The N.C. State students started ringing a Southern Railway train bell on Wednesday afternoon of game week and didn’t stop until the kickoff on Saturday.
The governor raised the state flag over the stadium during the week. On Friday night, there was a bonfire and fireworks, and students danced to band music until midnight on the stadium concourses.
Such was the buildup to the opening of the Wolfpack’s new football stadium near the State Fairgrounds, hard by Trinity Road and surrounded with acres of grass.
Carter Stadium, it was called in 1966.
Not that it was easy to park that October day in ’66. Traffic into the stadium for the first game was a mess, and the Highway Patrol later attributed much of the problem to too many Wolfpack Club members having “special parking privileges.”
While N.C. State plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Carter-Finley Stadium next year, this marks the 50th season of Wolfpack football in a stadium that cost $3.7 million to build and had 41,000 seats.
When the Pack takes the field Saturday against Eastern Kentucky, it will be the 303rd game in the stadium. It won’t be a traditional sea of red as it has been so many times through the years — it’s “Pack in Black” night — but Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren again will be expecting it to be packed and loud.
Greg Williams was there at the beginning, a Wolfpack defensive back who was more than happy to leave tiny, antiquated Riddick Stadium on campus.
“When we played in Riddick we used to carry our shoulder pads and helmets from the basement of Reynolds Coliseum to the games,” Williams said. “We had a little halftime room in the field house and you might be able to barely fit 33 to 35 guys in there. No air-conditioning. After the game, you took your pads off and walked through the tunnel and back to Reynolds to take your shower.”
And then came the talk of a new stadium. Williams, 68, recalled how he and other players would make the drive out, first watching the large hole being dug, then the concrete being laid. It was more than a stadium being raised. It was a dream being realized.
“Oh, man,” Williams said. “The locker room had air conditioning. Everybody had their own individual locker. And at halftime you even had a chair. We thought we were big-time.”
Williams laughed, adding, “But they still brought us out in those N.C. State Ag buses.”
Team transportation has improved, of course. So has the stadium, with many renovations made in the past 15 years with the addition of the Murphy Center, Vaughn Towers, new video screens and scoreboards.
What hasn’t changed are the memories of games and years gone by. Earle Edwards’ Pack lost the first game on Oct. 8, 1966, to South Carolina as the Gamecocks’ Bobby Bryant returned a punt 98 yards for a touchdown in a 31-21 victory. A week later, quarterback Steve Spurrier rallied Florida to victory on his way to the ’66 Heisman Trophy.
The Wolfpack’s first win in the stadium was against Virginia, 42-21 — Williams ran back an interception for a touchdown — and N.C. State also beat Maryland and Clemson that year in their new home.
Since then, it has been a blur of games and moments.
The “White Shoes” defense in ’67. Lou Holtz stalking the Pack sideline. Touchdowns for Ted Brown. Penn State’s last-gasp field goal. …
East Carolina in the house. “Hail Mary” against South Carolina. Torry Holt and the Pack stunning No. 2 Florida State in 1998. …
Philip Rivers to Jerricho Cotchery. Chuck Amato’s shades. Fans ripping down the goal posts after the Pack beat FSU again in 2002 to clinch the program’s first 10-win regular season. Russell Wilson’s scrambles. Mike Glennon’s fourth-down throw to beat No. 3 Florida State in 2012. …
But many believe the finish of the 1986 game against South Carolina, when the clock showed all zeroes and time stood still, may have been the most memorable in stadium history.
Peebles: Hail Mary play drawn in dirt
The Gamecocks thought they had the game won and may have won had a linebacker not jumped across the line before the snap of what would have been the Pack’s last play. But offsides was correctly called, giving the Pack one last chance with no time on the clock.
Giving Wolfpack quarterback Erik Kramer one more chance to throw the ball. Giving Danny Peebles the chance to be a Wolfpack hero.
As the wide receiver recalled, Wolfpack coach Dick Sheridan quickly improvised a play that would have Peebles and wideouts Haywood Jeffires and Naz Worthen positioned in the end zone.
“Coach literally drew it up in the dirt,” Peebles said this week. “We’d never practiced a ‘Hail Mary.’ We kind of looked at each other like, ‘Yeah, this is going to work.’ Haywood was supposed to be the volleyball guy and jump up and tip it, but no way he was going to do that.”
