football Edit

The previous cancellations and postponements of Wolfpack sports

No, there has never been a large-scale cancellation of entire winter and spring athletics seasons at NC State or most other colleges around the country, like the one that just happened because of the worldwide pandemic known as COVID-19.

But that doesn’t mean there have never been games or long stretches of seasons that haven’t been affected by infectious diseases, weather and other unforeseen world events.

Most recently, two football seasons ago, the highly anticipated non-conference matchup against West Virginia was canceled because of Hurricane Florence. It was one of at least 20 football games that have been canceled through the years.

Five of those games happened in 1918, when the worldwide Spanish flu pandemic swept around the globe, infecting more than 500 million people worldwide and causing some 50-100 million deaths. The flu killed perhaps five times more people during its reign than The Great War in Europe.

The first time it happened was on Thanksgiving Day 1903, when Washington and Lee was unable to make it to Raleigh for a regularly scheduled game because of a fever outbreak on its Lexington, Virginia, campus.

Five years later, a game between the same two teams was snowed out after 12 inches fell on Lexington, the only game prior to the West Virginia contest wiped out by weather.

Other games have been postponed, including a home football contest against Ohio that was scheduled two days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. That game was rescheduled for the end of the season.

A game that probably should have been canceled but wasn’t was a home football contest against Florida State on Oct. 16, 1954, when the Seminoles left the nation’s largest polio outbreak of the decade to face the Wolfpack at Riddick Stadium — a day after Category 4 Hurricane Hazel blasted through the state.

NC State’s Riddick Stadium
Riddick Stadium once hosted a game despite a polio outbreak and Hurricane Hazel. (NC State media relations)

Another notable game that was not canceled was on Nov. 22, 1963, a Friday night contest against Wake Forest in which both teams were already warming up on the field when the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. Most teams canceled their games the next day, but the Wolfpack and Demon Deacons made the mutual decision to play.

The Wolfpack won 42-0, clinching head coach Earle Edwards' second ACC title, but there was little celebrating afterwards.

There were a few near cancellations, like the NC State-Arizona State football game that was threatened by a nationwide fuel shortage and the 1996 game against Wake Forest that was played with limited electricity because Hurricane Fran blew through the Triangle the day before.

Jim Valvano’s Wolfpack basketball team nearly missed an appointment to play Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Feb. 18, 1989, because of a Raleigh ice storm that grounded flights out of RDU International. Valvano had to leave a few players, managers and other team personnel behind when he managed to secure 14 seats on a mid-morning commercial flight on game day. The team landed in Atlanta 25 minutes before tipoff, but still won a hard-fought 71-69 upset against the 13th-ranked Yellow Jackets.

Obviously, throughout the years, spring sporting events have been frequently affected by weather, forcing cancellation or postponement of many weekend activities throughout the year.

But there has never been full-season cancellations like the ones now because of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

Nov. 14, 1908: A late-fall snowstorm dropped 12 inches of snow on Lexington, Virginia, forcing Washington & Lee to cancel its scheduled home game at Wilson Field. The Aggies, as NC State was often called in those days, finished the season with a 6-1 record, with its only blemish coming at Virginia on Halloween Day.

Sept. 29-Nov. 5, 1918: During the world’s worst Spanish Flu pandemic, newly re-named NC State College canceled five scheduled games when all extracurricular activities, including football practice and military drills, were prohibited. In addition, seven starters from the 1917 team were among the 35 students drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Camp Gordon near Atlanta.

A total of 13 students and two nurses in the infirmary died of the flu. When activities resumed, it was just in time for State College’s game against John Heisman’s unbeaten and unscored on Golden Tornado of Georgia Tech. The overmatched Aggies, even with the addition of five players on weekend leave from Camp Gordon, suffered the worst lost in school history, 128-0, in a game that was cut short five minutes before the final whistle.

Dec. 7, 1929: The season finale between NC State College and Mississippi A&M (now Mississippi State) slated for Starkville was canceled by the home team because both teams were having difficult seasons and there was a concern about a lack of interest by home fans. The Wolfpack was 1-6 that season while the Bulldogs were 1-5-2. The game was moved to two years later, after Mississippi State came to Raleigh in 1931.

Winter 1936: Another flu and cold epidemic swept across the state, forcing NC State and UNC to postpone its second basketball game of the season, while other winter sports such as boxing and wrestling, were canceled.

The outbreak lingered, so State baseball games against UNC, Florida, Richmond and Maryland were also canceled because of the Southern flu outbreak, as well as other spring sports.

November 1944-47: During World War II, NC State was home to U.S. Army trainees, who were not allowed by order of the military to participate in varsity athletics. UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke were home to U.S. Navy and Marine trainees during the war, all of whom were allowed to participate in varsity athletics. The NC State athletics council voted to cancel games against the Blue Devils and the White Phantoms (as UNC’s teams were then known) throughout the duration of the war.

The Duke series resumed in 1945, but UNC-CH refused to play State College until 1947.

Feb. 25, 1947: Because of overcrowding, the highly anticipated game between NC State and North Carolina at on-campus Thompson Gymnasium was canceled by Raleigh’s fire marshal. Fans streamed into the gym through upstairs windows and the basement, not even leaving standing room in the aisles for the 5,000 spectators in the 3,500-seat gym.

Thirty minutes before tipoff, the game was canceled.

This was generally the incident that is credited with inflaming the passion for college basketball from an offseason activity between football and baseball seasons in North Carolina to the state’s and region’s favorite pastime.

Jan. 23, 1948: Just hours before tip-off, Raleigh city officials condemned Thompson Gymnasium, NC State’s on-campus gymnasium, saying there were not enough fire exits to accommodate more than 1,500 spectators. The game was canceled, causing a mini-riot by students on NC State’s campus.

The final games of the season also had to be moved from Thompson to Raleigh’s downtown municipal auditorium.

However, because of the hasty schedule change, there was no time to polish the floor and put college basketball lines on the court, the Wolfpack’s game against High Point had to be played in condemned Thompson Gym.

No spectators were allowed for the game, just players, coaches and essential staff. The Wolfpack won 110-50, setting a school record for points scored.

That season, however, forced NC State officials to resume construction on its dormant new on-campus auditorium. Some 18 months after the cancellation, Reynolds Coliseum opened its doors.

Oct. 4, 1952: After five UNC-Chapel Hill athletes, including one football player, contracted highly contagious polio, the Tar Heels canceled games against NC State and Georgia.

Both the Wolfpack and Bulldogs scrambled to find a way to replace the lost game. NC State asked Davidson to move the scheduled game between the two in-state rivals back a week so it could host the Bulldogs at Riddick Stadium on Oct. 4. Davidson resisted the move and NC State made plans to play Georgia in an early game in Raleigh, then travel by train to Davidson for the night game in the day-night, two-city doubleheader.

Davidson eventually relented and moved its game to a week later. The Wolfpack, under first-year coach Horace Hendrickson, lost to Georgia 49-0 and beat Davidson 28-6 en route to a 3-7 season. That’s the last time NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill haven’t met during the regular season.

February 1991: Because of the start of Operation Desert Storm, a regularly scheduled game between NC State and UNC-CH was postponed just hours before tip-off.

Sept. 15, 2018: Seven trillion gallons of water from Hurricane Florence inundated most of North Carolina with rain over a 72-hour period, forcing most athletic activities across the state, including NC State’s game against West Virginia, to be canceled or postponed.

Tim Peeler is a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker and can be reached at tmpeeler@ncsu.edu.