Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Stanford @ Duke

While it’s nice to be in the friendly confines of Stanford’s campus, there’s something appealing about walking into the lion’s den with a group of dedicated fans with an us against the world mentality. As a friend astutely pointed out, road games are when you truly bond with your team. Granted this was a Duke football game and slightly different than walking into the Coliseum or Autzen, but you get the point. My favorite part about East Coast / Midwest road trips is meeting up with friends living on the other side of the country. The Duke trip was no different as I received a text message on Friday that there was going to be a young alumni tailgate attended by a bunch of people I knew. More importantly, Alex was going to be there for a Cardinalmaniacs reunion! The last three times I’ve seen her were at the Orange Bowl, at Notre Dame and the Sun Bowl. Detecting a pattern?

I took a redeye out of Las Vegas to Atlanta and then hopped on a quick flight to Raleigh-Durham. Layovers always make me anxious, especially when it’s on the same day as game day but everything went smoothly although I had to board my flight right before the ASU-Missouri overtime started. Luckily ASU pulled it out to preserve some Pac-12 respectability. Hopefully UCLA can do the same against Texas. The thing that struck me the most as we landed in Durham was the abundance of lush greenery. The weather was pretty pleasant and reminded me of Singapore with less humidity. I took a shuttle from the airport to the University Inn and chatted with a friendly lady from UNC who was visiting her parents and going to the UNC-Rutgers football game. After checking in, I proceeded to get absolutely lost as I tried to cut through the Duke hospital to get to the tailgate. After much wandering around, I finally was headed towards the sport complexes but realized that perhaps I should stop by the center of campus. Upon further consideration, I decided that Cameron Indoor Stadium was pretty much all that I cared for and Duke’s Gothic architecture wasn’t something that appealed much to me.

I finally found Krzyzewskiville and Cameron. I was somewhat surprised that the innocent looking exterior housed one of the most feared college home courts in the nation. There were a couple of campus tours going on and I tried to work my way into them – clad in my Luck jersey no less – to enter Cameron but was informed that they were shooting a 20 year anniversary documentary for the 1992 National Championship team. Grant Hill, Christian Laettner et al were in attendance and Hill walked past Albert and his family at one point. Albert’s main takeaway was that Hill walked like an 80-year old man. On the way to Cameron, I strolled past the Blue Devil Alley which felt like a poor man’s Chuck Taylor Grove. It was somewhat early so it wasn’t too surprising that it was empty. After more wandering, I finally found the tailgate and also bumped into my Duke friends who had spotted me in my jersey. It was great catching up with a bunch of people. The turn-out was pretty impressive as we probably had around 80-100 young alumni gathered in the parking lot. There were people who had driven from DC, New York and Atlanta. Not sure whether it was the venue or our highly ranked football team but it felt like an improved showing compared to the Notre Dame game and I’m sure it beat the Wake Forest turn out 2 years ago hands down.

After mingling with old acquaintances, we headed over to the official tailgate where we met up with Albert and his folks who had driven down from Atlanta. It was yet another impressive showing with a bunch of players’ parents to boot. It was great to see so many of the fabulous freshmen’s parents in attendance and of course Chase Thomas had a huge rooting section as well. While Bowlsby didn’t address the crowd, honorary captain Brevin Knight did. I bumped into Brevin who had his whole family in tow a little bit later and reminded him of the last time we’d met which was at Pauley Pavilion in 2008 when our Sweet 16 bound basketball team fell to UCLA in overtime. He echoed my sentiments of how we had been robbed. The lack of sleep and stifling heat of the closely confined alumni tailgate quarters did not help my appetite for the Southern cuisine but it was decent and the beers washed it down. We finally made it over to the Duke stadium which immediately reminded me of the Sun Bowl without Juarez looming in the distance. Unlike most stadiums which have one dedicated visitor’s section, Duke’s stadium split it up into two at opposite ends from each other. Albert and I lucked out and ended up on the shady side.

The first half was a little bit too close for comfort and the lack of pass protection combined with Luck having an off half was somewhat concerning. If not for Duke’s kicker being absolutely terrible, it could have been a 1 pt game. Luckily our defense bailed us out and the offense got into the swing of thing at the end of the half. The half time show featured Coach K (among others) being inducted into Duke’s Hall of Fame. I guess that’s a pretty momentous occasion but to be honest, I was surprised that it hadn’t happened sooner. Bobby Hurley was the only other person I recognized. We had our way in the second half and it was good to see the defensive depth on tap even if the 3rd string defense gave up the first touchdown of the season. Hopefully the game was a lesson for the team that they can’t take anyone for granted. Duke was after all a team that lost to Richmond the week before although I try not to take too much stock into those things. Wasn’t Virginia Tech a team that lost to James Madison last year? Special teams also need to be better prepared. All in all, the whole road trip was good preparation for the Arizona roadie which may prove more difficult than people expect and will be a good test of where we stand against better competition. At the end of the day, it was a decent showing and it’s always great when you can take away numerous lessons from a 30 point victory.

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