If there’s one thing you circle on your calendar this week, it should be at 7 p.m. Friday.
No, I’m not talking about a dinner reservation or a party or whatever else you might have had planned. Clear your schedules for a night at Wallace Wade Stadium.
It has been more than two decades since Duke football began a season 5-0. How did the Blue Devils follow up on that start? Two more wins before stumbling to a 1-4 finish.
This team, however, is not likely to crumble in the same way. Duke will still have to overcome a trio of top-25 teams remaining on its schedule, but then-coach Fred Goldsmith—who has just 40 career Division I wins to his name—pales in comparison to David Cutcliffe.
And don’t forget who is coming to town—a Miami team that snatched a win from the Blue Devils in Durham just two years ago. If the knee being down is still seared in your memory, this is the opportunity to wipe those nightmares away in the span of a few hours.
It’s certainly not gone from the minds of the Duke players that were on the field that fateful Halloween night 2015.
“It was a real gut-punch,” redshirt senior center Austin Davis told me. “I remember the day after it was disbelief.”
Davis, fellow offensive lineman Gabe Brandner and Cutcliffe, too, would all say the same thing—that night was a game they have long put to bed.
But sophomore Mark Gilbert, who didn’t play in that contest, was in the stands as a recruit, and he admitted that those memories remain “a chip on their shoulder.” I am confident that he isn’t the only one who feels that way.
This game matters.
It matters because this is the first chance to see if this Blue Devil team is on par with the squad that won the Coastal Division in 2013 and blew out a ranked Hurricane team at home to do so. Miami is no cupcake, especially with a potential All-ACC first-teamer in running back Mark Walton, but a win would catapult Duke into the top 25, and maybe even the top 20.
It matters because Daniel Jones is exceeding expectations, and he alone is worth the price of admission. Remember two years ago when he was redshirting and it was Thomas Sirk plunging in for the go-ahead score against the Hurricanes? This kid is the real deal, and even though Jones' numbers the last two weeks have not been as eye-popping as they were against N.C. Central and Northwestern, the development, maturity and leadership of a co-captain of a 4-0 team are there.
It matters because Duke’s defense is playing lights out. Go check the ESPN defensive efficiency rankings. Is it Georgia, Michigan, Alabama, Auburn or Clemson atop the list? No. They’re all in the top 10, yet it’s the Blue Devils who are No. 1.
And while you’re at it, name a better linebacking duo than Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris—two guys that, although infrequently mentioned in big-time college football circles, have been among the best in the nation both this year and last.
Perhaps most importantly, it matters because this is Duke’s biggest home game this season. The lights will be on Wallace Wade Friday, and with ESPN televising, the Blue Devils will have as big an audience as any.
But it goes beyond just the players on the field and those watching from their couches all across the country—Duke fans have a role in this all. The team lists an average of 26,000 fans per game through its first three contests.
Those numbers, however, are beyond deceiving. I would know.
Not only have I been at every home football game this season, but each of the last two years as well. I’ve seen packed houses against North Carolina last November and Miami two years back. But I’ve also seen days like the last two home contests when there are maybe 500 students at kickoff and less than half of that after halftime—even when the result of the game is still a toss-up.
I get it. This is a basketball school and will always be one. Nothing riles me up more than packing into Cameron, but if there were ever a time to show your Blue Devil pride, it’s now. Duke’s fall sports teams have just six combined losses thus far.
Am I calling out those who don’t regularly show up for football games? Yes, but I do not care who you are. This Friday night is about more than football. It’s about donning your blue and white and being a part of something bigger than yourself.
I want Wallace Wade Stadium rocking. And I hope you’ll choose to join me in making that happen.
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."