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A Former Player Ruminates On The Miami Mess

Interesting thoughts from a former Blue Devil who has enjoyed Duke's rise.

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Oct 31, 2015; Durham, NC, USA; Miami Hurricanes running back Mark Walton (1) looks to get around Duke Blue Devils defensive tackle Carlos Wray (98) as he runs the ball in their game at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Oct 31, 2015; Durham, NC, USA; Miami Hurricanes running back Mark Walton (1) looks to get around Duke Blue Devils defensive tackle Carlos Wray (98) as he runs the ball in their game at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

What is there to say about what happened in Wallace Wade on Halloween night? I guess I can find some words.

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When there is a major sports news story I often think about larger society and how that culture and the culture within major sports parallel in the Unites States.

In larger society, how do we typically deal with blatant wrong-doing? How does the general public react when they see first-hand undeniable evidence of wrong doing and thus know someone or something was been entirely and absolutely wronged?

There is typically some sort of reaction or a decision, one that most often goes in  favor of the party that incurred this injustice. That said, there is that small percentage of instances when the victim that deserves more gets stuck with far less.

And with that Duke football is, and will likely unfortunately forever be, a victim of an unresolved injustice on the night of October, 31st, 2015 in Durham, NC.

As a former player and fan I have officially decided to digest the atrocious decision that was made to award a victory to Miami last Saturday night. Not that it will ever be right, or that I will ever be ok with the decided result, but I’ve realized where I am currently in the seven stages of grief as it relates to our "loss" last Saturday night. As a fan, I have moved into the reflection / acceptance / hope stages.

Reflection – I just feel utterly and personally terrible for Duke football and all who are associated with the day in and day out success of that program. Those that know the program, cover the program, and are involved with the people that make it up know it is one of the better organizations of people in college football – from administration, to the coaches and staff, and finally to the players.

I can’t imagine the anger and disappointment everyone felt and still may feel about how this game finished – it wasn’t a bad throw for an INT, a field goal attempt that was shanked, or a punter who dropped a snap to lose the game but rather a team of officials who had so many opportunities to get it right and yet they somehow did not. The hard fought come back that was capped off by a game securing touchdown and the feeling of knowing you had won only to have the game unfairly ripped away. The ABSOLUTE resolve they laid out in front of the nation, in two back to back weekends against old ACC Coastal powers who they have arguably replaced, was squashed by officials and forever labeled with an "L".

Speaking with a host of my ex-teammates who were in the stands and hearing them describe the experience of elation after we scored the go ahead touchdown, followed by the disbelief after the return, countered with the reassurance of seeing a flag on the field, and then completed with vindication when the scoreboard showed multiple replays of the Miami players knee down was interesting. The conversation in the stands was "worst case they are moved back 15 yards from the spot of the foul with one Hail Mary type play to go and best case we win after they rule the kids knee down". Everyone saw the entire Duke sideline preparing for a prevent defense anticipating at worst there was one more play to secure the victory. And then just a few minutes later the penalty flag was picked up, Miami was awarded the win, and the officials were sprinting off the field…

Acceptance – to continue to stew on this doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help us as a fan base because the outcome isn’t going to be overturned. If it had a chance to be overturned that would have happened Sunday when the ACC suspended the officiating crew admitting Duke won the game. In all honesty, the fact that it didn’t happen in the 9-10 minute official review of the play (repeat that to yourself and try not to go crazy) sealed our fate. Neither the ACC nor the NCAA is going to go back in time, but I’d be baffled if they didn’t make a change for the future of the conference and for the future of the game of college football because of this disgrace.

It doesn’t help our team to not accept this and move on. I am sure Coach Cutcliffe gave his team Sunday to vent and air out their frustrations, the day off on Monday as is standard operating procedure at Duke and most other college football programs, and then he told them come back to work on Tuesday re-focused with your mind set on achieving every one of what I imagine are their pre-season goals (win the Coastal, win the ACC Championship, and win our bowl game).

So my version of acceptance is here we stand, 6-2, and 3-1 in the ACC Coastal. Duke football is bowl eligible for the 4th straight year with many winnable games in front of us. A fight (and oh will it be a fight) with that team down the road on Saturday for the Victory Bell to be brought back to Durham, ownership of the driver’s seat in the Coastal Division, and entrance back into the Top 25 are all what is at stake.

We will all accept that.

Hope – All those aforementioned pre-season goals are still possible and would result in the greatest season in Duke football history in many ways. Perhaps the biggest reason being, that against all odds (and a particular crew of officials), we would end up vindicating ourselves by winding up in Charlotte despite it all. We all know Duke Basketball, as a national brand, is known as a "with them or against them" group.

If Duke football can win Saturday, is it even remotely possible, that a Duke sports program could become the national feel good college football story? I think it very well could be. I can’t see why it wouldn’t unless you are just one of those sad people who don’t even know why you hate Duke so much.

Yes, going into a hostile environment this weekend with momentum for both teams being at opposite sides of the mo’ scale … and then winning … will be VERY tough. Yes, going 3-0 the rest of the way against Pitt, UVA, and Wake Forest would have been hard to do even before the Miami loss. Yes, going into Charlotte and potentially beating Clemson or FSU will be EXTREMELY difficult.

Yet, this is David Cutcliffe’s Duke football. This is Jeremy Cash’s Duke football. This is Thomas Sirk’s Duke football. This is Laken Tomlinson’s (Detroit Lions) Duke football. This is Jamison Crowder’s (Washington Redskins) Duke football. This is Juwan Thompson’s (Denver Broncos) Duke football. This is Vincent Rey’s (Cincinnati Bengals) Duke football. This is Ross Cockrell’s (Pittsburgh Steelers) Duke football. It is my Duke football, it is your Duke football, and it is anyone that has ever wanted to support and pull for a group of guys that just flat out deserve it’s Duke football.

This is the Duke football that understands even when the dark clouds seem to be forming above, and when the sharks are circling you stay on the boat – row harder – and hope to see land getting closer with each passing stroke because to stop rowing is to undoubtedly sink and the bottom of the ocean is not where we belong.

Let’s let it get closer with each passing stroke this week, with each repetition, and with each passing breath. Let the anticipation build, and when you finally hit land fall a few miles down the Tobacco Road, let that other team feel your angst and undying commitment to the achievement of your goals.

We will ALL be watching, and will love Duke football no matter the outcome.


Some football notes on the boards, courtesy of Jim Sumner