DURHAM, N.C. – Duke entered the 1960 football season with very low expectations.
That wasn’t usually the case in that era, when the Blue Devils were the strongest and most consistent program in the young ACC. But 1959 had turned into a disaster. The team was ripped by injuries (15 of the top 22 players were hurt) and stumbled to a 4-6 finish – the Devils’ first losing record since 1946. The season ended with a nightmarish 50-0 Thanksgiving Day loss to rival North Carolina on national TV.
So it’s easy to understand why not much was expected the next fall when Duke traveled to Columbia, S.C., to open against a South Carolina team that had beaten the Devils the year before.
“Everybody had given up on us,” Dwight Bumgarner, a fifth-year senior tackle on that team, recalled. “Jack Horner [the sports editor of the Durham Morning Herald] decided that we were going to finish last in the conference. That might have gotten us fired up.”
Duke stunned the ACC football world when they opened the 1960 season with a 31-0 upset of the favored Gamecocks. The young team would build on that victory, turning in one of the most impressive seasons in school history. The ’60 Blue Devils would win the ACC championship. It would become the last Duke team to finish in the top 10 ... the last Duke team to play in a major bowl … and the last Duke team to win a bowl game, period.
That team will be honored this weekend during the Duke-Miami game at Wallace Wade Stadium. It will be the 50th anniversary for an especially close group of former players.
“This is our ninth reunion -- we started at the 10-year mark and we’ve met every five years since,” Dick Havens, a sophomore guard on that team, said. “It’s hard to believe it’s been 50 years … it seems like it was yesterday.”
A lot has changed in those 50 years. Football has changed. Freshmen couldn’t play in 1960, so the 44 sophomores on the roster represented an extremely young team for the era. Limited substitutions were allowed, forcing players to play both offense and defense. The passing game was extremely limited – N.C. State’s Roman Gabriel was a first team All-America quarterback in 1961 when he threw for less than 1,000 yards.
Even in that era, Duke’s Bill Murray was known as a conservative offensive coach. His teams pounded the ball on the ground and hardly ever threw the ball. Future NFL Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen played three years for Murray in the mid-1950s and completed less passes for less yards in his career than Sean Renfree had in the first five games this season.
“You have to understand that Duke had been a really physical football team,” Bumgarner said. “They had the horses up front. We didn’t have that. We had to play games … to stir things up. Nobody knew what we were going to do. Heck, sometimes we didn’t know.”
Murray reacted to the disappointment of the 1959 season by changing his style of play.
“In the offseason, we changed both our offensive and defensive philosophy,” Bumgarner said. “We went to the Lonesome End. We had never thrown more than three or four passes a game. Then we open at South Carolina and my roommate set a record for receptions in a single game. That woke everybody up. “
Bumgarner’s roommate was Claude “Tee” Moorman, a senior end who had caught 17 passes in the first two seasons at Duke. Moorman would catch 54 passes for 476 yards in 1960 (actually 62 for 521, but bowl stats weren’t included as they are today).
He played “The Lonesome End” – a receiver split so wide that he never returned to the huddle. It was a tactic that Murray borrowed from Army coach Red Blaik.
Moorman’s passing partner was senior quarterback Don Altman, an extraordinary athlete who not only quarterbacked Duke to the Cotton Bowl, but also pitched Ace Parker’s baseball team to the College World Series.
“He was a cocky little bastard – and I mean that in a positive way,” Bumgarner said. “When he threw that football … wow.”
Duke still ran the ball effectively with a bevy of backs sharing the load – Mark Leggett, Joel Arrington, Dean Wright and Jack Wilson did most of the work. Murray essentially used two compete units – Altman quarterbacked the first team, while sophomore Walt Rappold led the “alternate” team (they didn’t call it the second team). In fact, the alternate team produced more touchdowns during the regular season (11) than the first team (nine).
Bumgarner played on the first team.
“Altman called his own plays,” he said. “The thing I liked was, he’d come in the huddle and ask, ‘Okay, who’s got one they can move?’ I was just cocky enough to speak up. I think that’s how I won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy. I weighed 232 pounds. Moose Bosson [the other tackle] weighed more than I did. [Guard] Art Gregory was smaller than me. We called Jean Berry ‘Raymond’ – because of the Colts’ wide receiver. That’s kind of funny. He had the smallest hands – it looked like he was missing a knuckle.”
Gregory and Berry were sophomore guards who would later garner All-America honors.
Playing behind that talented line was fullback/linebacker Jerry McGee. He was the twin brother of Mike McGee, who had graduated the previous spring after becoming the only player in football history to win the Outland Trophy off a losing team. But Jerry, who was much smaller than his twin, had redshirted as a freshman and was able to return in 1960.
