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Nov. 15, 2012
Dre' Bly (North Carolina, 1996-98) is the only player in North Carolina history to be named a three-time, first-team All-American. He was a first-team All-America as a redshirt freshman in 1996 (AP, Walter Camp) and earned consensus All-America honors in 1997 and 1998 for head coaches Mack Brown (1996-97) and Carl Torbush (1998). One of the best cover corners in ACC history, Bly led the nation and set an ACC single-season record with 11 interceptions in his freshman season of 1999, a record that stood until the 2011 season. Bly still shares, with NC State's David Amerson, the ACC mark for most interceptions per game in a season (1.00), and his 20 career interceptions, at the time an ACC record, still ranks second on the ACC career list. A three-time letterman, he helped lead the Tar Heels to a 28-8 mark during his time in Chapel Hill. A three-time first-team All-ACC selection, Bly was the 41st overall selection in the second round of the 1999 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. He went on to an 11-year NFL career with St. Louis, Detroit, Denver and San Francisco. While with St. Louis, he helped the Rams win Super Bowl XXXIV and reach Super Bowl XXXVI. He was twice named to the NFL's Pro Bowl (2003, 2004) and earned All-Pro honors in 2003. In his 11 years in the NFL, he totaled 419 tackles and 43 career interceptions. In 2003, he was named to the ACC's 50th Anniversary Football team. A native of Chesapeake, Va., he currently resides in Charlotte, N.C.
You grew up in the Tidewater, Virginia area, but is it true that you were a North Carolina fan long before you decided to attend school there?
Basically, I grew up a Carolina fan. Back in the early '90s, we used to get a lot of their basketball games on television. That's what turned my attention to the university, and then I had a chance to visit the campus, and I fell in love with it. Seeing the direction the football program was going, I felt like going there was a great opportunity.
Back in the 1970s when Bill Dooley was there as head coach, the Tidewater area had been a big recruiting area for North Carolina. At the time you committed there, head Coach (Mack) Brown kind of opened that pipeline back up?
Yes, Coach Brown did. If you look at what Mack did with his teams, he first looked at the top guys in-state. Then he would try to get the best players out of the Tidewater area every year. That's what he did, and that's how he built that team. He understood how important it was for Carolina to get those athletes.
During your redshirt freshman year you set what was then an ACC record with 11 interceptions during the regular season. Were you doing anything in particular to create those kinds of opportunities for yourself?
It was amazing. People ask me about that year all the time, and I tell them it was kind of like when Kobe (Bryant) hit 81 points. When a guy is scoring that many, it feels like the basket is as big as the sea and that anything he throws up is going in. That's how it was for me that year I was intercepting all those balls. Just like the basketball player when he gets hot thinking he can hit anything that he shoots, that is how I was out there on the field. Any time a ball was in the air, I felt like my hands were a magnet and that it was going to come to me. I just got on a roll.
Did you start counting the picks after a while?
I didn't even know what I was on the verge of doing. But when the season ended and all was said and done, I ended up with 11.
And that record stood for 15 years until David Amerson of NC State had 13 last season. Did it bother you that a Wolfpack guy wound up being the one who topped you?
I would have loved for a Carolina guy to do it, but I wasn't that disappointed. As they say, all records are set to be broken. I was happy for the young fella who got the chance to do it. He had a great year. But I tell people all the time, they didn't count stats you got in the bowls back then, and I got two (interceptions) in the Gator Bowl that year. So if you count up all my interceptions, it's 13. But again, the young man last season had a tremendous year, and he deserved it. It was a great run while I had it.
After that season they didn't throw your way as much, and as a result the interceptions didn't come quite as often. Was it hard at all to keep from becoming frustrated?
We knew going into that next season that teams weren't going to game-plan for us the same way, that they were going to pick and choose how they were going to attack us. But our goal was to be the best defense in college football, not to be great individually. I think that is why we were so good - no one wanted to be the guy who let the whole defense down. I prepared just as hard my second year as I did the year before because, even though as many balls weren't going to coming my way, I had to be ready, just in case.
One of the plays you are most remembered for is the Virginia game your junior year in 1997. North Carolina was down at the half, and then you had the pick-six that sparked a comeback and turned the whole game around. Being a Virginia guy, was that a highlight for you as well?
Definitely it was, because a lot of guys in that game were buddies of mine who had played in the Virginia High School All-Star game with me. They were disappointed I went to Carolina, especially with the year I'd had my freshman year. It had meant a lot to me to have an interception and return against them my freshman year but we'd lost that game. So to get the one that next year and help us come back and win was even more special. That was probably the most memorable for me.
You had a great rivalry with Torry Holt, NC State's All-America wide receiver, during your college days. Then you wound up playing together on a Super Bowl championship team and now you are members of the same ACC Legends class. Pretty ironic isn't it?
It's crazy, man. We hated each others' guts in college-that's just how it was playing in the same Triangle area, seeing each other out at the local restaurants, him being a Wolfpacker and me being a Tar Heel. You just weren't supposed to like each other. Then we get drafted first and second by the Rams in the same draft, become teammates and win the Super Bowl together. It's crazy how it all unfolded, but I am glad it did.
And it sounds like your opinion of him changed.
Yes, he is a great person. Our kids play together, our wives are the best of friends. He's like one of my brothers, both he and Terrence (Torry's brother). I tell them all the time that I couldn't have played with two better players because they are great friends and great people. It was one of the better moments of my life to be able to win a Super Bowl with Torry, who was a big rival in college. And now, to be named ACC Legends ... I can't think of a better situation for our families - which really is one big family - to be experiencing this together.
Another one of your contemporaries, Sam Cowart from Florida State, is a 2012 ACC Legend as well. What do you think that all says about the time when you played in the conference? It was a pretty good era, wasn't it?
It was a great era. We didn't get the national spotlight that some of these teams get now with a lot of Thursday night games and things like that. But our defense was a force to be reckoned with. Going 11-1 my junior year and 10-2 (the year before), we felt like there weren't a lot of teams who could do what we did or even compete with us. I don't think there will be another defense that can do what we did when we were at Carolina. And to go into the Legends class with a guy like Sam Cowart and a guy like Torry Holt, it just shows what kind of talent we had and what kind of athletes this conference produced.
You had a great NFL career and played for some great organizations, but what brought you back to North Carolina and what are you doing now?
I have five kids, and Charlotte is a great place to raise a family. It isn't that far from my hometown in Virginia, and it's near Chapel Hill. I've got a lot of college buddies here. I am close enough to where I can get back home if I need to, but still have my space to raise my family. Charlotte has great schools and great youth athletics. There is a lot going on. It's an up- and-coming city.
Do you get back to watch football games at UNC at all?
Oh, yeah. I went to four games last year, and I made it to homecoming for the first time. I had a blast, tailgated with buddies. If I wasn't living in Charlotte, I probably never would have gotten the chance to experience that, so I am glad I'm back here and looking forward to life after football.
You mentioned youth sports - are you involved with that at all?
Yes, I am coaching the best Pop Warner football team around, and I have a pretty good fall baseball travel team.
That is one positive to being retired, right, to be able to work with the children?
Yes, I'm really into working with the youth. My foundation is directed toward kids. My last five or six years in the league, I always adopted a middle school and had ticket giveaways for every home game. We had a tutoring program and Thanksgiving turkey giveaways. I am trying to do more of that (in Charlotte) now. A lot of kids today get discouraged and think doing something like I did for a living or what some of these other people are doing now successfully is far-fetched and can't be achieved. I feel like I've been given a gift, and that is to motivate those kids and give them some hope. I want them to know that they can accomplish their childhood dreams. Because I did.