Those fans loyal enough to stick around for the end of Saturday's game against Miami got to experience the most awe-inspiring event in all of sports—storming a college football field.
Up 48-30 with just four minutes to play, the Blue Devils kicked off to the Hurricanes, and fans started their descent to the the wall, anticipating the postgame charge. Miami turned the ball over on downs with less than a minute left to play, and Duke supporters located where they would jump over the wall onto the field. The announcer reminded the crowd several times that only "authorized personnel" are allowed on the field after the game.
Anthony Boone took a knee and the clock started to tick down toward zero. The cheerleaders got out of the way, and armed policemen stood beside yellow-clad security guards facing a daunting task. Those brave souls charged with keeping fans off the field looked as outnumbered as the Spartans in 300 but without the resolve to hold back the tidal wave of Blue Devil faithful. The final seconds ran of the clock, and a thousand newly "authorized personnel" went over the wall and rushed onto the field. The celebration was on.
No one really knows what to do once they are on the field. The team rushes towards each other at the 50-yard line, and everyone else follows. State troopers encircle Coach Cutcliffe like he is the President of the United States, and general pandemonium sets in. Some people take pictures, some tear up the turf to take home as a souvenir and some brave souls might even go for the goalpost to tear it down—a tradition that colleges have put a stop to for safety reasons. Something akin to a rave starts up in the middle of the field, as fans swarm the players, jumping up and down and slapping them on the helmets and shoulder pads.
There is nothing as exciting as pouring over that wall and streaming onto the field with friends and strangers alike, everyone caught up in the excitement and bonded together by a common sense of euphoria. Duke fans have been lucky enough to participate in this unique celebration two years in a row.
Last year's game against North Carolina was the first time in a long time Blue Devil fans got to storm the field. The showdown with the Tar Heels ended in dramatic fashion. Jamison Crowder caught the game-winning touchdown pass with just seconds left, and the crowd took to the field in celebration of Duke's first bowl berth since 1994.
After the dust settles, a lot of people will say that they were the first one on the field following the victory. I am one of those people. After Crowder scored, I ran down to the front of the student section and took my place in the first row. As my legs dangled over the wall waiting to jump, a security guard politely asked me to use the stairs to access the field once the game finished. I don't know if he was required to say that, or if he was just naïve. Either way, using the stairs never even crossed my mind, or anyone else's. Where's the fun in calmly storming the field?
After last year's experience, people were ready this year. As the game came to a close Saturday, fans knew exactly what was about to happen and exactly how to do it. And it was a beautiful sight, watching everyone come together to celebrate the victory. For the second year in a row, the Blue Devils last home game ended in the best way imaginable.
In typical Duke football fashion, some students left the game after halftime to get ready for their Saturday night out, even though the Blue Devils went into the locker room with the lead. Some fans even left after the third quarter with Duke up by one. Those poor unfortunate souls missed out.
When I was 15 years old, I went to watch Kentucky play No. 1 LSU in Lexington, my hometown. The Wildcats knocked off the undefeated Tigers in three overtimes, and Kentucky fans stormed the field and tore down the goal posts. Although my dad probably would have let me go onto the field, I didn't. I stayed in my seat and watched one of the coolest things I've ever seen in sports. But to this day, my biggest regret as a football fan is that I didn't take to the field that night.
I told myself I would never make that mistake again.
Thankfully, Duke has given me two opportunities to repent for my sin. I will be a senior next year, and I might never get another opportunity to storm a football field.
I can live with that. Thanks to the incredible seasons the Blue Devils have put together the past two years, I will remember for the rest of my life the times I got to go over the wall and onto the field at Wallace Wade Stadium like a Civil War solider rushing into battle.
At the N.C. State game two weeks ago I heard chants of "football school" coming from the home crowd in Wallace Wade. Saturday I chanted it along with most of the stadium. We may not be a "football school" for a long time, or ever, but the Blue Devils gave us a chance to celebrate like it Saturday, and that's good enough for me.
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