Kramer got the 33-yard pass off just before taking a hard hit on his ankle. The ball lofted high toward the right side of the end zone.
“Everyone was running around and it was like no one even saw me,” Peebles said. “Then it was like no one saw the ball but me. I kind of played it coy, waited ’til the last second and came back for the ball. The South Carolina guys suddenly reacted but it was too late.”
The ball fell into Peebles’ hands. Touchdown, N.C. State. Final score: Pack 23, South Carolina 22.
“It was like destiny the whole time,” Peebles said, laughing. “The crazy thing was one of my teammates, Steve Salley, chased and tackled me and gave me a hip-pointer. I almost couldn’t play the next week.”
An injured Kramer, carried off the field, couldn’t play. The Pack lost 20-16 at Virginia, costing it an ACC title.
“But Erik and and I will forever be linked by that one play,” Peebles said.
A few kicks in the gut, too
If Peebles was immortalized as a Carter-Finley hero, Herb Menhardt might be the biggest villain — at least to N.C. State.
Many Wolfpack fans haven’t forgotten Menhardt’s 54-yard field goal, with no time on the clock, that gave Penn State a 9-7 win on Nov. 10, 1979.
The ball knuckled through the air and glanced off the inside of the right upright. During the drive to set up the kick, the Nittany Lions uncorked a 36-yard pass completion on fourth-and-26.
In a flash, all the air was sucked out of the stadium, which had been renamed Carter-Finley in September. Bedlam turned to silence, with the only sounds the jubilant whoops from the Penn State players and coaches. Pack fans seemed frozen in place, unmoving, and the defeat as deflating as any in the stadium.
“Our whole team was on top of me,” Menhardt said this week. “I still remember how quiet the stadium got, and the look on their cheerleaders’ faces.
“The thing is, I had a sick stomach that day and didn’t have the normal angst, I guess. I had had a mediocre junior season and that was a chance to redeem myself. I kicked two field goals earlier, nailed ‘em, and I was prepared for the last one. Drilled it, too.”
The late Bo Rein was the Wolfpack coach in ’79. Greg Williams also was there, an N.C. State assistant coach.
“They never crossed our 20-yard line that day and won,” said Williams, now retired from coaching. “After the game, Bo said, ‘I think I just witnessed an act of God.’”
Evans’ son provides electric finish
Francis Combs witnessed it, as well. The former N.C. State baseball player was standing behind the goal posts when Menhardt kicked the winner.
Combs, whose brother, Freddie, was an All-America defensive back for the Pack, said he has attended every game played at Carter-Finley. His favorite moments include the Hail Mary to Peebles and Glennon’s late throw to beat FSU in 2012.
“But the game when Daniel Evans beat Boston College at the end might be the most special,” he said.
Johnny Evans played quarterback and fullback for Holtz and Rein in the 1970s, and a personal highlight was running in for a two-point conversion to beat nationally-ranked Florida 8-7 in 1975.
“Close call, at the very corner of the end zone,” Evans said. “I’m glad the call went our way. The crowd was electric.”
Thirty-one years later, Evans was in the N.C. State radio booth as the football analyst when his son, Daniel, made his first start as the Wolfpack quarterback and rallied the Pack to a 17-15 win over Boston College in another electric finish. Or as Johnny Evans put it. “A fairy-tale ending.”
“I’d seen Daniel grow up and come to the State games with his father and brother, Andrew,” Combs said. “To have him win the game, then be interviewed after the game, having Johnny there, that was pretty emotional for everyone.”
Carter-Finley Stadium has been a generational experience for many.
“A lot of people used to tell me they were in the stadium and saw me catch the Hail Mary pass,” Peebles said. “Now people will say their fathers were there and have told them about the game. It’s all history.”
How Carter-Finley got its name
Carter Stadium, as it was called from its opening in 1966 until 1979, was named for Harry C. Carter and Wilbert J. “Nick” Carter, N.C. State graduates who were major contributors. The fieldhouse on the north end of the stadium was named for A.E. Finley, a Raleigh business executive and major contributor to Wolfpack athletics.
In September 1979, the stadium name was changed to Carter-Finley. Major renovations to the stadium include the Murphy Football Center (named for Wendell Murphy) and Vaughn Towers (C. Richard Vaughn).