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December 6, 2013

Cutcliffe leaves impression on longtime Duke fan

Saturday will not be the first time a fan has represented Duke football (10-2, 6-2) at ACC Championship game since it moved to Charlotte, N.C.

For Bobby Saunders, at least, this weekend will be his second wearing a Duke football t-shirt while watching the conference's Coastal and Atlantic Division winners faceoff in Bank of America stadium.

But this time, Saunders is thrilled to not have to hide his Duke blue gear under another team's jersey like he did when pulling for Virginia Tech in 2010.

The 2013 Duke team -- with its 10 wins, Coastal Division championship, second consecutive bowl game berth and No. 20 national ranking -- is one that the ninth-year Duke employee and life-long fan has waited years for.

Saunders was "born a Blue Devil, but had to learn to be a Volunteer," after deciding to attend the University of Tennessee and watch great football instead play football at Duke under Tom Harp, he said.

Saunders' father (Robert Saunders II) played under Wallace Wade and Harp offered Saunders the opportunity to walk on. The financial requirements of attending Duke turned him to Tennessee, but did not change the course of his fandom.

Duke University: A Football School

More than 53 years ago -- on October 29, 1960 -- Saunders attended his first Duke football game. He watched the Georgia Tech game in the same season in which Duke football last won a bowl game.

The game is what Robert Parker Saunders III remembers as the last thing he shared with his father and grandfather, the other two sharers of his name.

The 1961 Cotton Bowl, when Duke beat Arkansas 7-6 by scoring a touchdown and the go-ahead point after in the fourth quarter, which capped that season is also still the most satisfying victory to the "football first, basketball second," fan.

"I know that's hard to believe right now, but when I was growing up, Duke football was where Virginia Tech football is today (in program consistency)," he said. "It was consistently in the top 10, nationally ranked, ACC favorite."

Saunders reminds his son -- a VT graduate and fan -- of this often, but he only half understands.

"He grasps it intellectually, but he still has a hard time emotionally grasping (the idea) that Duke could be better at football than they were in basketball," Saunders said. "But they were at that time. Up until 1965, when Bill Murray retired, Duke was a football school.

"They were becoming a basketball school because they went to the Final Four twice but they didn't win it. But they were still primarily a football school and believe it or not, the Duke-Carolina football ticket was harder to get than the Duke-Carolina basketball ticket.

"I know that is impossible to believe. I know I sound like I'm from Mars, but it is so true."

In '63 and '64, the Martinsville, Va., native came to Duke basketball camp.
The sport was growing at that time and 1963 was the very first year of the camp.

Saunders signed up for summer camp in January and remembers that March as the first spring in the history of the program to go to the Final Four.

People jokingly ask Saunders if he attended "Coach K's camp," and he reminds them that Mike Krzyzewski is only two years older than himself.

"Except for Duke losing to Loyola in that (1963) Final Four," Saunders said. "He probably had never herd of Duke at that time.

"I see coach K a few times a year and I'm going to have to ask him about that because I joke about whether he'd herd of Duke (when I was at the camp) because I'm thinking that was probably the first time he'd herd it because they lost to Loyola Chicago the first time they made it to the Final Four."

Sitting in section 28 of Wallace Wade stadium -- halfway between the concourse and field, where he watched his first Duke football game -- Saunders remembers another national event.

"Today -- right now, almost -- I was in the eighth grade when (John F.) Kennedy got shot, right around this time," he said. "It's so ironic because in 1963, the days line up exactly like they do this year because (November) 22nd was on a Friday.

"Duke played Carolina the very next day and that was for the ACC Championship (shared title) for the regular season. They postponed the game a week because Kennedy got shot."

The Thanksgiving Day game that year had similar scoring and momentum patterns as this year's rivalry matchup, but with opposite results. After the Blue Devils scored to take a one-point second-half lead, UNC kicked a field goal with 21 seconds left to secure a 16-14 victory.

That season was the first that two ACC teams competed in a bowl game, and the one in which Duke won one.

"So Duke's a football school," Saunders said. "Then coach Murray retires in 1965. We came down for the Duke-Carolina game. Nobody, including the closest associates with Duke, had any idea that coach Murray was going to retire because he was probably only in his mid-fifties at that time."

Saunders remembers his father criticizing Murray for coaching a "vanilla offense," despite beating the Tar Heels 34-7.

"He was winning, but not exciting(ly) enough," he said. "Dad always thought that they'd get rid of him and find someone more exciting. Well, we heard going (home) that Murray had resigned, was retiring, and dad got so excited that he almost wrecked the car.

"Ironically, two years later, he'd have given anything to have him back."

Four years after Murray's resignation, Duke University got a new president, Terry Sanford.

"His mantra was 'We are going to make Duke the Harvard of the South,'" Saunders said. "He was of the opinion that basketball is okay but football is beneath us academically because Harvard does not play football."

Tom Harp was hired from the Ivy League's Cornell, which Saunders calls Sanford's way of de-emphasizing football.

"From then until (Steve) Spurrier came in the late 80s, they put no money into the football program," Saunders said. "They wouldn't pay the assistants, they hired coaches that didn't have backgrounds to be head coaches in Division I football (and) they just didn't care. Football was beneath them, they were going to be the Harvard of the South."

The lack of emphasis from within the school between Harp's hiring in 1966 and Steve Spurrier's in 1987 lost the football program a lot of Saunders' father's generation's donations, he believes.

And while many believe that Spurrier was a savior to the football program, Saunders sees his tenure as a mere moment.

"We had that little three year burp, then we went back down the dumper for about four years," Saunders said. "Then (Fred) Goldsmith came in during the early 90s, and he, like Spurrier, had a couple of good years."

The Blue Devils made it to bowl games under each Spurrier and Goldsmith, "then for about 13 or 14 years, Duke just didn't care (about football).

"I would come and (there were seasons where) we were 0-fer and there was nobody in the stands." Saunders remembers.

It's what Saunders considers the second, "Duke-not-caring," era -- which started after Spurrier's departure in 1994.

The apathy was lightened briefly under Goldsmith, Saunders believes then worsened through Carl Franks' five-year (7-45) tenure and then Ted Roof's 6-45 career at Duke, as he remembers the mid-2003-season coaching transition in which Roof earned a third of his Duke-career wins in.

"That got (Roof) the contract and then after that, he really didn't (win)," Saunders said.
"It wasn't really his fault because they still weren't putting money into the program. They wouldn't pay the assistant coaches, they probably weren't paying Roof much more than most of the assistants, so there was still not commitment (to Duke football)."

Saunders was hired at Duke South (the original hospital) in 2006 as a Patient Service Associate after deciding he wanted to work a job that he liked.

"I actually recruited Duke," Saunders said. "Because I was applying to non-management jobs, it took me -- literally because I wrote them all down -- 732 job applications I made out over two and a half years before I finally got a job at Duke.

"Most of them were not rejections, they just ignored me."

Saunders said he dumbed down his resume multiple times and was also applying to jobs in many different areas -- but none in the clinics -- before finally "lucking into," one.

He received a call in August 2005 -- three months after his most successful interview -- for a job he hadn't even applied to.

The mother of the man who'd interviewed Saunders about Duke South moved over the Duke Athletic Clinic after seven months when an opportunity opened in the spring of 2006.

A year later, Duke University offered another Tennessee man a job.

Part Two: Saunders

Part Three: Saunders



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