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. We begin with Austin Rivers' buzzer-beating, game-winning shot against North Carolina on Feb. 8, The Miracle on Franklin Street.
Check back later today for the case of why Jamison Crowder's catch against North Carolina, which gave Duke the lead and ultimately its first bowl bid in 18 years, was the most memorable play of 2012.
Before The Chronicle's Jacob Levitt makes his argument for the Rivers shot, here is a video of it:
Sean Renfree’s game-winning pass to Jamison Crowder against was a miraculous, program-shifting moment that will live on in Duke lore, and rushing the field that night may well have been the highlight of my year. But Austin Rivers’s shot at the buzzer was still the more memorable moment for three reasons:
- Schadenfreude: As in any good rivalry, at least half the thrill of victory comes from the opponent’s agony in defeat. This game was no exception. The Daily Tar Heel, North Carolina's student newspaper, really did a great job of capturing just how distressing the moment was for the baby blue faithful. Check out the video... The fun really starts at about 2:15!
Add in Zeller’s infamous tip-in of Ryan Kelly’s shot, and you have one of the greatest moments in the history of gloating. If Rivers fails to knock down his clutch shot—over Zeller, in case you needed reminding—everyone would forget Zeller’s heroism that day.
- Duke and North Carolina are still basketball schools: Duke football has made enormous strides, but that cannot take the place of nearly three decades of extended excellence. Likewise, North Carolina’s basketball program gets a lot more attention (from everyone except NCAA investigators) than its football program does. As a result, highlight shows will replay Rivers’s shot for the ages as a great moment in a storied rivalry. Fair or not, Renfree and Crowder’s miracle took place on a smaller stage.
This is also a large contributor to the Schadenfreude factor. The Tar Heels’ supporters shrugged off the football loss in a way that they could not for the basketball loss. SportsCenter replayed Austin Rivers’s shot over and over again, pounding it into the mind of its viewers. The Blue Devils’ football win did not receive the same attention, making it easier for bitter North Carolina fans to forget.
- The context within the respective seasons and careers of the teams and individuals involved: Renfree’s pass to Crowder came in the middle of the best Duke football season since most Duke students have been able to talk, and it was chock-full of memorable moments. The team defeated Wake Forest for the first time this millennium; Conner Vernon set ACC career marks in both catches and yards; the team appeared in a bowl game. Those other shining moments do not diminish Crowder’s catch, but they do make it stand out a bit less.
Rivers’s shot, by contrast, came just as everyone was losing hope in Duke basketball. The team had lost two of its last three home games and looked lackluster in several of its wins, the players had just voted to ban social media, and more people were focusing on the school selling tickets to the student section than the game itself. Rivers’s shot gleamed in comparison to the news from the weeks before and after it.
The same can be said of the players’ careers. Renfree will leave Duke this year as one of the program’s most decorated passers ever, and he was essential to Vernon’s record-breaking career. Most importantly, he was part of a senior class that revitalized the program. Crowder, too, will be remembered for far more than his last-second catch. As a true sophomore, he gained more than 1,000 yards receiving and scored eight-touchdowns, including the first 99-yard score in Duke history. With two more years left, Duke fans can look forward to more highlights from the explosive receiver.
Rivers, on the other hand, left after one year, and that was good but not great. The shot over Zeller is the one memory people will have from last basketball season, and it's a helluva memory—a Duke-UNC game has never ended on game-winning buzzer-beater before. Ironically, this makes the moment more memorable than one great play in the careers of two players who made such a tremendous impact on their program.