The Day Carolina Basketball Killed my Cat

Truth is often stranger than fiction, and in this case, the passing away recently of one of the famous members of Carolina’s 1957 undefeated championship team (the noteworthy Pete Brennan) brought to mind the day in 1958 or so I unexpectedly found another member of that team in my front yard apologizing for hitting my cat. But I am getting ahead of the story.

People can say all they want about some of the great Final Fours in modern basketball history, and Carolina has played and won five of them in my lifetime, but in my mind, hands down the greatest Final Four ever took place in Kansas in 1957 when Carolina won not one but two triple overtime games to finish the season 32-0 and win the National Title.

The 1957 Carolina team faced Michigan State in the semifinals and it was Brennan whose shot sent the game into overtime. The other real star of the team was New Yorker Lennie Rosenbluth, who still lives in Chapel Hill and shows up in the Dean Dome for games. Joe Quigg was a starter, but not the star of the team.

But the 1957 championship game, played in Kansas City, featured Carolina with no player over about 6’7″ facing Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas team. Talk about a home court advantage. Wilt was seven inches taller than any player we had, and unstoppable. He could drop the ball in the basketball without jumping.

It took three overtimes to beat that team as well, and this game had historic significance for basketball, for it really began the era of televising Final Fours, and with two straight triple overtime games, the era of basketball insanity (later known as March Madness), played out on TV, had begun. March 22nd 1957 was the day it really all began. This was before the Carolina-Duke rivalry, before Indiana, Kentucky or any other school had nationally televised big games, and most importantly, before the integration of basketball teams in the South (Kansas of course not being in the South).

Why am I bringing all this up? See the smiling picture of Joe Quigg in his Carolina uniform above? Well, he was one of the five heroes on that championship team. He was riding through High Point down Lexington Avenue where I lived one day in 1958 when he ran smack dab into my favorite cat, named Pug.

I was only seven, and still basking in the glow of the 1957 championship which my Dad and I had listened to on the radio. When the car stopped in front of my house after my cat was hit (and then died), I of course was very upset, and then confused when a gigantic man emerged from a Volkswagen Beetle to apologize about my cat. He was Joe Quigg.

Now you have to imagine what mixed, and mixed up, emotions I had at that moment. I had just met one of my newly minted heroes, and he turned out to be the murderer of my favorite cat! It was a sad, but memorable moment. I was so dazed by the surreal nature of the whole deal, I forgot to get him to sign my Carolina blue and white basketball. And frankly, it was beyond difficult to make my father, the former Carolina cheerleader believe that I had met one of his heroes that very day… under difficult circumstances.

I do not remember when we buried my cat, probably the next day in my backyard. We should have erected a little cross that said R.I.P. UNC, a Pugnacious act killed Pug, but I only thought of that later. For now I will simply say that fortunately this episode did not kill my love for Carolina basketball. It was a cat-tastrophy but at the same time it was serendipity as well :)

  • Alison

    It is proof of how ingrained our basketball is that it did not change your opinion… (I may personally be of the opinion that you’re on the wrong side of that… I’m ABC myself of course, like approximately half of everyone I know in NC – “anybody but Carolina” but the fact is we all know none of us are going to change our opinions on basketball) though…. I’m not sure… If a Wake Forest player had killed a childhood pet of mine, I don’t think I could have been as forgiving to the team as you, I held my grudges too well as a child… Then again, I refused to shop at Walgreens for years because that’s what’s on the corner in High Point where Taco Time is supposed to be, and they didn’t close until I was in college I think? So clearly still holding grudges a bit too well on certain things even as an adult, lol!

  • Ben Witherington

    Well say hello to High Point for me…. I would have boycotted Walgreens if they had stolen my Stamey’s Barbecue spot. As for the opinions of North Carolinas, your percentages are a little askew….. about 70% of North Carolinians pull for Carolina, and it has always been that way. State, and now Duke are behind that, and then alas, Wake Forest and those Demon Deacons. Blessings BW3

  • Alison

    Well granted, the last time I lived in NC, I went to church in Winston-Salem amongst lots of Wake Forest graduates :) and natural tendencies toward self selection for fellow ABC-ers as friends, I’ll admit my now out of date by 6 years sample is majorly skewed toward Wake and Duke fans amongst my acquaintances lol…

  • MBA 1225

    Okay, I can’t let this conversation end without a plug for my favorite team, the Duke Blue Devils, and the world’s greatest and classiest coach, Coach K. Since I’m now a seminary student, I do get some grief for pulling for any color of devil, but Duke is worth it!

  • Ben Witherington

    Coach K is certainly a terrific basketball coach. But having sat right behind him and listened time and again to his many expletives and unacceptable language, especially in public, I am apt to contrast him with that Baptist, Dean Smith who never uttered such garbage, much less in public, and was just as great a coach.