Spurrier reflects on 1989 ACC title team reunion, memories of coaching at Duke
History is bound to repeat itself. For Duke football, that repetition came a little later than it would have liked, but when the Blue Devils won the ACC Coastal Division last season, it marked the first time since 1989 that they had captured a piece of conference glory.
Duke honored the Steve Spurrier-led 1989 ACC championship squad following the first quarter of Saturday's 52-13 rout of Elon. Numerous managers, players and coaches returned for the event, including Spurrier, who is the current South Carolina head coach. Although the two titles were separated by 24 seasons, Spurrier points to his time at Duke as one of the significant periods in his career as a coach.
"I talked with [Coach Cutcliffe] earlier today and I said, '[It's] very comparable to what we did in '89...winning the division,'" Spurrier said. "We were fortunate to win the ACC in '89. So we're proud of what Duke's doing and like I've said before many, many times, whatever coach I became, I learned everything at Duke University."
The 1989 team did not get off to a hot start. But after stumbling out of the gates at 1-3, Spurrier's team turned things around in week five against then-No. 7 Clemson in one of the more memorable games in Blue Devil history.
Despite the fact that then-Blue Devil quarterback Billy Ray tossed five interceptions, Duke upset the Tigers 21-17 at Wallace Wade Stadium. The Blue Devils would go on to win their next six games and earn a share of the ACC title along with Virginia that year.
"They could play," Spurrier said. "Randy [Cuthbert] had over 1,000 yards. Clarkston Hines caught about 17 touchdowns. Defensive kids, they played their hearts out. We forced about six or seven punts every game."
Following the season-ending loss to Texas Tech in the All-American Bowl, Spurrier would be named ACC Coach of the Year for the second straight season and go on to leave Duke in pursuit of the head coaching job at Florida.
And although he has achieved great success since leaving Durham—winning a national championship and 10 bowl games—Spurrier has always kept a spot in his heart for the Blue Devils. For years, he infamously continued to vote for Duke in the weekly Coaches Poll in the face of the Blue Devils' dismal performance on the gridiron.
Spurrier said he will now enjoy the opportunity to vote for Cutcliffe's program because of, not despite, the on-field product.
"It's neat to see everybody and cheer on the Duke team," Spurrier said. "You know, I always voted for them in the top 25 and this year I'll have a reason to. I always pull for Duke."
Saturday's opportunity was special, as Spurrier has been busy with his head coaching career and unable to see many of his former Blue Devils, many of whom brought their families along.
"It's good to see them with their wives and kids all grown up," he said. "I was here as an assistant three years, head coach three years. I've been very blessed and fortunate after that. But it's fun to come back here with the 1989 team. [I've] been with most all of the guys. Gosh, we have about 50 or 60 players back."
Spurrier wasn't talking just football Saturday, as he extended his congratulations to Duke's two national title teams from the 2013-14 campaign.
"Again, congratulations to the Duke ladies' golf team and I think the lacrosse team was also national champs," he said. "So two national championship teams here at Duke, that's pretty neat. They know how to win here."
And although the Head Ball Coach admitted Durham was not—and is not—the easiest place to build a football program, he was quick to commend the job Cutcliffe has done in the past six seasons at Duke. With two straight bowl appearances and a third possibly coming with his current squad, it would seem as though Cutcliffe may be in line to get a call of his own to return to campus in 25 years.
"It's not the easiest place to win at, here [at] Duke. But they win in basketball and I always appreciate [former long-time Duke athletic director] Tom Butters. He used to say, 'If we can win in the other sports, why can't we win at football?'" Spurrier said. "You can win in football here. Coach Cutcliffe certainly is doing it now."