Monday afternoon, after a week of speculation, the Hall of Fame Bowl offered an official bid to the Duke football team.
The Blue Devils, who have been to only one bowl since 1960 -- the 1989 All-American Bowl -- reversed their record from last year and finished the season 8-3. The "Cinderella" season will continue on Jan. 2 in Tampa, Fla., when Duke takes on Wisconsin at 11 a.m. in Tampa Stadium.
"This is where I wanted to go after I realized that we couldn't go to the Cotton Bowl," Blue Devil wide receiver Corey Thomas said. "It's the next best place to go. One thing about this New Year is that we can bring it in playing football, which is something nobody on this team has ever done before. So that's very exciting, everybody is ready to get down to it."
The Hall of Fame Bowl pits the fourth pick from the Big Ten Conference against the fourth selection from the Atlantic Coast Conference. Wisconsin was invited to the game last week. The Blue Devils were invited after Florida State received a bid to the Sugar Bowl, North Carolina took a bid to the Sun Bowl and N.C. State accepted the Peach Bowl's bid earlier on Monday afternoon. It was then up to the Hall of Fame to decide between Duke and Virginia, who both finished the season with 8-3 records.
"Basically, it would have been a winning situation regardless of who we choose between Duke and Virginia," said Hall of Fame Bowl head of media relations Mike Schulze. "But we felt that Duke having such a great year and the excitement level of their fans -- those were the real keys. They were the more deserving team in our opinion."
In addition, the Blue Devils defeated the Cavaliers 28-25 earlier this season on Nov. 5 in Wallace Wade Stadium. That victory is most likely what put Duke in the Hall of Fame Bowl. Even with two consecutive one-point losses to end the regular season, Duke was an attractive choice for the Hall of Fame Bowl.
"On behalf of the Duke Blue Devils and staff, we are grateful for the confidence that the Hall of Fame Bowl has placed in us," said Duke head coach Fred Goldsmith. "We look forward to playing in perhaps one of the finest bowls for our team to be in, and we are thrilled with the opportunity to play in January and represent the Atlantic Coast Conference."
While representing the ACC, the Blue Devils will bring home at least $1 million, depending on how many tickets are sold. They will have to share some of that with the ACC, but a large portion will stay in the Duke athletic department.
The Hall of Fame Bowl has given the athletic department 12,000 tickets to sell. Those interested should contact the ticket office in Cameron Indoor Stadium. If those tickets should sell out, then the Hall of Fame Bowl is prepared to offer more tickets to the Duke community.
"I've got to get a lot of tickets because everybody wants to come to this game," Thomas said. "It's my first bowl game, and everybody's so excited because we've been doing so well this year.
"Plus, in Florida it's going to be warm, so you don't have to worry about any cold air. It's just so exciting, I mean, what better place to play a bowl game than in Florida?"
There was speculation last week before the Virginia-N.C. State game that Duke could still end up in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 30 in Shrevport, La. But a 30-27 win by N.C. State pushed Virginia to the back of the ACC postseason pecking order and insured at least a Hall of Fame Bowl bid for Duke.
"At one time we were worried, because we thought we might end up in the Independence Bowl," Thomas said. "We thought we were much better than going to the Independence Bowl or any bowl like that. We wanted to get what we justly deserved.
"Everybody knows that we were four points away from being 10-1, and a team like that doesn't deserve to go to the Independence Bowl. But I guess it was worth the wait to find out we're going to the Hall of Fame Bowl, because we're very content with that."