“Jerry McGee was a real steady influence,” Bumgarner said. “He was so smart. I swear he could see the whole field. I used to call him ‘My linebacker.’ He lined up behind me on defense and he was responsible for getting my butt in place.”
Defense was a large part of Duke’s early success as the Blue Devils opened with five wins in six games – the lone loss coming in front of 77,000 fans in the Big House at Michigan – to climb to No. 13 in the national rankings.
That’s when Navy came to town. The Middies were unbeaten and ranked No. 4 in the nation. Left halfback Joe Bellino was en route to a Heisman Trophy season. Duke was a big underdog as 46,000 fans packed Duke Stadium for the early November game.
“What I remember is that we got their goat,” McGee recalled. “Some students led him in the stadium with a big Blue D shaved on him. Some midshipmen jumped out of the stands and we had a big brawl before the game.”
The first half was a disaster as Duke turned the ball over four times in the first 30 minutes. Bellino didn’t run wild, but he did recover a fumble to set up a short Navy scoring drive. At the half, it was 10-0 Navy, but Coach Murray remained confident.
“It was fairly hectic during halftime,” Dave Unser, a junior end, said. “All Coach Murray said was, ‘Guys, you’re the better team. Now get out there and prove it.’ ”
Bumgarner remembers a different turning point.
“They were a tough bunch,” he said. “Their middle linebacker was a heavyweight boxing champ. Watching him on film, he was the dirtiest player I ever saw. Well, during the game, Tee caught a pass and was knocked down. As he was getting up, this guy stepped on his hand.
“Tee was so mad, he came back to the huddle – he was not supposed to do that as the Lonesome End – and told us, ‘That damn guy stepped on my hand.’ I told him I’d take care of it. I managed to get in some cheap shots. I even smacked him with my helmet as we were going up the tunnel. That team was real close. When they stepped on Tee’s hand, that’s what turned things around.”
The alternate unit came up with the first points for Duke – set up by a surprising 36 yard run by fullback Dave Burch, who was usually more of a blocking back. The Blue Devils dominated the final 20 minutes of the game and won 19-10.
Duke shot up to No. 7 in the next week’s AP poll and more importantly, landed squarely in the sights of the Cotton Bowl. The Dallas bowl was one of the four major bowls at the time and would be celebrating its 25th anniversary on Jan. 2, 1961 (Jan. 1 was a Sunday and the colleges didn’t play on Sunday in those days).
After Duke beat Wake Forest the week after the Navy game to improve to 7-1 (and climb to No. 6 in the polls), the Cotton Bowl picked the Blue Devils to play Southwestern Conference champion Arkansas. Bowl officials were in Chapel Hill on Nov. 19 to offer Duke the bid.
Unfortunately, they had to offer it in the losing locker room. North Carolina edged the Blue Devils 7-6 when sophomore placekicker Billy Reynolds (who would kick last-second field goals to beat UNC in 1961 and 1962) missed an extra point.
There was worse to come. Duke closed out the regular season with an early December game against UCLA in Los Angeles.
“We visited a movie lot and were introduced to Elvis Presley,” Bumgarner said. “He was in the middle of shooting his first movie – Wild In the Country. He was quite a nice fellow. He warned us, ‘All you good looking boys have to be careful on a movie lot.’ One of us said something about ‘Yeah, there sure are a lot of pretty girls around.’ And he answered, ‘I’m not talking about the girls.’ We visited Disneyland and did all these other things. I don’t think anybody took the game seriously.”
Unser suggested the 27-6 loss that followed – on national TV no less – was more due to the team’s unfamiliarity with the UCLA single-wing offense and to a great performance by Bruins’ star Billy Kilmer. At any rate, the second straight season-ending loss seemed to take the luster off Duke’s bowl appearance.
“A writer in Texas said that the two biggest mistakes in Texas history were when they let Santa Anna into the Alamo and Duke into the Cotton Bowl,” Havens recalled.
The late slump made Duke a huge underdog against No. 7 Arkansas. It also had a big impact on Coach Murray.
“Coach Murray got mad because we stunk the joint up [at UCLA],” McGee said. “We went in to San Antonio on Christmas Day. He didn’t take us to Dallas, but to the red clay at Trinity College. Then he worked us into the ground. He was really furious. Dr. Bassett came in late to a meeting and Coach Murray told him he’d have to run laps for being late. Dr. Bassett said, ‘I’m the team doctor … I’m not running.’ Coach said, ‘You’re running or you’re going home.’ He was out there running sprints with us.”
A crowd of 74,000 packed the Dallas stadium for the Silver Anniversary Cotton Bowl. They watched as the two defenses dominated early. The Blue Devils had one scoring opportunity, but Altman and Dean Wright fumbled a pitch, trying to run a version of the flea-flicker. And the first half ended in a scoreless tie.
Duke’s stout defense was in part because of a scheme that the Blue Devil coaches installed in San Antonio.
