‘Football is here to stay’

Jan. 01, 2014 @ 05:55 PM

So close, so tantalizingly close –- but sadly, Duke’s football program and its fans, expanded and reenergized by the team’s resurgence in recent seasons -– will have to wait at least another year to end the more than 40-year bowl-victory drought.

We’ve said this before, but it is worth saying again after Tuesday night’s tenacious, often thrilling effort. Duke football has enjoyed a wonderful, almost magical season.  What players and fans alike should cherish, once the disappointment of the Chick-fil-A Bowl’s excruciatingly close loss is over, is what a season it has been.

The benchmarks are familiar by now, but worth savoring all the same. This team won more games than any other team in 101 years of football at Duke.  It played in the ACC championship game for the first time. It played in back-to-back bowl games for the first time ever.  It recorded its first winning season since 1994.

And the team played top-flight football Tuesday night while what is likely the largest audience ever for a Duke football game looked on – a New Year’s Eve bowl, alone in its time slot, nationally televised.

It says something about the community enthusiasm Duke’s season has fostered that the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Durham Inc. teamed with Duke to imprint the hashtag #GoDurham on the Duke coaches’ headsets Tuesday night.

For a half, Duke dominated its opponents with a relentless offense that scored on every drive, building a 38-17 halftime lead.  And they withstood a furious Texas A & M comeback in the second half, hanging on to a lead until an intercepted pass by quarterback Anthony Boone – who played an outstanding game – led to the Aggies first but decisive lead with less than four minutes to play.

Duke players were philosophical in their post-game remarks.

“It’s going to hurt,” running back Josh Snead said of Boone’s errant throw.  “He just has to get over and come back next year stronger and better.”

Snead added a comment that reflected the cohesive, we’re-all-in-this together spirit that Coach David Cutcliffe has instilled as he has engineered Duke’s rise from winless seasons to a record-win season.  “No one wants to be in that situation, when they feel that the weight was all on him.” Snead said. “But it wasn’t on him. We’re a team.”

And Snead laid down a promise that will have Duke fans in the once-unlikely position of eagerly awaiting the opening of the 2014 season in just eight months.

“We put ourselves in a situation where we’re a football team – we’re a football school,” Snead said. “Believe that we play football here – we’re not just smart guys. Football is here to stay, and we’re going to be great contenders in the ACC.”

He and his teammates erased any doubts of the validity of that statement these past four months.