy Walker of N.C. Central and Al Buehler of Duke, two of the most successful and famous meets in U.S. history were held in Wallace Wade Stadium during the 1970s.

For sheer worldwide visibility, the meets between U.S. stars and those from Africa (July 1971) and the Soviet Union (July 1974) exceeded the 1942 Rose Bowl game in the same stadium.

Both events were staged over two-day periods, and the attendance at each topped 60,000.

Among the athletes who competed were legendary distance runners Kip Keino of Kenya and Steve Prefontaine of Oregon.

News agencies from Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia covered the meets, which were saluted as landmarks in athletics and cultural exchange.

Match Play Championship, 1973

MacGregor Downs Country Club in Cary was less than 10 years old when it served as host to one of the most coveted PGA Tour stops of the 1970s - the U.S. Professional Match Play Championship in August 1973.

The event coincided with a 72-hole medal play tournament, the L&M Open.

Almost all of the top golfers on the PGA Tour competed, making the course's demanding No. 18 par-4 a hot locker room topic for a few years thereafter.

In the match-play final, journeyman pro John Schroeder defeated 1971 Match Play champ DeWitt Weaver. The winning purse was $40,000, which was among the most lucrative of the season.

The L&M medal play winner was Bert Greene.

Although the galleries were huge throughout the week, the event was replaced on the 1974 PGA schedule by the first Tournament Players Championship in Atlanta.

The '74 PGA Championship was held at the Tanglewood Park Course near Winston-Salem.

Dixie Classic, 1958

Although it's difficult for today's fans to imagine, the Dixie Classic basketball tournaments of the late 1950s were more popular than the Final Four.

Tickets to the three-day, late-December tournaments in N.C. State's Reynolds Coliseum were among the hardest to find in college basketball history.

The format created by Wolfpack coach Everett Case began with N.C. State, UNC, Duke and Wake Forest playing four nationally prominent opponents from outside the ACC area.

In December 1958, national power Cincinnati with sophomore guard Oscar Robertson made the trip. The Bearcats were joined by Michigan State, Yale and Louisville.

Ranked second nationally, Robertson and his teammates opened with an easy win over Wake Forest.

But in the second round, the fifth-ranked Wolfpack upset Cincinnati, 69-60, and then defeated No. 7 Michigan State in the championship game.

In the final day game for third place, the Bearcats were stunned yet again, losing to fourth-ranked UNC, 72-68.

Hurricanes arrive, 1997

After weeks of speculation, Peter Karmanos announced in May 1997 that he was bringing the NHL to North Carolina.

Nationally, there was mild shock that the Hartford Whalers would leave New England's traditionally strong hockey market to move into the heart of college basketball country.

After two seasons of playing home games in Greensboro, the Hurricanes moved into the RBC Center (then referred to as the Entertainment and Sports Arena) and quickly became a regional fixture.

The sport's popularity rocketed in popularity in 2001, when the Canes were eliminated by New Jersey in the first round of the playoffs.

After a 5-1 loss in the sixth game ended the season, the Hurricanes were given a long, emotional standing ovation by fans.

A year later, they reached the Stanley Cup finals after a memorable second-round escape against Montreal.

Then, in 2006, the franchise hit the jackpot, returning to the finals and defeating Edmonton for the title.

East Regional games, 1974/1982

N.C. State's Reynolds Coliseum hosted several NCAA Tournament games but none more eventual or famous than the 1974 East Regional.

En route to the national championship and a historic win over UCLA in the semifinals, the Wolfpack defeated Providence and Pittsburgh to reach the Final Four in Greensboro.

In the East final against Pitt, N.C. State star David Thompson suffered a spectacular spill about 10 minutes into the game and was rushed to Rex Hospital.

In the second half, it was announced that Thompson was not seriously injured. He returned late in the game to a thunderous ovation.

With center Tom Burleson scoring 26 points and point guard Monte Towe adding 19, the Pack pulled away and won the game 100-72.

In 1982, North Carolina's march to Dean Smith's first NCAA title also went through Reynolds.

The Tar Heels overcame difficult games against Alabama and Villanova. All five UNC starters - Jimmy Black, Matt Doherty, Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and James Worthy - finished with double-digit scoring in each of the games. or 919-829-8946

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