Rounding To The Homestretch


The tally is in: 240 pages, nearly 60,000 words from 11 writers and 234 images from more than two dozen sources. The stories come from such literary and sporting heavyweights as James Dodson, Jill McCorkle and Tony Barnhart, and the eye candy ranges from vintage photos to ticket stubs to program covers to play diagrams to architectural drawings.

Football in a Forest is about to be copied onto a flash drive, dropped into an envelope and shipped to a printer in the Midwest. Within two months, some trucker will drive into Chapel Hill with palettes of brown cartons containing these books that will tell a story long overdue.

Within these pages you’ll find:

* Nearly a dozen jaw-dropping photos of Kenan Stadium taken during the late-afternoon, dusk and early evening hours of the Carolina-Miami game in November 2015. Boone photographer Jordan Nelson used a drone and circled the perimeter of the stadium to capture shots of the eighty-nine-year-old venue you’ve never seen before and bring to life the words of Frank Deford in his book, Everybody’s All-American: “There are pines all about the stadium, and some sycamores, poplars, and cedars, as well, and today, just this week, the first color was coming to the sycamores, so there was a crown of fire running around the top of the stadium.”


* The story of Kenan Stadium laid out chronologically from its inception, financing, construction and opening in the 1920s (artist’s original rendering shown at top) through its expansion to the 63,000-seat venue that sits today dead in the center of campus.  The original stadium was an architectural and botanical masterpiece, with the venue drawn by the same hands that Kenan_cardsketched out The Carolina Inn and Wilson Library in Chapel Hill and the landscape conceived and created by same professor whose vision lives today in his namesake Coker Arboretum. The anecdotes and reflections from every living Carolina athletic director and many of the architects involved in the stadium’s growth are fascinating indeed.

* A series of ten “Magic Moment” chapters that highlight a memorable play or game in Kenan Stadium from nearly every era of Tar Heel football since the post-war 1940s. Charlie Justice and the Tar Heels steamroll Texas in 1948 … Paul Miller bamboozles Duke with a play-action fake for a touchdown in 1970, and eight years later Amos Lawrence breaks the Blue Devils’ hearts with a game-winning, eleven-yard draw play … and of course Giovani Bernard brings down the house with an epic punt return in 2012 against the team in red. You’ll enjoy a walk down memory lane on these games and more sprinkled throughout the book.

* And the contributions of nine journalists and authors and one former UNC System President with their personal reflections on how the games and events in Kenan Stadium have been anchors in their lives. Jill McCorkle reflects on the concert scene from the 1970s and ’80s, when the likes of James Taylor, Jimmy Buffet, the Beach Boys, Bonnie Raitt and U2 sang and strummed, and Tony Barnhart, who began his newspapering career in Greensboro before becoming a national authority on college football, writes of listing Kenan among his favorite places nationwide to attend a game.

Concert“Jimmy Buffett sang ‘All of us TAR HEELS covered with oil,’ and the place went wild,” writes McCorkle, a 1980 UNC grad who went on to fame on the New York Times Bestseller List. “That gesture was certainly appreciated the next year when the Beach Boys refused to veer a little and sing, ‘Wish they all could be CAROLINA girls,’ even though that’s what hundreds upon hundreds of us were singing.”

Pastoral is always the word that comes to mind when I think of Kenan,” Barnhart writes. “Where a lot of college football stadiums are places of unbridled energy and sounds and monster crowds and traffic and one big hassle after another, Kenan feels more like the football equivalent of Augusta National.”

I hope the book lives up to the words from my good friend and colleague Jim Dodson in his foreword: “This book is a must-have illustrated history detailing the unforgettable coaches, players and great moments that define the life of this remarkable structure as it approaches its centennial, but also a powerful love poem thanks to a host of inspired voices offering their own keen memories of Kenan Stadium.”


“Football in a Forest—The Life and Times of Kenan Memorial Stadium” will be available later this summer. Retail price around $40 and available on-line and in a variety of shops and stores around Chapel Hill and bookstores statewide. For more information, contact Lee Pace at