North Carolina Football: 20 Most Beloved Figures in History
Contrary to what some may believe, they play more than one sport at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While the basketball team gets most of the attention and accolades, the football program has actually put out its fair share of influential and popular players. In addition to producing the greatest basketball player who ever lived, the Tar Heels also groomed one of the NFL's greatest players ever. Who am I referring to? Read on to find out (in no particular order)...
Lawrence Taylor was the best defensive player in the history of the NFL and may be its greatest player ever overall.
He was an All-American linebacker at UNC before become an absolute force of a pass-rusher for the New York Giants. He is widely credited with changing the way the game is played on both the defensive and offensive side of the football, as his disruptive play raised the importance of pass-rushing defensive ends and linebackers and left tackles to protect the quarterback's blind side.
A player in the mold of Lawrence Taylor himself, Peppers was a two-sport athlete at North Carolina, playing both football and basketball.
Ultimately, he stuck with the right sport and became one of the better defensive players in the NFL. At first for the Carolina Panthers, and now for the Chicago Bears, Peppers has been terrorizing quarterbacks for years now.
Dre Bly had a long and successful NFL career, spanning 11 seasons in St. Louis, Detroit and San Francisco.
He plied his trade first at UNC, leading the nation in interceptions with 11 in his redshirt freshman season. That year, he was one of five freshman ever to be named an All-American. His ACC record of 20 career interceptions stood until Alphonso Smith of Wake Forest broke it in 2008.
While in Atlanta with Michael Vick's Falcons, Crumpler was one of the league's best tight ends.
Crumpler was an All-ACC selection at the tight end position three straight years and finished second in All-American voting as a senior before becoming a second-round pick in the NFL draft. He now catches touchdown passes from Tom Brady on the New England Patriots.
Along with Peyton Manning, Saturday has been a constant over the Colts' recent run of success.
Every Sunday, Saturday is out there directing the offensive line, making all the right calls to go along with his quarterback's play selection. He has a higher degree of difficulty in his job than any center in the league today. Saturday started 37 games as a Tar Heel but went undrafted. He was signed with the Baltimore Ravens for only a month-and-a-half before catching on with the Colts.
The rest is Super Bowl history.
Starting to notice a trend? UNC is an absolute factory for pass-rushing defensive ends and linebackers.
Ellis is UNC's all-time leader in sacks, ahead of even Taylor and Peppers. An a senior All-American, he was a finalist for the Lombardi award. He would later become a first-round selection of the Dallas Cowboys, ahead of other players such as Randy Moss.
Holliday was a first team All-ACC selection in his final year as a Tar Heel, before becoming an NFL All-Rookie selection in 1998.
He has since compiled 568 tackles, 62.5 sacks and two interceptions for the Packers, Chiefs, Dolphins, Broncos and Redskins in his 13 NFL seasons.
Fast Willie hardly played while he was a Tar Heel, mostly due to head coach John Bunting's insistence on big, hulking running backs. But he exploded onto the scene in the NFL as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Parker, like fellow Tar Heel Jeff Saturday, was an undrafted free agent who became one of the NFL's best at his position. In Super Bowl XL, Parker cemented his place in NFL lore with a 75-yard touchdown runthe longest in Super Bowl history.
Nicks has quickly become one of the biggest, fatest and strongest players at his position in the National Football League in just two years with the New York Giants.
The Giants made him their first-round pick after a college career that included 14 school records including career receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. As a senior, one of his catches was nominated for Greatest Catch of the Year.
Most remember Natrone Means simply as the running back for the San Diego Chargers team which got beaten pretty badly by the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, but he also had a widely successful college career at UNC.
He rushed for over 1,000 yards as both a sophomore and junior, and compiled 3,074 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns in his college career.
A two-way star at North Carolina, Hanburger played both center and linebacker for the Tar Heels from 1962-64. He garnered All-ACC honors in both his junior and senior seasons and led the Heels to a Gator Bowl and ACC Championship victory in his senior year.
After a long and successful career, Hanburger was finally selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
Charlie Justice was a two-time All-American tailback at UNC and twice finished second in Heisman Trophy voting (1948 and 1949). His total-offense record of 4,883 yards stood until 1994.
After his career was over, North Carolina dedicated the Charlie Justice Hall of Honor section of the athletic center in his name and immortalized him with a statue on campus.
McCauley was a two-time first-team All-Conference pick as well as a two-time ACC Player of the Year. His 1,720 rushing yards in 1970 rank second in ACC history, first in North Carolina history, and at the time was an NCAA record for a single season.
He was an all-purpose player as he also returned punts and kicks and had a 38.4-yard punting average.
Weiner, alongside Charlie Justice, formed one of the most prolific running back/wide receiver tandems in UNC history. He averaged 16 yards per catch for his career and set an (at the time) NCAA record with 54 receptions in the 1949 season.
Weiner was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1992.
An alumnus of North Carolina, Tatum had two stints coaching the Tar Heels—first in 1942 and then again from 1956-58.
Although his career coaching record at UNC was just 19-17-3 and he had two wins vacated for the use of an ineligible player, his Carolina legacy lives on as his second tenure was cut short by his untimely death from Rocky Mountain spotted fever in 1959. He is buried in Old Chapel Hill Cemetery.
Snavely also had two stints coaching the Tar Heels. His first tenure, from 1934-35, ended with him having a 15-2-1 record and two second place finishes in the Southern Conference. He later returned from 1945-1952, compiling a 34-33-4 record, three bowl appearances (two Sugar Bowl losses and a Cotton Bowl loss) and two Southern Conference Championships.
He was the coach for multiple players already named on this list. Snavely was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1965.
Barclay was a three-year starter at both guard and linebacker while he played at Chapel Hill. He was first-team All-Southern Conference at guard in 1933 and 1934 and was an All-American in 1934. He came back to Carolina to be Carl Snavely's assistant coach before replacing Snavely as head coach in 1953.
This was before he was dismissed as head coach in 1955 and was replaced by his former teammate Jim Tatum. Today, the Outstanding Linebacker award at UNC is named for him, as is Barclay Road. He was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1976.
Simmons is another pass-rusher who learned his trade in Chapel Hill. As a senior, he was named a first-team All-American by Football News, the Associated Press and the Walter Camp Foundation.
The Cincinnati Bengals then selected him in the first round of the NFL draft, and he went on to have a productive career in Cincinnati and later with the New Orleans Saints. He's now a scout for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In keeping with the pattern that has been established here, Jones was a standout defensive end in his time at North Carolina. At the time he left, he held the all-time sacks record at UNC, but it was later broken by Greg Ellis.
He played his entire professional career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before becoming an MMA fighter beginning in 2007.
Crum's 72 wins as head coach still rank as the most in North Carolina history. He coached Lawrence Taylor. In 1980, he led the Tar Heels to an ACC Championship and a victory over Texas in the Bluebonnet Bowl.
At the end of the 1987 season, he was replaced by future Texas Longhorns legend Mack Brown, who himself compiled a 69-46 record with five bowl appearances at UNC.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!