The Blue Devils won three straight ACC titles in 1960, 1961 and 1962.
By Jim Sumner, TheACC.com
"We expected to win. That's why we came to Duke. We had the coaching, we had the talent, we were always well prepared. We didn't think we could lose."
Those are the words of former Duke quarterback Walt Rappold, who helped the Blue Devils win the 1960, 1961, and 1962 ACC football titles.
It was a different game in the early 1960s. Substitutions were limited. Players played on offense and defense. All-American linemen weighed 200 pounds. Playbooks were smaller. But the basics were the same as they are today. Recruit the best players, coach them well and the wins will follow. Duke had been following this formula since Wallace Wade came from Alabama in 1931 and made Duke a perennial national power.
Wade retired following the 1950 season and was replaced by former Duke running back Bill Murray, who had coached Delaware to a 69-9-3 mark that included three undefeated seasons. Murray had winning seasons in his first seven seasons at Duke, including a pair of eight-win seasons and a 34-7 win over Nebraska in the 1955 Orange Bowl.
Murray could recruit. Dwight Bumgarner, who graduated in 1960, says "He liked to bring in players who had brains and talent but not a lot of money. We were a bunch of country boys but we were hungry." He could coach. Dick Havens, a lineman on the 1960-62 teams, says Murray "was very organized, very disciplined. We joked that there was Eastern Time, Greenwich time, and Murray time. Murray time was five minutes early. The doors closed on time and the bus left on time. He left people in the parking lot. He was calm and collected but you knew there were consequences if you messed up." Rappold adds, "every second of every practice, you knew where you were and what you were supposed to be doing. We maintained that we played three games every week, two in practice and the third on Saturday."
Murray also could adapt. He was a firm believer in the adage that three things can happen when you throw a forward pass and two of them are bad. In 1956 Buddy Bass led Duke with nine receptions for the entire season. His quarterback was future NFL great Sonny Jurgensen, who attempted 59 passes for his entire senior season, 4,203 fewer than he would throw in the pros.
Duke's offense became predicable and ineffective. Duke had to win its final two games in 1958 to finish 5-5. The injury-plagued Devils went 4-6 the following season, the most losses for Duke since 1929. Adding insult to injury the 1959 season ended with a nationally-televised 50-0 loss at home to arch-rival North Carolina.
One of Duke's losses in 1959 was to Army, a team coached by Murray's friend Red Blaik. Army ran an offense that featured the so-called lonesome end, a formation in which a wide receiver never came into the huddle, receiving the play call from the quarterback by hand signals. Murray decided to give the passing scheme a try, introducing it the next spring.
Lonesome end or no lonesome end, many observers didn't predict much better for Duke in 1960. Tackle Dwight Bumgarner, one of the few seniors in the rotation that season, recalls a local sportswriter picking Duke for seventh in the ACC. "Can you imagine that," says Bumgarner, still indignant 46 years later. "Even the hometown paper didn't support us. We thought we were snubbed and we used that as motivation all season long."
Duke didn't throw the ball all the time. Balance and execution were the keys. Plays developed quickly. Senior All-ACC linemen Bumgarner and Art Browning anchored a line that opened holes for a stable of running backs, led by sophomore Mark Leggett, while Duke's defense held eight opponents to 10 or fewer points.
The highlight of the season came in early November when fourth-ranked Navy and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Joe Bellino came to Durham. Duke pulled the shocker, winning 19-10 after trailing 10-0 at intermission. Bumgarner recalls "Navy talked more than any team I ever played. Then the game ended and we didn't hear a peep. Very gratifying." Following a win over Wake Forest, Duke was 7-1, having lost only at Michigan, and heading for the Cotton Bowl.
The Cotton Bowl almost had egg on its face. North Carolina edged Duke 7-6, their only ACC loss. Duke finished at UCLA. A long airplane ride, jet lag, and visits to Disney Land and assorted television and movie studios left Duke ill-prepared for Billy Kilmer and the Bruins. Duke lost 27-6. Duke quarterback Don Altman did receive national publicity, however, as a staged photo showing him teaching Elvis Presley how to throw a football received national distribution.
Murray was determined not to end the season with another loss. Duke practiced hard for the Cotton Bowl, two-a-days in San Antonio, where lineman Jean Berry says "I was the coldest I've ever been in my life. Brutal." The Cotton Bowl opponent was Arkansas and their peerless All-America back Lance Alworth. After a scoreless first half, Alworth gave the Razorbacks a 6-0 lead on a 49-yard punt return. Dave Unser blocked the extra point. According to Rappold "this was not just good luck. Our coaches saw a flaw in Arkansas' kick-block scheme and we practiced blocking kicks every day. It paid off big." Still, Duke had to score. A methodical 18-play, 73-yard drive ended when Altman hit Moorman from nine yards out for the score. Browning broke the tie with a PAT, giving Duke a 7-6 win. Duke finished its 8-3 season ranked 10th in the AP poll.
Duke maintained its dominance of the ACC in 1961. The Devils lost at Georgia Tech and Michigan in non-conference contests and Clemson handed Duke their only ACC loss, 17-7 in Durham. Sophomore halfback Jay Wilkinson, son of Oklahoma coaching great Bud Wilkinson, gave Duke an infusion of speed. Wilkinson averaged 15 yards per punt return, including an 82-yarder against North Carolina State and added a 77-yard touchdown reception from Rappold against Navy.
