On Monday, head coach Mike Krzyzewski was named a co-Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated. The esteemed honor, given every year to the “athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement,” is the latest in a long number of accolades for the coach, who has won an Olympic gold medal, the FIBA World Championship, a national championship and the Division I win record over the past three years. He’s also bowled a 300, won “Dancing With the Stars” and notched two holes-in-one during this run—I think.
Monday’s honor not only represented K’s first time winning the award, but also the first time any Dukie has won the honor. This got me thinking—with the long, illustrious history Duke athletics has produced, surely there have been some Blue Devils who have been robbed of Sportsman of the Year. Right?
1942. Sports Illustrated champion: N/A. Robbed Blue Devil: Wallace Wade
I’m cheating a bit here. Sports Illustrated began publication in 1954, so there was no real robbed Dukie in 1942 (although one has to think Joe Dimaggio would be doing the robbing that year). Wade still deserves to be on this list for saving a major college football bowl game, the 1942 Rose Bowl.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Dec. 1941, Rose Bowl event organizers were skittish about playing the Rose Bowl on the West Coast, a region of the country that seemed poised to become a battleground at any moment. Wade and Duke offered then-Duke Stadium as a setting for the game against Oregon State, allowing the game, a 20-16 Duke loss, to be played. Without this invitation, it’s assumed the game would have been cancelled.
Oh, and there’s this—after the loss, Wade signed up for military service at the age of 49. He ended up seeing intense action on the European theater, fighting at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge and winning a Bronze Star. You didn’t screw with Wallace Wade.
1961. Sports Illustrated champion: Jerry Lucas. Robbed Blue Devil: Art Heyman
Heyman is getting the nod here for two reasons. First, he was indirectly responsible for kicking off the Duke-Carolina rivalry on Feb. 4, 1961, when, after fouling Tar Heel Larry Brown, Heyman started a 10-minute brawl that included the combined rosters of the Duke and North Carolina teams and several cheerleaders. This is widely considered the moment when Duke and North Carolina’s intense rivalry extended from football to basketball. And it makes for one hell of a way to start the rivalry.
The second reason why Heyman deserved to win? He punched Larry Brown! How many Knicks fans want to do that?
1979. Sports Illustrated champions: Terry Bradshaw and Willie Stargell. Robbed Blue Devil: 1979 men’s basketball team
On Feb. 24, Duke and North Carolina played each other in a game that Duke led 7-0 at the half. That is not a typo—Dean Smith ran a four-corners offense throughout the entire period, not allowing the superior Duke team to take possession except on several rare plays. In the second half, the Tar Heels thankfully abandoned this approach, allowing a real basketball game to occur. Duke won 47-40.
The abysmal game led to two positive developments. It spearheaded the charge to install a shot clock in collegiate basketball, allowing basketball fans to not have to contemplate leaving the sport forever during interminable first halves like that one. And, it led to this quote by Duke coach Bill Foster: “I thought Naismith invented basketball, not Deansmith.”
1984: Sports Illustrated champions: Edwin Moses and Mary Lou Retton. Robbed Blue Devil: Tom Butters
Without Tom Butters, there might not be a K.
In 1980, Butters, the athletic director, went out on a limb to hire Coach K, and after three seasons, it didn’t look like his experiment was going to work out. Duke had gone 38-47 in Krzyzewski’s first three seasons, Iron Dukes were calling on the athletic director to fire the young K and even Krzyzewski himself was worried for his job when Butters called him into his office on the morning after a 31-point loss to Wake Forest in 1984.
Instead of firing the coach, though, Butters offered him a five-year contract extension. The rest is history.
1989. Sports Illustrated champion: Greg LeMond. Robbed Blue Devil: Steve Spurrier
If the past 20 or so years were any indication, winning an ACC championship with the Duke football team is one of the toughest achievements in sports. Kudos, Ol’ Ball Coach.
1992. Sports Illustrated champion: Arthur Ashe. Robbed Blue Devil: Christian Laettner
Laettner had quite the year. He cemented his legacy as one of college basketball’s all-time greatest players with his fourth straight Final Four, second straight national championship and the greatest shot in basketball history. He also made the Dream Team as the only collegiate player on the squad. (Now would be a good time to put that I am not discounting the achievements of any honoree—especially Ashe.)
2007. Sports Illustrated champion: Brett Favre. Robbed Blue Devil: Gerald Henderson
Tyler Hansbrough had it coming.
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