Set in a picturesque backdrop of pine trees, Kenan Memorial Stadium is a hidden gem in the hardwood world of Chapel Hill. The Kenan family has been influential in the growth and development of the university. The football program's complex was named in honor of oil businessman and university benefactor Frank H. Kenan when it was completed in 1997. And it was William R. Kenan who worked to bring the stadium to the campus in 1926. An 1892 graduate of Carolina, William R. Kenan wished to establish a memorial to his parents and stumbled upon an opportunity to make a financial gift to build the stadium.
Construction of the stadium began in 1926 and it opened Nov. 12, 1927, to a 27-0 Tar Heels win over Davidson.
As with many stadiums across the country, upgrades and expansions have occurred throughout the years and what was once a 24,000-seat facility now seats 60,000. Despite the impressive growth, there is an unwritten rule that exists around Chapel Hill suggesting that the stadium can be built no higher than the tallest pine trees.
A 65-0 win over Wake Forest in the 1928 season opener marked the most points scored by a Tar Heels team at Kenan Stadium. The 1983 season Carolina-Duke matchup was played late in the afternoon, thus creating a need for temporary lights to be installed, a first for a game on campus. The first true night games took place after lights became permanent fixtures for the 1991 season.
There are many tales about how North Carolina came to be known as the Tar Heel state; two of the widely circulated tales involve Civil War soldiers.
First, in the Walter Clark-edited book "Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-'65," Clark suggests the nickname came from the ability of the North Carolina troops to hold their ground during a battle in which supporting soldiers from Virginia fled. After the battle the supporting troops were heard asking the North Carolinians whether or not there was anymore tar to be had down in the "Old North State." The response, partially in jest, indicated that Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, had bought up all the tar left in the state to put it on the heels of the retreaters in hopes they would stick better in the next fight.
The second tale involves a quote attributed to Confederate general Robert E. Lee, who was thought to have called North Carolina the Tar Heel State because its soldiers stuck to their work in battle as if they had tar on their heels. It was said the name stuck after General Lee made the statement, "God bless those Tar Heel boys."