I’ve had a few people ask me about the Belk Bowl today at work – top question being what the hell is a Belk seriously I watched that game for three hours and I still have no idea but only shortly after that was tough loss huh (sips coffee) which isn’t really a question, I guess, but let’s roll with it.
So let’s get the easy stuff out of the way: yes, uh, tough loss. Yes, I would have preferred that Duke not fumble the ball away on the goal line for a sure TD, fumble it again inside the opponent’s ten needing only a field goal to win, and throw an interception on a final, potentially game-saving drive. That was probably less than ideal.
(I’d also have preferred a competent officiating crew, although I suppose the Belk Bowl got the zebras it deserved, and Cincy certainly caught the malodorous end of a few calls as well. Equal opportunity incompetence is hard to complain about.)
It was just about the Duke Footballingest way a team can piss away a football game. That’s also why I’m actually kinda happy about it.
Let me provide some perspective beyond the oft cited reminder that this was Duke’s first bowl game in eighteen years.
When I arrived on campus in the fall of 2001, us freshmen were – I believe this was on Sep. 1, 2001 – herded into a basic cheer practice as a tentative first step into fulfilling our destiny as the world’s most educated squadron of Robin Fickers. We were taught the fight songs, the basics. Hats were distributed – not for the football program, because I’m not sure those even existed, but leftover black-and-white 2001 National Basketball Championship hats from the spring before. We were then strongly encouraged to go out and support the football team.
That weekend, the football team got annihilated by FSU, 55-13.
They would not win a game my freshman year. In fact, the sophomores that year became juniors before they saw Duke football win a game. The team “broke through” in 2002 against a putrid East Carolina squad, snapping a nation’s-longest losing streak. All in all, during my time at Duke, the football program was 8-38. Bowl game? That the program is still in in the Bowl Series instead of Div 1-AA is a minor miracle.
I went on record prior to the game saying I thought Duke would get blasted by 30, so when they piled on the first 16 points – but for a goalline fumble and a blocked XP tantalizingly close to a two point recovery, the game would have been 25-3 twenty minutes in – yes, the loss was disappointing, because I had gotten my hopes up. But it was disappointing like somebody offering you $100 then deciding at the last minute to light the money on fire. Maybe that’s the problem with low expectations, but I was fine with it. (Especially in a year when a certain other Duke team we won’t mention nearly cost me sanity, knuckles, and drywall against Lehigh).
Also, if Will Monday’s Puntzilla didn’t make you happy, you have no soul.
When ESPN caught that spectacular “HELL YES IT’S DUKE FOOTBALL” out of Coach Cutcliffe’s mouth during the pre-game speech, it was true in every sense. Hell yes, it’s Duke Football, because they are going to execute a spectacularly poor end-game to snatch a nuclear disaster from the jaws of victory. But, finally, hell yes, this is an actual, proud, NCAA football team, and not just an excuse for the fratties to get blasted in the parking lot on a Saturday morning before weaving back to their dorms prior to kickoff.
I’m looking forward to next season. We’ll probably go 2-10.