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Students, others renew football fandom, at least for now

Since 2000, the University's plea for undergraduates to move their cars out of the Blue Zone parking lot before a home football game has been met with disgruntled curses and sarcastic mockery.

Tonight, almost a week after Duke's first victory in 23 tries, the request might not seem like that crazy of an idea.

Student support for the team has been climbing since the Blue Devils jumped out to a 10-0 advantage last Saturday night. As a downpour raged and whispers of an early lead spread around campus, the few hundred in attendance at gametime swelled to over 1,000 before students rushed the field to tear down the goal posts. About the same number, possibly more, are expected for Saturday's home game at 7 p.m. against the University of Louisville, athletics officials said.

"It was wonderful that as the game progressed, more and more students came out, even in the rain," said Director of Athletics Joe Alleva. "It's great to see that kind of enthusiasm from the fans. This football team is young and they really need it."

Students said the atmosphere in Wallace Wade Stadium may never come close to matching that of basketball games in Cameron Indoor Stadium, but they are excited about the possibility of trying to pack the student section and coming up with football-specific cheers Saturday.

"The team still has a lot of progress to make, but the fact that I could see a good football team in my four years here is just great," said sophomore Steve Coit. He added that even though a post-season bowl bid might be slightly out of reach, a four or five-win season would be a success in the minds of most students.

Fellow sophomore Buggs Carll, a native of Columbia, S.C.--home of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks--said he is experienced with a team's sudden reversal of fortunes.

"[South Carolina] had an 0-and-22 streak going and when they finally won they tore down the goal posts, too," Carll said. "It definitely created a new frenzy in Columbia because the football fan population was in a citywide state of depression."

He added that Duke's fan support could experience a similar reemergence this season, although it would be significantly more difficult without a famed head coach such as the Gamecocks' Lou Holtz.

"I'm glad to see [head coach] Carl Franks finally get a break, though," Carll said.

Franks, for one, is glad to see the students supporting the team in such numbers.

"That made me feel real good about my school, the way they came out there and wanted to celebrate with our players and be involved with the football team," he said. "And we know we need to go out there and give them a reason to come out there and get involved.... They're a fabulous student body."

Alumni and local Duke fans are also expected to help pack the stadium. Alleva estimated an attendance similar to the 23,276 of the ECU game, although this time he thought the majority would be Duke fans.

Scott Yakola, director of sports promotions, said it is too early to tell if there will be a big push from out-of-town fans for tickets.

"The days in which you'll notice a big increase are Friday and Saturday," when road-trippers tend to arrive in Durham, Yakola added.

Although excited about the Louisville game, students, alumni and local fans were cautioned to keep things in perspective.

"This is only one game," said Alleva. "There are 11 more to play. It's a long season."

Robert Samuel contributed to this story.

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