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Hurting For Duke: A Confession

A writer searches for the meaning of his emotional investment in the 2012 Belk Bowl.

Sean Renfree
Sean Renfree
Streeter Lecka

Today, I hurt for Duke.

I can't explain why I was somewhat emotionally invested in last night's Belk Bowl featuring Duke and Cincinnati. The game itself had little significance nationally, was nowhere near a sellout and featured two teams that are largely blips on anyone's football radar (save for their core fan bases). In fact,until the University of Tennessee made Butch Jones its head coach a couple of weeks ago I knew nothing about UC except that senior Ralph David Abernathy IV was related to the celebrated leader of the Civil Rights movement.

I knew a good deal more about Duke, having watched Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon torch the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the early part of the the season and in seasons past. In fact, the Deacons' loss to the Devils this year for the first time in thirteen seasons confirmed my expectations for the Wake Forest football season: it wasn't going to go as well as planned. No matter my anguish, I wrote at the time in my game analysis for Blogger So Dear that my initial reaction was, "Good for them."

Good for them. Perhaps it's because I know how that fan base felt. After all, this is a team that finally won the Victory Bell back from the hated Tar Heels, and in doing so became bowl eligible. Forget the fact that they lost 6 of the last 7 regular season games they played. Duke was bowl-eligible and, doggone it, they're not supposed to be bowl-eligible. Ever.

I guess you could say I was a little jealous. I, like many Wake Forest supporters, yearn for the days of Riley Skinner and Kenneth Moore. Not necessarily for the players themselves, but for the feeling those early successful teams gave us week in and week out. Regardless of the outcome, you could feel that something special was happening. So, yes, I silently tipped my cap to Coach Cutcliffe and Co. for doing the same for their fans. I also slipped onto the Duke bandwagon without being noticed.

And then last night happened.

This may sound ridiculous, but I was far more crushed for Duke's loss last night in the Belk Bowl than I was for Wake Forest's defeat in the 2007 Orange Bowl Game. Seriously.

For those who remember, Wake lead that game in the fourth quarter before giving up two late touchdowns. Putting more salt in the wound is the fact that Deacon running back Richard Belton fumbled late in the third quarter on the Louisville 14-yard line with the score tied at 10 apiece. As a lifelong supporter who had trekked from Winston-Salem to Miami Gardens, it should have been heartbreaking. Except it wasn't.

Watching Duke implode last night was gut-wrenching, or at least should have been for anyone who roots for the underdog. We can joke all we want about, "Duke doing Duke things," but it was still hard to watch. If my team is going to turn the ball over four times and twice near the end zone, I would rather them lose 42-10. I wouldn't wish last night on any team not from South Bend or Chapel Hill. Let's be honest:

If Duke doesn't turn the ball over, were they as good as or better than the Bearcats? Yes. Further, if the official (rightly) calls helmet-to-helmet contact on the first fumble and the Devils somehow go up 23-3 in the second quarter...

I know, I know. If "ifs" and "buts" were candy and nuts then we'd all have a happy Kwanzaa. Still, that's not the way those seniors deserved to go out. Not taking anything away from Cincy, either, because they are the team that had zero turnovers and won the game. Plain and simple, both teams played well. One held on to the ball.

At this point you've probably long been wondering, "what the hell is Mundy's point, here?" The point is that my most crushing experience as a Wake Forest fan was the Clemson game from 2006. I can still see Gaines Adams running for a touchdown like it happened yesterday. My two wingmen will tell you that in 12 seasons, there has only been one drive back to Charlotte during which no words were exchanged: October 7, 2006. We talk about it all the time.

Now, though, I have some perspective. Never, ever, have the Deacs lost like Duke did last night in such a critical game. In fact, Jim Grobe's Wake Forest teams have won more big games than they've lost. Just ask Bobby Bowden. The big games they HAVE lost, like last year's Music City Bowl, were by and large losses to better teams. That, I can deal with.

What I can't deal with is being the better team and the football gods deciding it's time to smite the bandwagon.

Today, I hurt for Duke.