The Wolfpacker

May 2017 Issue

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 77 of 87

78 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY TIM PEELER T here aren't many left from the 1957 Wolfpack squad that helped bring home head coach Earle Edwards' first Atlantic Coast Conference championship and set the foundation for the success that followed. Sadly, most who remember that remark- able season generally boil it down to the final play of the last game, when halfback Dick Christy, in his first career attempt, kicked a 44-yard field goal with no time remaining on the clock to beat South Caro- lina 29-26. Christy scored all 29 of the Wolfpack's points that day, etching his name in the history books and college football lore. That game was the lasting accomplishment in the All-American's career, which was recently recognized when he was inducted into the NC State Athletic Hall of Fame. The long forgotten relevance of that team, however, extends beyond Christy's individual accomplishment. He was but one of a dozen seniors that were part of Edwards' first recruiting class. Edwards had been hired from his job as an assistant coach at Michigan State in 1953 to inject life into a program that had only bits and pieces of success for three decades. The school won its only Southern Conference championship in 1927, behind the play of four-sport athlete Jack McDow- all, and it qualified for just one bowl game — a blowout loss to Oklahoma in the 1946 Gator Bowl — in its first 60 years. By the 1950s, Wolfpack football was almost an afterthought. Riddick Stadium, the on-campus home of the program, was barely up to NCAA Division I standards and needed to be substantially renovated or completely replaced. The school relied heavily on homegrown players, with a few undersized or unre- cruited players from out of state. Enter Edwards, a longtime assistant who wanted to prove after so many years as an understudy that he could run his own program. The Huntington, Pa., native had worked for Clarence "Biggie" Munn at Michigan State and was part of Bob Hig- gins' staff at Penn State when the Nittany Lions went undefeated in 1947. He thought one day he might lead one of those two programs. Instead, Higgins, Joe Bedenk, Rip Engle and Joe Paterno became the line of succes- sion at Penn State and Duffy Daugherty succeeded Munn at Michigan State. The soft-spoken Edwards struck out on his own. He had options, but none of them seemed to have a long shelf life. He could have be- come the head coach at Marquette, a school perpetually on the verge of shutting down its program. He could have become an ad- visor for the professional football league being planned in Canada. Or he could have become the head coach at NC State, which itself had recently considered dropping its football program. NC State Chancellor Carey Bostian was not happy with the cost of football or the money it would take to make the Wolfpack competitive. Besides, under Horace Hen- drickson and Beattie Feathers, the Wolf- pack had one winning season (5-4-1 in 1950) in the previous six years. There was talk, however, of several schools breaking off from the 17-team Southern Conference to form a new league that would be dependent on football. The leaders of the new league didn't want to leave NC State, which was establishing the top basketball program in the Southeast under the guidance of head coach Everett Case, out of the mix and Bostian didn't want his school to be left behind. In the summer of 1953, the eight break- away schools formed the Atlantic Coast Conference and after that football season, NC State hired Edwards as its head coach, in an attempt to become relevant in the new league. Edwards was a bright student of the game and an accomplished builder, as one might expect from someone who earned an industrial engineering degree from Penn State and worked two years as an engineer. It seemed like the right combination for success in Raleigh. Yet the Wolfpack didn't win a confer- ence game in the new league in 1954 or '55, and only two in 1956. Bostian's faith in Edwards' constructive abilities was a little shaken. "It was discouraging at first," Edwards said of his early years. "We started from scratch. We had 13 scholarships that first year. We added three more in late August and we had a few partials. But there just wasn't any money. It was years before we could afford to fly recruits in. "It was awfully hard for us to interest players here in the state, so we had to go outside." In 1957, the Pack was yet again picked again to finish last in the new league, de- spite having a veteran backfield combina- tion of Dick Hunter and Dick Christy, a pair of halfbacks recruited from Edwards' home state of Pennsylvania. The Pack opened the season with four consecutive road victories — at North Car- olina, at Maryland, at Clemson and at Flor- ida State — by a combined score of 75-20 and a dramatic tie at Miami. Suddenly, the Pack, ranked No. 11 in the country, was in ■ PACK PAST The Year They Saved Wolfpack Football Dick Hunter scored the lone touchdown of the game in NC State's 7-0 season-opening victory at UNC in 1957, the first of four straight road wins in which the Pack outscored its foes 75-20. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS

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