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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Anson Dorrance, June 11, 1991. Interview L-0054. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Controversy over a quotation used for motivation

Dorrance remembers the controversy that erupted over his use of a quotation from the film <cite>Apocalypse Now</cite> to motivate his players. Dorrance quoted a scene in which a character says he loves the smell of napalm, and the quote became a rallying cry, until the press caught wind of it and criticized Dorrance and his team for insensitivity regarding a horrific war. The irony, Dorrance believes, is that Vietnam veterans appreciated that he used their experiences&#x2014;or a fictionalized account of them&#x2014;to inspire his team.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Anson Dorrance, June 11, 1991. Interview L-0054. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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I guess one of the things I was disappointed to see was one of the few times you've had national publicity was about that "napalm" quote. Can you tell me a little bit about what that was about?
Yes. Marcia McDermott is actually, one of the women I was referring to as someone that could literally have done anything; very, very bright articulate woman. She sort of wrestled with soccer because just like me, she didn't really consider it a worthy profession. And she's pursuing a graduate degree in English while she's coaching at the University of Arkansas. I really liked her because she was bright and witty. We were bantering back and forth in some practice or actually, before games about the fact that we knew we were going to win. And at the time, I guess, the movie "Apocalypse Now" was popular. There was a great scene in "Apocalypse Now" about this group of men assembling on a hill and they are watching napalm being sprayed all over the jungle in front of them. And one of them turns to the other one and says, "Can you smell that napalm?" "Yeah, I can. It smells like victory." In other words, whenever the American troops in Viet Nam would put napalm down on anything, it would ensure a victory. And so the analogy we used was that that was a feeling; there was a smell in the air that we knew we were going to win. The sort of teams we had then, we knew we were going to win. We were overwhelming favorites. And you know, in athletics, there's always tremendous analogy between warfare and athletics. I mean, it's gone on since the beginning of recorded time. And so, it wasn't a new analogy. I mean, using war cries to motivate you in athletics is actually common. And then actually, before the national championship semi-final, I think we were playing Cal-Berkely. Because this was a sort of a running joke all season between Marcia and I, one of the managers on the team went out to see the movie because we didn't really have the quote down perfectly. So he went and saw the movie and it was great. He wrote it down while he was in the movie theater and then he typed it up. And what I did before the Cal-Berkely game is I read the whole quote because it was very lengthy. It was a joke, you know. But a really powerful joke because, yes, we knew we were going to win. I mean, it was a great analogy between us and that quote and everyone was laughing because it's very aggressive, but in a positive way. It was aggressive for us because we knew we were going to win. I read it before the game and we won. And then they started asking the players afterwards, you know, you guys came out on that field like dynamite, using another military, aggressive analogy, and the girls said they were really pumped up. And the reporters started asking them, "What pumps you up for the game?" And they said, "Anson read this quote from "Apocalypse Now" and it was something that he and Marcia McDermott had been doing all season when they knew we were going to win before the game. And we just went out there and we just exploded all over the field." And so obviously, the press, seeing the chance to jump on something that's very human interest in a way, because you know, most people when they read sports pages want more than just the, "I thought we played great." I mean listening to most athletes talk about themselves is so boring it's ridiculous and so when a reporter finally gets something more than: "How do you feel after winning?" "I feel great." "How do you think the other team played today?" "Well, I think they played great." "Well, what do you think of your team?" "Well, I think they're great." When they finally get something that's more quotable than that, they're going to use it. So there was an article that morning on the national championship final about that motivational talk. And actually, the article was good. It said we were really excited and there was this analogy that we knew we were going to win and there was the "Apocalypse Now" quote. So then what happened is our club team on campus decided this is great. They liked the quote, too, and so they made a banner. I can't remember what the banner said. Maybe it said, "Napalm, napalm, napalm." For some reason, that rings a bell. And they carried it to the game, so they're sitting there and this club team is screaming "Napalm, napalm, napalm" before the game and they're all into it and they're all excited and we're excited, but our motivational talk for that game was completely different. The napalm thing was yesterday's