By JIM SUMNER
“It was a beautiful day, a packed house, we showed up, we won.”
That's Rich Searl's succinct account of one of the most memorable wins in Duke football history, a 9-3 road victory over 10th-ranked Stanford 40 years ago.
Stanford was coming off a 1970 Rose Bowl victory over Ohio State. They were replacing star quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett with Don Bunce but the early returns were encouraging. Stanford won its first three games, defeating Missouri, Army and Oregon by a combined score of 95-20.
Duke also entered the game 3-0. First-year coach Mike McGee had re-energized Duke's defense and the Devils had defeated Florida, South Carolina and Virginia, while jumping into the national polls for the first time since 1962.
But there was a significant complication for Duke. Star running back Steve Jones injured his ribs in an automobile accident on campus the week before the Stanford game and was ruled out. With 469 rushing yards in the first three games, Jones had provided most of Duke's offense.
Lineman Ed Newman says the coaches used Jones' absence to "rally around, be tighter, be together."
The odds-makers decided Stanford was a two-touchdown favorite and Bunce thought they were being conservative. When asked what he expected from Duke, he told the media he was looking at "scoring at least six touchdowns and posting a shutout."
This was classic bulletin board material and Duke didn't miss the opportunity. "We had all those articles in the locker room," Searl recalls. "It was a motivator for sure. That kind of thing gets the motor running."
Tailback Bill Thompson cites another advantage. "It helped us be less distracted by the environment. It focused us."
A rowdy crowd of 61,500 greeted Duke. Defensive coordinator Jerry McGee notes that Duke had already defeated Florida and South Carolina on the road and had played at Ohio State and West Virginia the previous season. "There was no awe or shock at big crowds. We expected to play well and play hard and have a chance to win."
McGee came up with a key wrinkle. "We backed everybody up 3-4 yards and ran our basic defense. They didn't have the patience. We wanted them to throw the bomb and we denied it."
Searl, Ernie Jackson, Bill Hanenberg and Mike Davies comprised a superb defensive backfield. Searl says Stanford played right into Duke's hands. "We had been together for four years and we thought we were pretty good. We wanted them to throw the ball. We were waiting."
The game started as the pundits had predicted. Stanford drove from their 32 to the Duke 13. But Hanenberg and Searl broke up passes in end zone and Rich Garcia was wide left on the field goal.
McGee says Searl's deflection was no surprise. "Rich wasn't the fastest guy I ever coached but he was one of the smartest. He had an uncanny nose for the ball. He set the mold for the defense. He was always in the right place at the right time."
Having come up empty against Hanenberg and Searl, Bunce thought he'd test Jackson on Stanford's second possession. Big mistake. "Ernie didn't look like a football player," Searl recalls. "He might have weighed 160. But he was a great athlete, he was fearless and he hit hard."
Jackson picked off an errant Bunce pass and weaved across the field 54 yards for a touchdown.
David Wright's extra point was blocked, leaving the score 6-0.
Only five minutes had elapsed but the tone had been set. Duke might surrender yards but not points. Stanford drove to the Duke 27 on their third possession but Searl forced a fumble, which was recovered by teammate Jerry Giffin.
Duke's offense wasn't providing much help. Jones' replacement Art Bosetti went down with a knee injury and Duke didn't pick up its initial first down until 6:40 remained in the first half.
Duke padded its lead early in the third quarter when Searl returned a punt to the Stanford 37. Dennis Satyshur hit Dan Thelan for 17 yards and Rusty McDow for 13. The drive stalled but Wright nailed a 24-yard field goal to put Duke up 9-0, with 10:12 left in the third.
Satyshur was picked off later in the period, giving Stanford the ball at the Duke 44. But Searl returned the favor with an interception at the Duke 20.
Trailing by two scores early in the fourth quarter, Stanford drove to the shadow of the Duke goal line before an unlikely hero shut the door. Newman was one of the best offensive linemen in the ACC. But a rash of injuries forced Duke to play Newman and fellow offensive lineman Willie Clayton both ways. Newman sacked Bunce on third down, forcing a 32-yard field goal that made the score 9-3.
Newman says that the played that game "out of my skin. I was incredibly psyched up. My energy was off the charts. I remember one play when I ran Bunce out of bounds and walked beside him just screaming in his face. I didn't do that kind of thing. But I was so pumped up. We had a lot of that going on."
Larry Munday was another unlikely hero. Jones was Duke's punter. Munday took over and averaged 45.4 yards on nine punts, helping Duke flip the field more than once.
Duke still had to hold on. Stanford moved from their 15 to the Duke 38 before a clipping penalty halted the drive. They punted to the Duke 12.
The dormant Duke offense needed one drive to keep their exhausted defense off the field. Newman recalls an animated discussion in the huddle, focusing on heart and courage. Thompson says the offense realized what it needed to do to nail down the win. "If we did not do our job, the defense would be put under too much pressure. We were tired but had to suck it up. We couldn't let them have the ball back."
Duke did just that. Thompson picked up eight huge yards for a first down on third and five and Bob Zwirko added another third-down pickup. Duke ran out the clock.
Stanford had a huge 362-139 advantage in total offense and a 19-8 edge in the first downs. But the Duke defense forced five turnovers, a textbook example of bending but not breaking.
Thompson led Duke with 50 yards on 13 carries, with Zwirko adding 46 yards.
Duke jumped to 10th in the AP poll before a rash of injuries depleted the thin bench. Duke ended the season 6-5.
Forty years later Searl remembers the satisfaction he felt watching the Stanford crowd file silently out of the stadium. "We loved shutting them up. It was a great trip and a special win. It's the only time I remember fans meeting us at the airport. That's the kind of thing that stays with you."