Wallace Wade is my favorite college football stadium. There, I said it.
I’ll preface this ode/rant with saying I have only ever known Wallace Wade Stadium as a place with a winning tradition. In my two-and-a-half years of attending games, I have witnessed more Blue Devil victories than I have losses, and I understand how few people can say that.
So when I hear about the new renovations in place and listen to the excitement in the voices of Director of Athletics Kevin White and head coach David Cutcliffe, it makes me excited as well. But it also makes me nervous.
This past Saturday, as Duke took on Wake Forest on Senior Day, I was forced to crawl out from my room—where I was handling the editing and oversight of our in-game social media—and make the trek to ole Wally Wade to drop off some left-behind equipment for one of our photographers. I had not eaten dinner yet and it was only the third quarter, so I decided to grab some food and watch the Blue Devils dismantle the god-awful Demon Deacons.
I grabbed a seat—well, it was actually an entire row—at the top of the student section and enjoyed my $4 hotdog. As I sat there in 40-degree weather and watched Duke’s defense wreak havoc, I started to look around to the construction vehicles parked on the track, the soon-to-be demolished Finch-Yeager Building and the soon-to-be-crumbled wall surrounding the horseshoe. For the first time in my Wallace Wade attendance history, I actually understood why I enjoyed the stadium.
There’s a certain balance that the stadium has been able to find so that students can come, but unlike Cameron Indoor, they don’t have to stand and be intense for the entirety of the game. You can show up late and not worry about getting a seat—usually. You can go to the concessions stand or bathroom at any time and not worry about your seat being taken or rubbing against dozens of sweaty, painted-up Crazies on your way there.
My favorite memory came Oct. 20, 2012, when Jamison Crowder made his game-winning snag to take down North Carolina and make the Blue Devils bowl-eligible for the first time in the Class of 2018’s lifetime. The stadium, as personal as it is, was more alive that night than it will possibly ever be again.
As the students spilled over the wall to rush the field in celebration, I would venture to say it was one of the greatest moments in the past 50 years of Duke football fandom.
Unfortunately, these kind of memories do not come around that often in Wallace Wade, and it’s far from being the team’s fault.
The football team was putrid up until I arrived on campus—yes, I take partial credit—and not a lot of people attended games. Even now, with Duke being 19-7 in the past two seasons, the Blue Devils have only ever sold out the horseshoe on opening day and North Carolina gamedays, with the Miami game my sophomore year being the sole exception. Duke graduates just about 1,700 undergraduate students each year and is located around already somewhat-established football programs in N.C. State and North Carolina, so Triangle support is not overwhelming.
But people do not harass Duke for poor turnout like they do Miami and Sun Life Stadium because the Blue Devils have never been close to being as big as the Hurricanes once were, and Wallace Wade is dwarfed in comparison to Sun Life.
The stadium currently holds a maximum capacity of 33,941. In the past four years, the highest-attended year came in 2012, the year Crowder came up with that miracle snag and sent his team bowling. It kickstarted Duke’s reentrance into the college football world. But even after the monumental season, the attendance average dipped by nearly 2,000 the next year before finding a middle ground this season.
Here are the numbers to look at for yourself:
What Cutcliffe has been able to do with the program is spectacular, and I personally feel that not nearly enough students go out to games. Does everyone realize that the Blue Devils finished 9-3 in the regular season and people were disappointed? I know I should treat the team with respect and not view it as The Little Engine That Could like people have for three years, but that change in attitude is wild. And if people want to be disappointed about it, then they better start showing up next year in droves when Duke goes for a third-straight nine-win season.
If people continue to skip out on games, the renovations will be all for naught. White is a true businessman and I trust him to make the right decisions when it comes to these renovations. I’m just not sure if I believe the fans will respond as they should—but I hope I am just being pessimistic.
So in 2016, when the renovations are completed and the construction crews leave Duke’s campus—as odd of a thought as that is—here’s hoping Wallace Wade isn’t a beautiful ghost town. Here’s hoping the fans expect excellence and come out and stick around longer. Here’s to Wallace Wade, the old and the new.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.