game. And now for the championship, we had something else. I can't even remember what we used. Well, because of that banner there, the word went out over the national championship wire that this was the way we intimidated our opponents, that we would start screaming this and you know, we went out of our way to intimidate the opponents by chanting this. And of course, we didn't. We had nothing to do with it. We had nothing to do with having it there on the field. We had nothing to do with anything except the fact we had used it as a joke during the season. We used it as a motivational talk before the semi-final. It had nothing to do with the final. And so then, actually, it was a women reporter and I use the word "woman" because a man wouldn't have written the article the way she did. And she was a woman actually, that was a part of our team in a way, because we let her train with us in the off season and she was real close to a lot of players on the team and we let her work out with us and this sort of stuff in the spring. And she thought it was horrible, because she was very anti-Viet Nam war, to use this quote from basically, a negative war to motivate ourselves; that it showed a tremendous disrespect for the Viet Nam veterans and anyone who had to fight over there and the Vietnamese who were just, you know, fried with this napalm and stuff. I mean, what a hideous thing to trivialize in athletics. And so the article that she wrote, maybe it was even an editorial. Maybe it was a letter to the editor. I can't remember whether it was an article or an editorial. It probably wasn't an editorial because they don't It was either an article or a letter to the editor how she was appalled, you know, about all this. And she came to the game expecting to watch a soccer game and she saw us using this. Well, she had everything out of context because it was locker room stuff for us and it was brought out because the club team decided to use it. And you know, that we had no sensitivity towards the people that fought there. And it wasn't because of anything that happened during the two games, even the stuff that the club team did because typically, there wasn't enough coverage for that to really get out. You know, local papers had it, but no real big deal. But it was all sort of buried until her article or letter to the editor came out. Now that's news. The news is that people were offended by it. So the news wasn't that it was used for motivation. The news is that sensitive people were offended by this gruesome use of that phrase because of what her article said, basically. And she was offended by it and several of her friends were offended, etc., etc., etc. And so then it hit the national news. And one reason it hit the national news as well is, one of the guys that follows all of the games that still comes by…. In fact, he was in my office today. He's a guy named Jim Furlong. He saw this as an opportunity to really make some money and so he sent it out all over the country. And sure enough it hit everything. It hit "Sports Illustrated" as one of the worst cheers of the year. That was our first exposure in "Sports Illustrated". I can't remember how it went in "Sports Illustrated" but it was in one of those little sections early in the magazine that said something like, "The most morbid cheer of the year." And then there was even a cartoon in "Sporting News" and they had the grim reaper there with his scythe, you know, with skulls all over a soccer field and had the quote up there, you know, and had my name and the team's name up there. So it really got a negative run of press. And then in the bizarrest of ironies, soon after that we started getting mail from veterans. They thought it was wonderful. They thought that for every other war that's occurred, there have been positive sports analogies to it. And they said they've always been frustrated by the fact that for some reason their war, every time it's brought up, people have such a negative stigma about it and they don't appreciate anyone who has ever fought there and all of our veterans are treated like shit. And all the letters we got were really positive. They said, "We appreciate the fact that our war was used to help you guys win." And it was really bizarre because the way that woman originally wrote the article was that all the veterans would be hurt by it. And it was absolutely the opposite. So the bizarre irony was the national media jumped on it like they were being sensitive to our veterans and the veterans jumped on it like, "You assholes, we appreciate being remembered. I mean, one of the reasons we're having all these traumatic experiences now is we come back to this country and we're totally rejected and it's a pleasure to be back in the mainstream. What you guys were doing, we felt was really good." Even though that wasn't our intent. You know what I mean? But still the ironies of that situation just abounded. But still, it hurt our girls' feelings, really, because they just play sports. They're not into politics and it wasn't a political statement and it was nice to get that mail afterwards. But of course, by then the athletic department advised us not to rekindle it by sharing the letters from veterans. You know what I mean? I mean, once that sort of publicity comes out which is negative, they'd rather just let it die and it did. It did die. But Marcia and I laugh about it now. But back then, because they used her name several times, she was really hurt by it.