A couple weeks ago, former Duke offensive lineman Matt Rumsey changed his Facebook profile picture to one of him in his Blue Devil uniform.
“I promise you I’m not the only one that’s done that,” said Rumsey, who played from 2004-07 at center and started for three seasons. “For me, it's just a way of trying to draw attention to the success of this year’s team. I could probably name another 10 or 15 guys who I played with who have done similar things.”
Duke went 4-42 in Rumsey’s four years, leaving just before David Cutcliffe took over as head coach. This year’s team is 10-2—winning as many games as the program did from 2000-07—and is about to play in the ACC Championship game against No. 1 Florida State.
And there may be no group of people more excited about this year’s team than the former players.
“All of us were extremely proud to play at Duke, and always have been. Is it nice to have people talking about the program? Sure,” former offensive lineman Cameron Goldberg said. “I would never shy away from saying I am a Duke Blue Devil. But it is fun that people know about it now.”
Goldberg played at Duke from 2005-08, so his last year was Cutcliffe’s first year in Durham. He texted with Cutcliffe after last Saturday’s win against North Carolina, offering his congratulations. The team won four games during Goldberg’s senior season, and he could immediately see the change the new head coach was effecting.
Goldberg said the one thing he really wants to get his hands on is the Victory Bell because the team never beat the Tar Heels in his time there.
The process of developing a squad like this year’s, an athletic and prepared one that has consistently dominated teams in the fourth quarter, began then.
“He was like, ‘Oh my god you guys are the fattest, softest team I’ve ever seen,’” said Goldberg, who has worked a tech company the last four years after trying to make an NFL roster. “He really dedicated himself to getting us in shape, and that’s absolutely why we won some of the games we won in the beginning of the season: we outworked them.”
Zack Asack, who graduated in 2010 and started at quarterback on the 2005 team, likened Cutcliffe to a drill sergeant, demanding strict discipline of his players, which gave the team exactly what it needed: “A kick in the butt.”
Since Goldberg began working in New York City, he has been a part of alumni outreach efforts to get people to watch the games together. Basketball, he said is easy to get people together for. The football watch parties started as just him and a few other people, but they’ve grown with this year’s success.
Asack now works as an associate producer for the ACC Digital Network and follows the team closely, cutting up the Duke highlights after every game. Some of the positive changes he has seen are schematic.
Others are less tangible, with breaks falling Duke’s way like in the win against then-No. 23 Miami when kicker Ross Martin’s field goal rattled home after hitting the post.
“God’s a Duke fan. He really is,” Asack said.
Asack said even in his era, the players went into every game thinking they had a good chance to win, even if it was against the ACC’s best, but the consistent losing could take its toll.
“The old squads, I hate to say it, but I think we were just hoping we’d keep it a close game,” he said. “But this team is fighting for the wins, and they expect to win.”
Rumsey now works at an industrial supply company in Atlanta and watches the games with a few other former Blue Devils in the area. He said he has seen other institutional changes, with the program now receiving more support from the University financially. He added that the University has done a great job keeping former players involved, helping them get tickets and stay connected via email.
Rumsey said another former player posted on Facebook about people asking him if he were jealous of this year’s team.
The response: Absolutely not.
“It was never a question of if it could happen, it was a question of when it was going to happen.” Rumsey said. “We’re not the ones on the field, we’re not the ones in practice but [we] certainly do associate ourselves with it, still to this day.”