Why this post? Quite honestly I just want to get my emotions out about my favorite team in the entire world - Duke Football.
Believe it or not, I have been a Duke football fan for nearly my entire life - well at least from the first game I went to when I was about 6 years old. I had been being raised to be a Northwestern Wildcat fan since those were the season tickets my dad had gotten for us in order to have something fun and different to do every other weekend. I vividly remember there being one occasion in which we got to the game and I was decked out in my purple and white colors for Northwestern. I looked over at my father and saw he was wearing a blue sweatshirt, the same color as the other team. When I asked him why this was, he explained to me that Northwestern was playing Duke that day, and that when he was younger he had gone to Duke (he also told me not to worry since Duke was probably going to get their butts kicked - and they did). In any event, that was the first day I decided to start rooting for Duke football.
Allow me to also point out that without any exaggeration, Duke football has historically been known to have one of the worst football programs in the United States. Except for a rare bright spot here or there, Duke almost always ends up at the bottom of their division and has been consistently ranked as one of the 10 worst Division I programs. Long story short, Duke football has been a very, very, very difficult team to follow.
A number of years ago, even before going to Duke to get my MBA was on my radar, I started to tell people that there would come a day that Duke football was good again (think Duke in 1938 good), and that I would be one of probably only a few people in the world that could claim to have been a die-hard fan. I was proud to route for the underdog, for a team that no one paid any attention to, for a program that I hoped more than anything would eventually win a championship - I mean seriously, it couldn't be any worse of a drought than what the Cubs have been going through... right?
As fate would have it, I ended up going to graduate school at Duke. I missed only one Duke home football game in my two years at the program, and that was only because I decided to return home to Chicago for Thanksgiving one of the two years. You honestly would not believe how empty Wallace Wade stadium was during the games that were played. Thousands of students would pre-game in the parking lots before the game, and an honest to God 99% of them would simply stay in the lots or go home after the game started. But then a beautiful thing started to happen during my first year. The team started.... sorta winning? I say sorta because they looked awful even in the games they did win. For example, they'd be up by 21 with about 6 minutes left and would end up having to kick a field goal with :17 seconds left that would inevitably hit a post and somehow rickshe in for the win. Don't get me wrong, I was screaming my head off and going nuts during these games, even if I was one of about 100 people in the student section doing so.
With the exception of the Duke vs. UNC game in which Duke won and clinched bowl eligibility, most would leave a little after half-time, and the stadium was never more than half-full, but there were more people there. Duke would go on to lose their final 4 games, but finished at 6-6, bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. The Blue Devils were finally going bowling, and I felt on top of the world. A funny thing started to happen towards the last half of that season, people started showing up to the games. Duke would eventually go on to play Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl and lose a heartbreaking game in the last :44 seconds 34-48. The silver lining is that the game was somewhat back-and-forth and exciting until literally the last minute. I didn't think I could be more heartbroken... that is until the following season.
The next year (2013-14 season) proved to be one of the best seasons in Duke football history. Notable wins included beating #16 Virginia Tech and #24 Miami. Duke went on to have its first 10 win season after going 10-2 and breaking into both the AP and Coaches pole for the first time since 1994. Duke would go on to get hammered in the ACC Championship against #1 FSU - this came as no real surprise as it was incredibly exciting just to have made it there. Despite the loss, Duke would still go on to play Johnny Manziel and his #20 Texas A&M Aggies in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. To make a long story short, Duke took a 21 point lead into the half. The second half can only be described as death by a thousand cuts. I watched as the Aggies cut down the lead and eventually took the lead with 3:33 remaining - Duke was unable to regain the lead. To date, this was the most heart-breaking sports experience I have every witnessed, second to none.
So here I am, brusied and bloodied as a fan that has spent the majority of their lives rooting for a team that historically hasn't been very good. Even now with the team showing some promise for the first time in a long time it still feels hollow as a result of dropping a pair of bowl games that arguably should have been won by my Blue Devils. In reality, that's a glass half-empty way to look at it. The team has undergone a renaissance under Coach Cutcliffe, and if the last two seasons are any indication, they're only going to get better going forward. So as every summer/fall starts for me, Let's Go Duke!