Sunday, August 31, 2008

Who is This Team?! And Where Have They Been Hiding?!

George and I spent last evening on the Duke campus, mostly in Wallace Wade Stadium, for Duke's footbal home opener against James Madision University. Duke's football program has been pretty lackluster for too many years, but with the hiring of new head coach David Cutliffe from the University of Tennessee and the University of Mississippi (between those two football programs, he coached both Manning brothers), we Duke football fans have been hopeful.

Before the game, George and I went to an employee appreciation picnic (which included free football game tickets for up to six people to encourage families to come, face painting and a few other things for kids), which had a great turnout. The food was standard picnic fare--cole slaw, potato salad, hot dogs, bar-b-que, and what I heard were veggie burgers (no more left when I got up to the front, so I had cole slaw and potato salad for supper, not the healthiest, but oh well! It was still fun!).

We also got to watch the football team's new tradition of marching from the Chapel to the football building, amidst a good crowd of fans. (We were near the football area, so I don't know what it was like between the Chapel and the area near Cameron Indoor Stadium and Wallace Wade Stadium, where we were.) They were led by Coach Cutliffe, and followed by members of the marching band and the cheerleaders. What impressed me most about this new tradition is that Cutliffe and the players were all dressed in suits and looked very classy! They were holding their shoulders high, most with big grins but a few with their game faces on already. Many shook hands with or gave high fives to fans in the front of the crowd. It looked like a team with a different attitude!

George and I ended up inside the stadium way early, but just relaxed and enjoyed watching the stadium slowly but surely fill with fans. It turned out to be one of the best crowds I've seen for a football game at Duke in a long, long time! The players came out for some pregame warm ups, and it was impressive to see everyone out there. About an hour before the game was supposed to start, two parachute jumpers landed on the football field. We were impressed, but wondered why they were jumping in the middle of warmups by both teams. It turns out that they landed in the wrong field! They were supposed to land at the UNC-McNeese St. game a few miles away--it happened to start an hour before our game (was supposed to start)! Oops! Read more about the wayward parachute jump here.

The game started about an hour and a half late due to weather, but we were relieved that it wasn't cancelled. (George and I bought ponchos to wait out the rain.) The players and football staff came through the tunnel flanked by fireworks (see left), but the big inflated football helmet they used to run through onto the field was gone. (Now that I think about it, that big helmet thing was a little cheesy!)

Here's a sampling of the home crowd--lots of Duke blue! It looked like a big crowd of ticket purchasers, in addition to the relocated student section on the west side of the stadium (about time!), and the general admission section which included all the employees who came out. They offered prizes for student living groups with the best attendance, as well as raffle prizes for grad students and employees who swiped their IDs to register.
Before the game started, Coach Cutliffe came over to the student section, I guess to thank them for coming out in such great numbers. Nice gesture. He seems to have worked on (and gotten) their support. The game finally started around 8:30, and here are the Duke and James Madison teams about to start the first play of the new season.

Duke made the first touch down of the game, was ahead at the half, and won the game 31-7! (Left is the final scoreboard.) I really enjoyed watching them play, and even George (not a sports fan in general) had a good time. They ran the ball well, started getting their passing game together, kicked very well, snagged some interceptions, and made several fourth down conversions. The total package was impressive for the Duke football program.

At the end of the game, many of the players came over in front of the student section to high five and cheer with the students. Nice, very different from many previous games of late, where the players have walked dejectedly toward the locker rooms after a loss. In the background, the goal post was brought down with long pole thingies by staff members (same with the other end). Cutliffe had asked that students not storm the field for the goal posts this time, since he wants everyone to start expecting Duke wins. Goal post hopping, he said, could wait for a bigger game.

After the victorious game, fireworks ensued.

1 comment:

Lenore said...

What?! Duke actually won?