“We called it ‘Ham and Eggs’,” McGee said. “It was just a twist that they had not seen on film. It got Dwight into the backfield the entire game, creating all kinds of havoc. We hadn’t used it in weeks, so they didn’t have it on film.”
Arkansas star Lance Alworth finally found running room in the third quarter. It started when he made an incredible play on a punt. He recovered a bad snap from center, ran away from pursuit, then booted the ball to the coffin corner – pinning Duke back at the one-yard line. The Blue Devils were forced to kick from their six-yard line and while punter Randy Clark boomed a long, deep kick, it only allowed Alworth to operate in the open field. The Arkansas star took the kick at the Duke 49 and danced through the entire Blue Devil team for the go-ahead touchdown.
“He was an exceptional player,” Bumgarner said of the future pro Hall of Famer. “When we got back to campus, there was a bulletin board in the frat house … somebody had taken one of those sequence photos you used to see and next to every Duke player trying to tackle him, somebody had drawn in jock straps on the ground.”
The score stayed at 6-0 when Unser rushed in from his end position to block the point after.
“We practiced that during the week,” Unser said. “Coach picked up on how we could block the kick. Their kicker kicked it kind of flat. It was a set play.”
Duke was still down 6-0 when the Blue Devils got the ball at their own 27-yard-line with just under 10 minutes left in the game. What followed has to rank as among the great drives in school history against a defense that had allowed just one touchdown in the last four regular season games.
“Ol’ Altman was cool as a cucumber,” Bumgarner said. “It was kind of an epic deal.”
Indeed, it took 18 plays to cover the 73 yards to the end zone. Along the way, Altman converted two fourth downs and several third-downs – usually on short passes to Moorman. The All-America end caught six passes on the drive. The last was a nine-yard catch in the end zone for the tying score. He beat Alworth on the play.
Murray, perhaps recalling Reynolds’ miss at UNC, called on senior Art Browning – who had been the team’s regular kicker the year before, to try the extra point.
“Because of the substitution rules at the time, when Art was kicking, I took his place at right guard,” McGee said. “The one kick Art missed in 1959, I was bowled over and it was blocked. “
This time, McGee held his own and Browning booted it through to give Duke a 7-6 lead with 2:45 left.
Unser, who had blocked the Arkansas PAT, made another decisive play on the ensuing kickoff, hitting Alworth and forcing a fumble. McGee pounced on it to give Duke the ball deep in Arkansas territory. The Blue Devil alternate unit moved to the Arkansas 10 as the Razorbacks ran out of timeouts.
“I was on the sidelines when Coach Murray came to me and said to go in the game, carry the ball, but don’t score a touchdown,” McGee said. “Look at the stats for the game – I had three carries for 10 yards … the last three plays of the game. I ended up a foot short of the goal line. There was a photo of me carrying the ball and you could see me with two hands on the ball.”
Bumgarner complained that Murray prevented them from scoring another touchdown because he didn’t want to run up the score. But McGee argued that he had a better reason than that.
“Coach Murray not being nice,” McGee said. “He knew that if we scored, we’d have to kick off to Lance Alworth and he was the best return man in the country. He didn’t want to give him a chance to return the ball.”
No one could guess that Duke’s 7-6 victory would be the school’s last bowl win in 50 years. The Blue Devils were the best football program in the ACC and would prove it by winning a second and third straight league championship in 1961 and 1962. At that point, Murray had won or shared six of the first 10 ACC titles awarded (as well as the Southern Conference title in 1952).
The Cotton Bowl trip had an interesting coda for Bumgarner, voted the outstanding lineman in the game. He was injured in the final minutes and missed the postgame celebration. Upon the return to Durham, he was rushed to Duke Hospital, where his leg was encased in a cast that stretched from his crotch to his ankle.
Bumgarner was released for the ceremonies honoring the football team at a basketball game the next Saturday night. When he returned to his apartment after the game, his wife was in labor. Unable to drive, he hobbled on crutches to a neighbor, who volunteered to drive the young couple to Watts Hospital (currently the North Carolina School of Science and Math).
“I couldn’t bend my knee to sit, so I sprawled across the back seat,” Bumgarner said. “The car was too small for me, so I rolled down a window and that’s how we got to Watts – me with my bare foot out the window, freezing to death!”
Two weeks after Bumgarner’s son was born, his former roommate Tee Moorman became a father too. Eighteen years later Tim Bumgarner and Tee Moorman Jr. became roommates at Duke, playing for Jerry’s brother Mike McGee.
“Those were a great bunch of guys,” Bumgarner said of the ’60 Blue Devils. “We were just a bunch of poor boys that Coach Murray had given a chance. When we went to work, we worked hard.”
And all that hard work paid off in one of the greatest seasons in Duke football history.