In 1999, two young dudes traveled to Chapel Hill to see the 10th Airborne victory of their four-year college career. Optimism was high as UNC was suffering through a tough season filled with rumors that their head coach would soon be fired. Unfortunately, that 10th win did not happen, and the plucky young dudes graduated in the single digit win column. Sadly, had they returned for a Franchise-esque fifth year, they still wouldn’t have seen that 10th win. The Carl Franks era was not pretty.
Nine years later, the same two dudes were reunited, this time in Wally Wade, hoping to see Eron Riley and Michael Tauiliili ring the famed Victory Bell as they left Durham for the greener pastures of the NFL. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
Things got off to an ominous start as parking goons forced me to leave my free (and legal) parking on Central to try to get me into their pay lots. I found street parking, but clearly everything would be a struggle on this cold, wet day.
Duke’s offense moved the ball well for much of the game, but struggled on third downs--three promising drives ended in field goal attempts. Defensively, Duke forced two turnovers and scored a TD, but too often gave up the third down conversion. While the Tar Heels converted on 80% of their third downs, Duke only converted on 20%. UNC made the plays, Duke did not.
In the fourth quarter, Duke had several chances to force what could have been an epic two-point conversion try, but found every drive stall. Dumb personal fouls hurt the cause, as did untimely turnovers. But ultimately the game came down to the final drive. Thad was let loose, and the team drove to the 16 before finally stalling. On 4th and 6, Thad was flushed out of the pocket and forced a throw, which was picked off by the Tar Heels. Travel, trip, championship. Or something like that.
I would like to salute a few seniors. To Joe Surgan, your name has been cursed many times in my home, but with two 50-yarders this year (including a 55-yarder Saturday), I hope you found some redemption. To Marcus Jones, three years ago, when you were named the new starting QB, I named my fantasy football team “The Marcus Jones Era?” One week later I changed it to Thad is Rad. But you made an impressive switch to defensive back, and for your flexibility and athleticism, I salute you. Eron, last year the bomb to you was our best play, and this season under a more disciplined offensive scheme, I missed it. You raised some big cash for the next president of the United States, and you provided me with more highlights over the last few years than any Blue Devil. And last, to Mr. Tauiliili, your 20 tackles Saturday was yet another impressive day at the stadium; Coach Cut said you are the best defensive player he has ever been around as a college coach, and called you the best in the ACC. I hope the Patriots draft you to replace all their old men in the middle.
But despite those sentiments, as I write this, the last “Wade Report” of the season, I find myself looking forward, not backwards. Sunday at noon, just hours after a 28-20 loss to UNC, the 2009 team met with Coach Cut. At 3:00, they ran. That’s the sort of no-nonsense approach we’ve come to expect from the new coach. Hopefully the hard work will be evident next year when I book my plane trip to the Orange Bowl.