With the turning of the calendar to 2016, it’s time to put another year of Duke football in the books. But before we turn our sights to the Spring Game and a refreshed roster, let’s take a moment to savor a few of the most memorable moments of another wild and wonderful year of Duke football, shared with my daughter Abigail. In no particular order…
1) Fiercest Warrior: Thomas Sirk
The big question for the year was how would the offense respond to a new QB. There were clearly some ups and downs along the way, but Sirk’s ability to fight through mistakes, not be phased by the big moments, and to come back after hit after hit (after hit after hit) to make a big play…. was really a remarkable thing to behold. His TD run in Yankee Stadium was a well-deserved capstone to a memorable first year for him.
2) 2015, the year Thomas Hennessy made a mistake.
I’m betting our unmatched long snapper will have the longest NFL career of any of the guys in the Cutcliffe era. It’s been a blast watching this guy put on all kinds of muscle and NEVER mess up. Perfect snap every time. Except this year, he got a penalty for an illegal snap. OUCH! It was an inconsequential play but still… hoping he can learn from his mistake (one) and raise the bar next year.
3) Post-game range of emotions: Exuberance of Virginia Tech to Despair at Carolina
There’s so much blood, sweat, and tears put into a game that it’s no wonder that the guys wear it all on their sleeves after the game.
4) One injury can (and did) make a huge difference – Bryon Fields
Duke developed and benefited from great depth at running back, d-line, and linebacker. But the loss of a great corner haunted the team much of the year. We never could find a suitable replacement, and finally had to move DeVon Edwards to corner to stop the gashing. Kudos to him for being able to pull it off, but no doubt this cost them a few games.
5) Pride cometh before the fall – Blue Devil Walk before Miami
Abigail LOVES the ritual of the guys getting off the bus in their suits, and walking off to the Yoh to get ready for the big game. Normally, they’re focused but living in the moment – engaging with fans, slapping kids hands, etc. Before the Miami game, it was all business. Staring straight ahead… it was as if being ranked had gone to their heads and they were all pros now. A few hours later, it all came crumbling down and the fallout lasted for another month.
I’ve been unwavering in my support for Coach Cut from the beginning. But I think he struggled to put the last play screwup of Miami behind him. Resigning from the NCAA rules committee two weeks after… I don’t think this helped the team. Crap happens – much better to handle more like the Indiana coach who immediately pulled his team after the disputed field goal at the Pinstripe bowl.
6) Best opponent fanbase – Virginia Tech
This was the year we came to realize that road games are just a whole lot more fun than home games. They’re a journey of adventure to a new place – new sights and sounds. Plus, you don’t have to eat the food at Wallace Wade (don’t even think about getting a large popcorn – you can’t simply buy one). While seeing Army for the first time was a real treat, the biggest surprise for me was how NICE everyone is in Blacksburg. Beautiful area, turkey legs for sale, hokey pokey before the 4th quarter, … on and on.
Special (dis) credit goes to the Tulane students. Their section was absolutely full in the first half – then a great rerun of Family Feud must have been on or something – ghost town in the second half. Also, (dis) credit to the Holiday Inn Express in Winston Salem. We were sent to a room that hadn’t been cleaned – PLEASE, don’t eat donuts in the bathroom. Perhaps that’s what scared the maid away.
7) Biggest disgrace in ACC football – UNC
No real surprise here. Abigail gets cursed out by a homeless guy on Franklin Street. When I walked into a restaurant, a group loudly proclaimed how they HATE all Duke fans, blah blah blah. Nice to see that they’re last in football graduation rate in the ACC even without requiring the players to participate in legitimate academic activities. Having joint Nobel prize winners from UNC and Duke recognized at halftime of the game in Chapel Hill was awesome. Too bad they feel that to be competitive in athletics, they need to operate with very different standards than the rest of the school.
8) Great plays by great guys
Football is the ultimate team sport, but it’s still fun to watch individuals who you’re really rooting for step up in big moments and make huge plays.
Mike Ramsay’s breakout performance and sack at Virginia Tech. Allen Jackson’s interception at Wake. DJ Reeves pancaking a Tulane guy; DJ recovering the fumbled punt in the bowl game. Chris Taylor’s wild adventure play against Indiana on an INT (missed tackle, catches the guy from behind, late hit uncalled, but draws an unsportsmanlike from Indiana) – full day’s work in one play. Shaq Powell finishing off Georgia Tech. Zavier Carmichael’s acrobatic interception at Tulane.
9) Cold Tub Chronicles – Dave Harding, coming SOON to a major network near you
As the program keeps improving year after year, so does the Blue Devil Network… especially, the FACE of BDN, Dave Harding. He’s steadily improved over the last few years, and is now just a treat to watch. His interview of Chris Taylor in the icy whirlpool is worthy of some kind of (bizarre, obscure) award. Dave’s come a long way from the guy who was most focused on buying new jeans so he could finally get a girlfriend. Rock on, Dave!
10) BOWL WIN!
One of my favorite T-shirts is the one celebrating the 1961Cotton Bowl victory. Kudos to whomever at the Duke store dreamt up that shirt a few years ago (though I may have been the only guy to buy one – haven’t seen any other around). Wearing that shirt was NOT successful at the 3 previous bowls, so I decided this year to wear a different Duke football shirt. Magically, that made the difference!
Each year is its own saga, but no doubt how the year ends does have an influence on the program going forward. It was a beautiful thing to see that first of many for Coach Cut’s Devils. And doing so in Yankee Stadium will certainly be a lifelong memory.
Go Duke! #DukeGang