2012 was an exciting year for Duke sports and two plays stood out to us as the most exciting of the year. Today, two of our writers will make the case for why each was the most exciting of 2012. Earlier, Jacob Levitt opined for Austin Rivers' game-winning buzzer-beater against North Carolina.
Here, Andy Margius makes the case for Jamison Crowder's touchdown catch from Sean Renfree against North Carolina that gave the Blue Devils their first bowl berth in 18 years. Before Margius makes his point, here is the video of the catch at Wallace Wade Stadium:
Two words: Victory Bell. That is the trophy that now resides within the Yoh Center for the first time since 2003, and for only the second time since 1989.
Jamison Crowder’s heroic touchdown grab rang in a new era for Duke football. As such, there is little doubt that it is the play of 2012 for Blue Devil sports supporters, well beyond the importance of a single win off a single jump shot. And I’ll give you five reasons why:
- Rivalry Victory 24 Years in the Making
The backdrop Crowder seemed to come straight off a Hollywood set. The perennial loser—plagued by years of misfortune and squandered opportunities—found itself with a chance to beat its archrival. Yet after relinquishing a lead and giving up an improbable touchdown, all hope seemed to be lost. Cue the lights, camera and stage for Sean Renfree and Jamison Crowder.
Driving the length of the field to face fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line, the Blue Devils had one final chance with just 13 seconds left in the game. In traffic and against two defenders, going completely airborne and coming down on his neck, Crowder sacrificed his body for the team and refused to let the ball go.
The touchdown not only cemented bowl eligibility, but was also a victory over archrival North Carolina. Putting the bowl ramifications aside, this was still the biggest win for the program since a rivalry victory in 2003, and the first in Wallace Wade since 1988.
Time and experience contribute to the significance of sporting rivalries and upsets. Rivers’ shot ended a ten-month hiatus in Duke celebrating victory at the Dean Dome. Crowder’s avenged a 24-year drought of the Blue Devils winning in Wallace Wade. If time truly is a factor, then Crowder takes the cake.
- First Bowl Eligibility Since 1994
Along with ending the Wallace Wade drought, Crowder’s catch cemented Duke bowl eligibility for the first time since 1994. The 18-year gap between bowl visits was the longest experienced by any BCS major-conference football team in the country.
Although five other victories contributed to ending the bowl drought and four games remained on the schedule to earn eligibility following the Tar Heels, Crowder’s catch essentially saved the season for the Blue Devils. The remaining games following North Carolina all loomed large. Two were against ranked opponents in Florida State and Clemson, and two were against run-heavy teams in Georgia Tech and Miami. Many thought the game against North Carolina was the best chance for Duke to win its sixth game of the year.
With hindsight confirming these beliefs, Crowder’s catch looks all the better. If he drops that pass, Duke has a five-win season and ends one game short of eligibility.
The Blue Devils are great at basketball. They always have been, and hopefully always will be. Therefore Rivers didn’t increase the potential of the program or save an entire season. However Crowder’s catch may be the turning point in the program for the Blue Devils, and it definitively brought Duke to the post season. There is no question that the long-term significance of Crowder’s catch has greater potential.
- Home Victory
Beyond the obvious excitement that both plays entail, Crowder’s is notable for being at home, in Durham, in front of our fans, in on our own stadium. TV was not necessary to watch the Blue Devils pull the upset. Thus when the clock stuck zero and pandemonium ensued, it was the entire student body—not just the athletes themselves—who celebrated victory on the field.
Rushing the court or field after a rivalry victory is a dream for many college sports fans. The fact that Crowder made it a reality for the students at Duke has to give him bonus points.
- Is No. 10 Beating No. 5 an Upset?
While Rivers’ shot was impressive and fun to watch to say the least, the basketball victory was not nearly as shocking as the football upset. Duke is considered a basketball school, and the Blue Devils were a top-10 team going into the Dean Dome. Although Duke dug itself into a hole and had to overcome a 10-point deficit at the end of the game, it was not like the Blue Devils were the proverbial David up against Goliath.
Rivers was a nationally ranked high school recruit with a propensity for big shots. Crowder was a three-star recruit who consistently improved to become one of Duke’s best receivers. The shock of seeing the Duke basketball team beat North Carolina is not nearing as great as that of the football team. Plus when you play two basketball contests a year versus just one in football, it makes that single game all the more crucial.
- Frequency of Football Versus Basketball Drama
How many times does a team convert on a winning touchdown pass in the last twenty seconds? And how often does that happen within the context of a football rivalry?
Crowder’s catch is something that will more likely than not only been seen once in our lifetimes. A shot like Rivers will be seen again. That sense of frequency certainly adds to the memorability of Crowder’s catch, as well as the memorability of the 2012 Duke football squad.
Ultimately Crowder’s grab has the potential to herald in a new era for Duke football, and provided the Blue Devils with one of its most memorable seasons in recent history. Though I will never forget where I was or what I was doing during either moment, the significance of Crowder’s catch and the rarity of the feat ultimately give the edge to Duke football over basketball. Sorry Coach K, this one goes to Coach Cut.