Duke might not be a prototypical football school. A Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium may be lacking in terms of atmosphere. But there is one thing the Blue Devils knows better than anyone else—a rivalry.
The anatomy of a rivalry has no recipe. You can’t add one part heart and two parts aggression to create the unmistakable tension that two rivals share when they take to the field. Sometimes a rivalry is a result of geographic proximity. Other times one misstep, botched call or altercation can completely change the way that two teams approach one another. Sometimes all it takes is for two teams to play enough close contests against one another that emotions boil over.
The Blue Devils make up one half of the greatest rivalry in college sports, but although Tobacco Road is the epicenter of the college basketball world, there has been very little rivalry in football over the past two decades. Duke football has beaten North Carolina just once in the teams’ past 22 meetings and hopes to win the Victory Bell for the first time since 2003 when the Blue Devils and Tar Heels square off on Oct. 20.
But as most Duke fans shift their gaze toward Chapel Hill in search of the Blue Devils’ fiercest foes, they fail to see that another rivalry—this time on the gridiron—has developed right under their noses. Another chapter of this rivalry will unfold this weekend when Duke travels to take on Wake Forest at BB&T Field. On paper, the relationship between the Blue Devils and Demon Deacons appears just as one-sided on the gridiron as that of Duke and North Carolina. Wake Forest has won 12 consecutive games against the Blue Devils, and it last lost to Duke on Nov. 13, 1999. Yes, that means Wake Forest has not lost a game to Duke in the 21st century.
The last time the Blue Devils knocked off the Demon Deacons, Bill Clinton was the President of the United States, the average price of gas was $1.25 per gallon and spots in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 charts were occupied by the likes of Santana’s “Smooth,” “Mambo No. 5” by Lou Bega and of course, “Crazy” by Britney Spears. Freshman running back Jela Duncan had just turned six-years old.
So if Duke hasn’t defeated Wake Forest since before Y2K almost happened, how has this one-sided relationship become a rivalry? Because nearly every meeting between the Blue Devils and Demon Deacons since Duke’s last victory has been a game to remember. Five of the last six contests have been decided by fewer than seven points. Two seasons ago, the run-and-gun Demon Deacons squeaked out a 54-48 victory over Duke in Winston-Salem. Last year, Wake Forest came to Wallace Wade Stadium and seemed to be in firm control of the contest, taking a 17-3 lead into halftime. The Blue Devils stormed back in the second half and scored 20 unanswered points. With flawless defensive play, Duke appeared poised to break the streak before a missed tackle on a screen pass turned into a 65-yard game-winning touchdown for the Demon Deacons.
As the Blue Devils prepared to travel across the country to face a ranked Stanford team three weeks ago, head coach David Cutcliffe had no problem reminding his team that Duke had not beaten a ranked opponent on the road in 41 years. With another daunting streak on the line, Cutcliffe wants his team to be aware of the history as a means of motivation.
“The streak has definitely been mentioned. We all know the streak and we plan on breaking it,” redshirt senior safety Jordon Byas said. “We’ve just been trying to focus on our game plan and focus on what we can do.”
The fabled losing streak to Wake Forest may come to an end this weekend, though the Demon Deacons could just as easily pull out a gut-wrenching win to extend their supremacy over Duke by another year. But when these two teams share the gridiron, it’s something that deserves to be appreciated in person. With the new additions of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, the map of the ACC continues to expand, but a trip to Winston-Salem, N.C. takes less than two hours by car. All rhetoric of why it’s important to support your school aside, if the past decade has been any indication, this game is going to be something you have to see to believe.
So take a trip to Winston-Salem this weekend, you might be surprised at what you find there. Not only will you get to witness one of the most underrated rivalries in ACC football firsthand, but if the Blue Devils make due on their promises and break the infamous streak against Wake Forest, it might be exactly the victory this program needs to topple another daunting streak later this season.