When they make the movie about Matt Kupec's life, the opening scene will look something like this:
Fade-in to North Carolina Coach Dick Crum's office. There sits Kupec, surrounded by the entire UNC football coaching staff. They are not there to tell Matt they are pleased with him. They are telling him off. And he is telling them off.
"I thought then," Kupec said recently, "that I was through as Carolina's quarterback, that I'd never play again."
Second scene: it is a month later, Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, N.C. The Tar Heels are trailing arch-rival Duke, 15-3, with less than four minutes to play. Calmly leading the Heels down the field, waving at the crowd to be quiet, is Matt Kupec. Carolina wins, 16-15. Crum changes his offense for the following season to suit Kupec and our hero goes on to fame, if not fortune, as a senior.
"I was fortunate that I got another chance," Kupec said. "I'm proud of the fact that I've come back the way I have.
"I think I've proved something to the coaching staff. I showed them that you can spit in my face all you want but you're not going to get me down. I can play the game and play it well when I'm given a chance."
Kupec, who will be at quarterback for Carolina Saturday when the 5-1-1 Tar Heels come to Byrd Stadium to face 4-4 Maryland, remembers the meeting in Crum's office in October a year ago as the culmination of a rough fall for him.
The starting quarterback for two years, he had led the last two Bill Dooley-coached UNC teams into bowl games and to an ACC championship in 1977. He had capped that season by being voted MVP in the Liberty Bowl.
But Dooley had left Carolina for Virginia Tech, Crum had arrived and switched the offense into the veer formation.
"I'm not a veer quarterback," Kupec said. "I'm just not a good runner."
Kupec was hurt in the third game and freshman Chuck Sharpe started the next week in UNC's 7-3 loss to Miami of Ohio. Kupec was ready to play the following week but was kept on the bench.
"I didn't think Matt was performing like a major college quarterback," Crum said. "I told him that. I didn't know what his abilities were or how he had played in the past. But he wasn't doing the kind of job we wanted."
"No one ever told me that I was benched, it just happened," said Kupec. "They made me a scapegoat for the entire offense. It really wasn't fair. Amos Lawrence wasn't having very much success then, either. Neither was the offensive line. But I was the one they blamed.
"All of a sudden I wasn't the quarterback. I'd been a starter for more than two years. I'd played in two bowl games. I't was hard to take. I sulked, I felt sorry for myself. I tried not to but it's a tough experience, especially when you're not anticipating it."
In his hour of despair Kupec turned to a number of people for comfort. One of them was his older brother Chris, a 1975 UNC graduate, a quarterback himself for the Tar Heels and the person perhaps most responsible for Matt's decision to atten UNC.
"I just tried to tell Matt that a lot of things were going wrong with the program at the time and that he had to keep working and wait for his chance again," said his brother.
Expecting not to play again, Kupec let down in practice -- at least in the eyes of the coaches -- and that brought about the confrontation in Crum's office.
"I do it sometimes when we're not pleased with a player's performance," Crum said.
"It was the Carolina coaching staff and Matt Kupec," Kupec recalled. "there were things said in there I could never repeat in public, by them and by me. Some of it shocked me. In fact, it jolted me. But at least when I came out of there I knew where I stood and they knew where I stood."
Two weeks later Sharpe was hurt against Richmond and Kupec returned to the lineup.
"When I got back on the field, I was determined that they weren't going to get me off," Kupec said.
No one has budged him. Under Kupec, the Tar Heels won two of their last three games -- the loss being to ACC champion Clemson -- to finish 5-6. This year, Kupec has been brilliant, completing 82 of 144 passes, a 57 percent average, for 1,154 yards and 13 touchdowns.
"A year ago I didn't think Matt was a big-time quarterback and when people asked me if I thought he could play in the pros, I said no," Crum said. "But now, I think it's a possibility. Give him credit, he's worked very hard to improve himself."
"I'm a better quarterback now than I've ever been," Kupec said. "I'm getting my whole body into my throws now instead of just my arm.
"The pros? I'd love to have a shot. But I'm not counting on it.If this is it for me, well, I'll really miss it, but I'm ready for the rest of my life."
Kupec is a business administration major who plans to go to Ohio University's school of athletic administration. He dreams of returning to Long Island (he is from Syosset) and as athletic director building the State University of New York into an athletic power.
Which brings us to the final scene of the movie: flash to a beautiful football stadium. A close-up of the athletic director's box. There sits Matt Kupec. On the field, wearing "New York" on the front of its uniforms, is his school's football team. The stadium is jammed. . .