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Lucas: The Pirate Catcher

Lucas: The Pirate Catcher

By Adam Lucas

Ken Broun has been a law professor at some of the most distinguished law schools in the United States. He's served as the Dean of the UNC School of Law. He was the mayor of Chapel Hill from 1991 to 1995 and has written books and helped pick chancellors.

Yet at this time of year, he is known for exactly one--and only one--of his lifetime achievements: he's the individual who caught an East Carolina spy in the UNC law library in the fall of 1981.

"When I'd go around the state and give talks about the law school and how great it was, everyone would listen politely," says Broun, who is currently the Henry Brandis Professor at the UNC School of Law. "And almost always, someone would stand up and say, 'Tell us about kicking the ECU spies out of the law library.'"

It all began because of Dick Crum's paranoia--although perhaps it's not paranoia if you're proven correct. The Tar Heel head coach noted that the proximity of the law library to the football practice fields would make it easy for outsiders to observe practice.

Fortunately for Broun, Crum had several helpful solutions for this problem. The first: install dark drapes in the library, which Broun thought might impede the actual purpose of a law library--studying law. Then Crum asked for a general ban on looking out the window, which also didn't seem especially conducive to encouraging students to use the library.

Crum and Broun eventually agreed that Crum could station an injured player in the library. That player's sole responsibility was looking for spies. If he found one, he'd alert Broun, who would remove the offending party.

"The week before the ECU game, I got a call from Coach Crum, who was on the practice field," says Broun, highlighting what may be the most amazing part of this story--that in pre-cell phone 1981, Crum had access to a telephone on the practice field. "He said the player reported there was a guy standing at the window of the library making X's and O's."

Since Broun was not familiar with any casebooks dealing with X's and O's, he visited the library and found "a guy who looked like a former football player" standing at the window diagramming plays. One of the most classic exchanges in college football history followed.

Dean of the UNC Law School Ken Broun: "What are you doing?"

Football player-looking guy who was holding a pad filled with diagrams that were obviously football plays: "Using the law library."

The thought process that went into trying to persuade one of the greatest legal minds in the state of North Carolina that a scratch pad showing a toss sweep was actually a torts casebook is mind-boggling. Predictably, Broun disagreed with the stranger's stated intentions, and had him escorted out.

A member of the football program got the offender's license plate (look for this on CSI: Chapel Hill), which was traced back to the East Carolina football program.

And then Crum had one of the best ideas of his head coaching tenure; certainly much more productive than the veer offense. He decided to publicize what had happened.

"He called various news media around the state and the country and told them what had happened," Broun says, "and I was interviewed by most of them." Even Sports Illustrated called, eager to hear the story of the Law Library Snoop.

"Both of my sons were teenagers at the time," Broun says, "and they were pretty sure it was the only thing of value I had ever done in my career."

It helped that Broun was a good storyteller. As he told a couple of media outlets about how he caught the spy: "I knew it wasn't a law student because he appeared to be interested in the material."

As it turned out, the illicit Pirate knowledge wasn't very helpful. Carolina won the game, 56-0. "The difference in the two teams was so great that year," Broun says, "that Carolina probably could have announced the play they were going to run and the direction they were going to run it and still been successful."

As for Broun, after a very eventful week, he attended the game as a fan, sitting in his normal seat in the back of the lower level. Those seats proved to be even more dangerous than a weekday at the law library.

After one of the numerous Tar Heel touchdowns, Broun leaped out of his seat to celebrate...and cracked his head on the concrete above. He arrived home with a bandage covering a cut on his head.

"I told my wife," he remembers, "that an irate ECU fan had attacked me."

Adam Lucas is a GoHeels columnist and the editor of CAROLINA.