Bowl win long time coming for Duke

Dec. 30, 2013 @ 08:20 PM

Jan. 2, 1961 is a significant date in Duke football history.  

On that day in Dallas, Texas, 53 years ago, Duke beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. That was the last time Duke won a bowl game. Duke can change that tonight against Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

Duke won the ACC championship in the 1960 season, losing only to North Carolina in conference play. The Blue Devils beat Navy in front of 46,000 fans in what was then called Duke Stadium, later to be named Wallace Wade Stadium. Bill Murray was the head coach, and winning football games was a regular habit at Duke.

From 1951 — Murray’s first season at Duke — through the 1961 Cotton Bowl, Duke won 63 games and lost 33. Included in that run were five conference championships and three bowl appearances, entailing a win over Nebraska in the 1955 Orange Bowl. Duke in that 10-year span also made a habit of whipping their rivals from down the road, beating UNC seven out of 10 games.

So let there be no misunderstanding: The Duke football team of 1960 didn’t exactly shock the nation by winning the ’61 Cotton Bowl. Yes, the Blue Devils had gone 4-6 in 1959, but the Duke football program was nationally respected under Coach Murray. This was a good program with players and coaches who expected to win games and then proceeded to do just that.

Duke opened the 1960 season by trouncing a good South Carolina team in Columbia by a 31-0 score. From that point on, the Duke coaches and players knew the team could be special. After a win over Wake Forest late in the season, the Associated Press had Duke ranked No. 6 in the nation. Duke lost its last two games in 1960 to finish 7-3 but were chosen to play in the Cotton Bowl. One of those losses was to UCLA in Los Angeles.

Dave “Moose” Bosson was a massive tackle for Duke at 245 pounds, and he remembers that Duke wasn’t as focused on the UCLA game as much as Coach Murray wanted, contributing to the loss. Moose figured that perhaps too much fun was had in Los Angeles before the UCLA game, such as when the team both met and got their picture taken with Elvis Presley.  

Dick Havens, who played for Duke, said,  “A writer in Texas wrote that the two biggest mistakes in Texas history (the ’61 Cotton Bowl was played in Dallas) were when they let Santa Anna into the Alamo and Duke into the Cotton Bowl.”  

Arkansas was selected to play Duke in the 1961 Cotton Bowl. The Razorbacks were coached by Frank Broyles and had gone 17-4 over the 1959 and 1960 seasons coming into the ’61 Cotton Bowl matchup with Duke. Led by future NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Lance Alworth, Arkansas was  ranked No. 7 in the country in the final AP poll of the regular season and were established as big favorites to win the game against Duke.

In that game in front of 74,000, Alworth showed his exceptional athletic ability by returning a punt 49 yards for the first score of the game. It seemed that Alworth faked out all 11 Duke players on the run.

Dwight Bumgarner, an outstanding lineman for Duke, recalled, “When we got back to campus, there was a bulletin board in the frat house; somebody had taken one of those sequence photos you used to see and, next to every Duke player trying to tackle Alworth on that touchdown, somebody had drawn in jock straps on the ground.”

Dave Unser blocked the point-after attempt to keep the score 6-0 in favor of Arkansas. Duke finally scored with 2:45  left in the game when Blue Devils quarterback Don Altman threw a 9 -yard touchdown pass to Claude “Tee” Moorman. Art Browning kicked the extra point, and Duke won the game by that 7-6 margin.

Duke went on to win the ACC championship in 1961 and 1962, but there were no bowl invitations. Murray resigned after the 1965 season. Duke would go until 1989 before playing in another bowl game. Steve Spurrier led Duke to the All-American Bowl that year when Duke lost to Texas Tech.

Last year, Duke lost to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl.

Against Texas A&M, Duke will look to end its 53-year streak of not winning a bowl game.

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Many people in the area may not remember this, but recently fired Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz was an assistant coach at N.C. Central in 1991.

Another interesting connection between the NFL and NCCU is Larry Little. He was the head man at NCCU from 1993 to 1998 and, as a member of the NFL Hall of Fame, was one of the best offensive lineman to ever play the game.

You may reach Lewis Bowling at lewis_bowling@yahoo.com.