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A Closer Look At The 1961 Duke-UNC Brawl

An oldie but a goodie and something we never noticed before

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NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Duke
Cameron has changed a lot since 1961 but the spirit is still much the same.
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

As many of you know and some will remember, the foundation of the Duke-UNC rivalry, or at least the amazing level of intensity, really started in 1961, in Cameron.

It wasn’t always this way.

We’ve seen a picture of UNC fans who came over to Wallace Wade in the ‘30s or ‘40s to wish Duke well in a bowl game.

With signs no less.

But in 1961, the bad blood between Duke and UNC, and in particular the late Art Heyman and Larry Brown, boiled over.

Heyman was supposed to be part of Frank McGuire’s Underground Railroad from New York to Chapel Hill, but Heyman’s dad really disliked McGuire and Art ended up at Duke instead.

So we watched the video of the fight again and noticed a couple of interesting things

First of all, Brown, who started the fight, overreacted. Initially, Heyman pulls away and reacts defensively.

But only briefly.

As you’ll notice, at that point the benches were under the baskets, as they still are at Vanderbilt, and Heyman was more or less mugged by the UNC bench. He got up from that and shot out like a cannon ball. The guy clearly knew how to fight.

There are a couple of guys in suits, presumably students, who square off near midcourt too.

That’s not what caught our eye though.

The guy we got interested in was #32 (the video is scratchy but we think that’s right), Merrill Morgan.

As this play develops, Morgan might have been the smartest guy on the court, but his defense was hilariously bad. In fairness to Morgan, standards have changed a lot since then and we’re judging him through a modern lens. Defense in 1961 was unquestionably more passive. Bill Russell had only started blocking shots and revolutionizing the game a few years before. The ACC was still several years away from its first tenuous steps towards integration.

That said, the ball is near the corner, on the press row side of the court, and Brown is about to drive. Morgan is standing just above the free throw line, erect, with his hands in the air. As Brown drives, he moves slightly towards the basket, hands still in the air.

He doesn’t drop his hands until Brown swings at Heyman.

As the scrum develops, he stands where he is with his hands on his hips and as Heyman starts to erupt back off the floor, Morgan moves back to the edge of the court.

While the action moves from the basket towards half court, in other words, Morgan simply steps back.

He wasn’t serious about defense on the play and pretty clearly he wasn’t interested in brawling.

The man was ahead of his time. We wonder what he did during the Summer Of Love and Woodstock.

Update: we heard from Merrill Moore’s old roommate who said this:

“That's not Merrill Morgan, my roommate at one time. I'm pretty sure that's Johnny Frye.

“I was keeping the official scorebook at midcourt; I was so incensed at seeing [Frank] McGuire kick Artie while he was down that I leaped over the table and rushed York Larese who I believe I had in a headlock very briefly. Then I said to myself what the hell am I doing out here especially when all the KA's showed up and I scurried back to where I should have stayed!

“Didn't know it was an historic moment at the time, but it remains a strong memory. Wish the video were clearer so I could see what a jerk I was (a mad jerk tho").”