Duke football is going bowling for the third consecutive season.
And nobody cares.
Not in the “Duke has a football team????” way, but in a jaded “What have you done for me lately” sort of way. And that is truly incredible.
Just think, three short years ago Duke football opened its season against FCS team Richmond and lost. There was no outrage at losing to a second-tier program, just pain for the few students in the crowd of having to watch Preseason All-American Will Snyderwine shank a 28-yard gimme of a kick with less than two minutes to play. It was so depressing that Snyderwine’s name became a verb replacing “to screw up”—as in “Bro, I totally Snyderwined that test, I think I’m going to fail.”
Students were in attendance for Duke’s second game of the season, but that was to see Stanford star Andrew Luck, not the Blue Devils. After heading to the locker rooms at half down just 17-7 despite Snyderwining two field goals—one from just 27 yards out—and backup Jeffrey Ijjas following suit on an attempt of his own, fans got what they showed up expecting, and Duke fell to 0-2.
As the Blue Devils Snyderwined away their season by losing close games against Wake Forest and No. 15 Virginia Tech, the sentiment around campus was—well, total ambivalence. Basketball season was around the corner and Austin Rivers was going to pair with a group of solid veterans to hang another banner in Cameron Indoor (note: Duke basketball would Snyderwine its season away also in a loss to Lehigh. It was a fun freshman year).
Then things started to turn around.
Blowout wins against Florida Atlantic, N.C. Central and Memphis gave the Blue Devils a 3-1 record to open the next season. Conner Vernon’s quest for history had Wallace Wade more full than it had been in years. When North Carolina came to town Oct. 20, the Duke faithful came out in droves. The stadium was packed as the Blue Devils Sniderwined away a double-digit fourth quarter lead. And it stayed packed when Sean Renfree threaded the needle and found a horizontal Jamison Crowder for the catch that loudly proclaimed that Duke football was back and made Duke football bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. The fans stormed the field and there wasn’t a person on campus who didn’t feel the excitement eminating from old Wallace Wade.
The Blue Devils would lose their last four regular season games to finish the year 6-6 and would Snyderwine another fourth quarter lead in the Belk Bowl to end the season with a sour taste in their mouths.
But that wasn’t all Duke football had to offer.
Despite losing stars in Vernon and Sean Renfree, Duke tore through its 2013 schedule and won 10 regular-season games to make another bowl. With the clinching game taking place in Blacksburg, Va., students and fans were glued to their televisions as Kelby Brown picked off Logan Thomas on the Hokies’ final drive and No. 16 Virginia Tech fell, ushering the Blue Devils to its second consecutive bowl.
Now, look at this week’s victory against Virginia. Homecoming weekend had even the veteran Duke fans milling about campus, and the tight score down to the wire should have had tensions high and anticipation higher.
But it didn’t.
Tight end David Reeves’ late touchdown catch generated some high-fives and applause from those at Wallace Wade, but winning was the expectation. When the clock showed zeros there was no elation in the crowd, even though Duke had just become bowl eligible for a program record three-straight seasons. Instead, there was merely tacit acknowledgement of the job being completed. As the team rushed toward the fans—not the other way around—most of the remaining fans rushed toward the exits.
This is not an indictment of the Blue Devil fans. In fact, it’s meant to praise them and David Cutcliffe’s program. In three short years, becoming bowl eligible went from Duke’s white whale to a foregone conclusion. Gone are the days when fans smiled at only losing by a touchdown, or at being close at halftime. And good riddance.
Talk of Duke being a football school is foolish, even just in jest. But football is on the map in Durham. Fans have come to expect wins, and now it’s up to Cutcliffe and his team to keep breaking barriers and give the fans something new to celebrate—the program’s first bowl win since 1961.
Just please don’t Snyderwine the big game again this season.
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