BLUE DEVIL MANIA
As the Duke Blue Devils prepare to take on the Florida State Seminoles today at 8 p.m. in Charlotte, fans and the university are not just celebrating an ACC championship game, but also a historic 10-win football season.
The road to the championship reminds older Duke fans of the last time the team had near this many wins - 1941.
W. Bryan Turner, now 88 years old, remembers listening to the 1942 Rose Bowl game, in which Duke football was celebrating nine wins that season. His family lived in a little rural N.C. town, Teachey, at the time, selling produce. The bowl game was moved to Durham that year, due to World War II and the dangers of playing on the West coast.
Turner said he and his son-in-law didn’t sit in their seats during the game when Duke won against Carolina this November, clinching the 10th win of the season. He said a win is possible in Charlotte, that this year, Duke is a different team, and he’ll be watching tonight.
“I tried to tell (football) coach (David) Cutcliffe what plays to play, but he won’t listen to me,” Turner said.
James Harward also lived in Durham in the ‘40s, and he served as a Boy Scout usher at some of the football games, when Wallace Wade was coach. His mother made him a Duke football player Ace Parker jersey out of an old blue sweater.
“They were our heroes,” Harward said. “Anyone that played ball for Duke was a hero.”
For Sarah Hostetter, a Duke 2009 psychology graduate, football runs in her family’s blood - Her grandfather, Earl Hostetter, played for Duke as a tight end during the winning 1941 football season, and even though he passed away when she was very young, she still has his leather football helmet.
She said that winning team is back, and she and her friends are going to watch the game in D.C. She and her brother, a soon-to-be Florida State grad, have been exchanging trash talk. She said the Duke program carries a new confidence.
“They have a lot more faith in themselves and they know that they’re going in as a huge underdog, and who doesn’t love an underdog story, right?” Hostetter said.
For recent Duke graduates, the championship is about reconnecting with classmates. Alex Keller, 23, was a student manager for Duke football for four years and graduated in 2012. He now works in D.C. at the Health and Environmental Sciences Institute.
“I wasn’t surprised but I was very happy,” Keller said about the 10 wins this season. “It’s been our goal for the last half-decade.”
He said he helped facilitate practices, organize equipment and traveled with the team for most games. Now, looking from the outside in, he’s spending Saturday at the game as a fan.
“There’s a tangible excitement now. That’s really great to see,” he said. “We definitely have a lot more intensity.”
Rosie Canizares, 30, works at Duke in the physical therapy department, and when she was a Duke cheerleader, she said during their losing seasons, it was hard to smile for three hours at a time during games.
However, she can count on one hand how many Duke home games she’s missed, and one of her fondest memories was the ringing of the victory bell her senior year, when Duke beat Carolina in 2003.
She said she’ll be going to an alumni tailgate during game day.
“I think everything else is just the cherry on top of our season so far,” she said.
Duke has rented five buses to take hundreds of students to Charlotte, and Duke and FSU each received an initial ticket allotment of 5,500 for the championship game, said Jon Jackson, Duke associate director of athletics and external affairs, in an email.
At Duke University stores, management is spending game day in town, waiting on the results of the game and developing merchandise contingency plans.
They’ve had more experience making these merchandise plans for Duke basketball, said Duke merchandise manager Tom Craig, but depending on the results of this weekend, Duke could be picked to play in four different bowl games and face four different opponents.
“That’s just part of what makes this a little more difficult than preparing for NCAA basketball,” Craig said.
Once the university finds out where Duke will play next, they can churn out new merchandise in as soon as 24 hours.
A major renovation of the main university store in the Bryan Center student union in August, paired with a winning football season, has brought increased business to the university, said Jim Wilkerson, Duke’s director of trademark licensing and store operations.
Duke’s “ACC Coastal Division Champions” merchandise, which reads, “A ‘Cut’ Above,” a nod to coach Cutcliffe, has been a bestseller.
Friday sales were busy, Wilkerson added, with people buying shirts to get ready for the championship. He couldn’t comment on the amount of foot traffic the main university store has seen in the past week.
“We call it ‘riding the rocket,’” he said. “It’s a vibrant little business here.”