The independent news organization of Duke University

The comeback kids of Duke football

A few short years ago, the idea of a packed student section at Wallace Wade Stadium cheering on a Blue Devils team competing for bowl eligibility would likely have elicited laughter. But now, for the first time in 18 years, the football team has the last laugh. Saturday’s hard-fought victory serves as an inspirational reminder of values that have characterized Duke athletics for generations. Specifically, we are struck by the efforts of the team itself, a community that was willing to give it a chance and the continued contribution of athletics to our campus culture.

First, we must congratulate Coach David Cutcliffe and the football team on commanding the respect and admiration of the entire campus community. Needless to say, this did not come easily. Just five years ago, the football team won exactly one game over the course of a whole season. In the end, it was not a new tailgating policy or some sort of team marketing effort that got fans to pack the stadium for Saturday’s victory. Instead, it was an inspirational turnaround in team performance that could only have been the result of determination on the part of its players and coaches.

But the victory would have been far less meaningful without the resounding support offered by the campus community. In the face of several years of teams that came close to bowl eligibility only to suffer consecutive defeats at the end of the season, cynical fans could have been forgiven for thinking that this year’s squad would suffer a similar fate. But, by showing up in spades Saturday night and creating an atmosphere unseen in Wallace Wade anytime in recent memory, fans demonstrated their willingness to believe that this year could be different. Cutcliffe has repeatedly pointed to increased fan participation as a key element in the recent uptick in team performance, and our community has good reason to be proud of having now created a new tradition in Wallace Wade.

Finally, we would be remiss not to recognize the enduring contribution of athletics to our school’s sense of self. Of course, a single win does not change the relative importance of athletics in relation to other facets of campus life, whether it be academics or arts. That is a discussion for another day. But the sight of fans packing the stadium and then storming the field in support of a common cause was a certain reminder that athletics and school spirit remain an integral component of what makes Duke what it is.

There are lots of things to be cynical about at Duke. But we note that a whole host of recent community triumphs—the football team, a Nobel Prize, changing administrative policy and greater global academic recognition—came as the result of persistent hard work. In some cases, success was almost unthinkable a short while ago. But perceptions change quickly. No one ever got anywhere at Duke by harping on the (relatively few) things we do poorly. The winners here are the ones who ignore the cynics and press on.

And for reminding us of this important lesson, we thank and congratulate the now bowl-eligible Duke Blue Devils football team.

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