Duke finished the season on a roll, defeating Navy, North Carolina, and Notre Dame. The UNC win, by a 6-3 score, clinched the ACC title, while the win over the Fighting Irish ended the season at 7-3, with a final AP ranking of 20th. Linemen Jean Berry and Art Gregory were Duke's only first-team All-ACC players, indicative of the team's balance.
Duke's 1962 team may have been Murray's best at Duke. The core of the team were a group of seniors that included Rappold, Leggett, Gregory, Havens, and Berry, players who, as Havens says, "had been together five years [many were redshirted], knew each other, trusted each other." Berry adds. "By this point we had practiced and played together so much that we didn't have to say anything. We just knew." Wilkinson and sophomore fullback/linebacker Mike Curtis gave the team star power at key positions, while Rappold was the undisputed leader. Havens jokes "We played two platoons almost equally except for Curtis. We just wound him up and left him out there."
Expectations were high. Duke was ranked eighth in the first AP poll and opened at Southern California in a national-televised contest. In contrast to the UCLA game two seasons earlier, this trip was all business. Southern Cal would end the season as the undefeated national champions but Duke actually was a slight favorite. The game was a nightmare for Rappold, who threw five interceptions. He remembers "My parents invited everybody they knew over to [their West Virginia home] watch the game. They were horrified. I couldn't even bring myself to call home until the next Thursday." Rappold later found out that one of Duke's linemen was tipping off the passing plays.
Still, the game was close. Duke scored first on a pass from backup quarterback Gil Garner to Wilkinson, but the Trojans answered with a pair of touchdowns and held on for a 14-7 win.
Duke regrouped nicely, losing only to Georgia Tech, a team that Berry says "was the toughest team we played. They really hit." Several games stand out. Duke visited Florida in late September and fell behind the Gators 21-0 at the half. Digging deep, Duke came storming back for an improbable 28-21 win. Rappold made big plays, Curtis scored a pair of touchdowns and future NFL tackle Chuck Walker sealed the win with a 4th-down sack. Berry marvels "this was the highest degree of execution we ever had for a sustained period of time. For thirty minutes, we simply didn't make any mistakes."
Craig Morton and California fell next, 21-7, with Curtis again scoring twice. Clemson fell 16-0, its only ACC loss of the season.
Duke's last three games were conference matchups. Maryland came to Durham on November 10 for a critical game. Led by quarterback Dick Shiner, the nation's leading passer, and back Tom Brown, the Terps came into the game undefeated in the ACC and 6-1 overall. Maryland immediately placed the Duke defense under duress, keeping the ball for 33 plays in their first two possessions and driving to the Duke 12 and 4. But both drives ended with interceptions at the goal line. A Bill Reynolds field goal and a Curtis touchdown gave Duke a 10-0 lead. Maryland cut it to 10-7 and had the ball deep in Duke territory late before three consecutive sacks set up fourth-and-25 and an incomplete pass. Duke lost the statistical battle but won the war, 10-7.
After an easy win over Wake Forest, Duke visited Chapel Hill needing a win to secure the league title. The game was a see-saw struggle between arch-rivals that wasn't decided until Duke's Bill Reynolds kicked his third field goal with 49 seconds left. Duke won 16-14.
Despite an 8-2 record and a national ranking of 14th, the ACC champions stayed home. Duke expected an immediate invitation to the Gator Bowl, where they would be matched against Penn State. Bowl officials waited a week on the outcome of the Florida-Miami game, won by Miami. The invitation eventually came but the players overwhelmingly voted no.
Why remains a subject of some debate. Some players didn't want to lose class time. Berry says that "some of the guys didn't want to go through what we went through two seasons earlier for the Cotton Bowl. You gave up your holidays, you couldn't eat much during the holidays, you were away from home. It was asking a lot." Duke athletic director Eddie Cameron suggested that the Gator Bowl was beneath Duke, telling a Durham paper that Duke only considered "prestige bowls." Havens says "I wanted to go but I voted no. It was a given that we weren't going to go." Rappold maintains that Duke "would have jumped at the chance if they hadn't waited a week. It was a pride thing. They should have asked us earlier." Berry says "there's no doubt that we would have gone if Murray had asked. We would have jumped off a cliff if he had asked. But he didn't. I think it was the right decision. There were a lot of factors. It just wasn't right."
Murray coached three more years, retiring after the 1965 season to become executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. He was 57. Many say he saw the handwriting on the wall. For a variety of reasons, the last four decades have been tough for academically elite, private universities trying to compete on the gridiron. Duke has had only a pair of eight-win seasons since 1962.
But in a different time Duke could and did compete with anybody. Rappold concludes "we were close, we cared about each other. We weren't an NFL factory. School work was stressed, the all-around approach. It wasn't always easy but it was always worth doing."
Jim Sumner's articles on southern sports history have appeared on GoDuke.com before through Blue Devil Weekly. He has also appeared in the ACC Handbook, the ACC Area Sports Journal, Inside Carolina, the Wolfpacker, Baseball America, Basketball America, and other publications. His latest book, Tales From the Duke Blue Devils Hardwood, was published in 2005. In his bimonthly column "Looking Back... by Jim Sumner", he will examine the rich history of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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