Sep 9, 2022 - News

The Queen, UNC football and my Papa's clarinet

A black and white photo of Queen Elizabeth II with football players from North Carolina and Maryland.
Queen Elizabeth II meets American football players in College Park during a visit in October 1957. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II's death at 96 on Thursday made me call up my grandfather to hear a story he's told me repeatedly over the years.

Flashback: In 1957 — in what was her first time watching an American football game — the Queen watched the UNC football team play at Maryland in what has become known as “the Queen’s Game.”

  • My grandfather was there. He was just 18 years old, a few months into college, and a member of the Marching Tar Heels band.

“I was right on the 50-yard line,” Papa Eanes told me yesterday of the marching band’s halftime show. “I got into position and looked up and there she was, the Queen and the Prince.”

  • He says he was about 50 feet away from the Queen’s special box, which she shared with Prince Philip, UNC president William Friday, N.C. Governor Luther Hodges and several leaders from Maryland.
  • This was a big deal for a young man from little Thomasville, North Carolina.

Between the lines: Papa didn't play. No, this was one of the few times he actively decided not to make a sound with his clarinet during a performance. Instead he just looked up at the royals and their guests.

  • “I don't remember people in Thomasville having much to do with royalty … but it felt like looking at a movie star.”
  • “I said to myself, ‘No one is going to miss my clarinet but I will not miss this,'” he said. “I am going to watch her as long as I am standing on this 50-yard line.”
The queen holding a program for the North Carolina v. Maryland game in 1957.
Queen Elizabeth in her box as she watched the Maryland-North Carolina Football game at Byrd Stadium. Photo: Getty Images.

The Queen ended up getting a good football show. UNC was ranked No. 14 going into the game and was upset by Maryland 21-7, whose running back managed to score a go-ahead 81-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

  • Not that my grandfather remembers any of that part of that October day in 1957.
  • “The Queen was a lot more memorable than the football game.”
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