By JIM SUMNER
Not a lot of passing records from 1987 are still on the books. The game has changed too much. And we all know that records are made to be broken, especially with hurry-up offenses and four-receiver sets.
Which just goes to show how well Steve Slayden played against Georgia Tech that Halloween afternoon a quarter-century ago. Slayden ended his day with six touchdown passes, a record for the ACC that has been matched but never surpassed.
Slayden grew up in Atlanta but was never a fan of either Georgia Tech or Georgia. Both of his parents were Auburn graduates, and Slayden was a big Auburn fan.
Slayden picked Duke over such powers as Notre Dame and Florida State, as the more run-oriented programs in his area showed little interest.
Steve Sloan was Duke's head coach at the time. Slayden says it wasn't an ideal offense for a passer. "His approach was a traditional I-formation, run over people. It was antiquated."
Sloan was replaced by Steve Spurrier for 1987, Slayden's senior season, and it was a much more compatible match. "Spurrier recognized that Duke had to throw the ball. He was a perfect fit for Duke."
Receiver Clarkston Hines says it's unfair to compare Sloan to Spurrier. "Coach Sloan ran an offense that was similar to what 90 percent of the other ACC teams ran. Coach Spurrier's offense was so innovative. Timing played a huge part. The routes were aligned to create spacing. Defenses of that era couldn't handle it."
Spurrier's willingness to throw early and often benefited a deep and talented group of receivers that included Hines, Doug Green, tight end Dave Colonna and running back Roger Boone.
Spurrier's first season as head coach at Duke was a frustrating one. Duke went into the Georgia Tech game 3-4, having lost its previous three games by seven, seven and one point.
Georgia Tech offered a chance for Duke to turn it around. The visiting Yellow Jackets were 2-5, with starting quarterback Rick Strom out with an injury. He was replaced by Darrell Gast.
Duke drew first blood. Slayden hit Hines from 9 yards out, and Duke led 7-0 as the first quarter ended.
The lead lasted three plays. Gast hit Greg Lester for 48 yards, setting up a 7-yard scoring run by Alphanzo Thomas.
Duke regained the lead with a 10-play, 68-yard drive. Hines got the last 32, mostly on his own. "It was a middle route against man and somehow I was able to get into the right corner of the end zone." His "somehow" included breaking several tackles.
By this time, Slayden was getting the idea that Tech didn't have any answers. "They were playing deep safeties, with man underneath. They were trying to guard Roger (Boone) with a linebacker, and you couldn't do that. He was too quick. Coach Spurrier told me that we were going to keep throwing to him until they stopped it."
The underneath routes were open and Slayden was smart enough to figure it and good enough to exploit it. Hines said his quarterback was "savvy, confident, a good athlete, with an accurate arm, who could read coverages and had really good intangibles."
Slayden notes that his offensive line gave him all the time he needed for the routes to come open.
Thomas Palmer missed a 32-yard FG for Tech. A 69-yard Duke drive stalled, but Doug Peterson converted the field goal from 28 yards. Slayden hit Boone for 29 and 26 yards in this sequence.
Duke linebacker John Howell recovered a Tech fumble a yard shy of midfield. Slayden continued to mine the short routes, hitting Boone for 12 yards and fullback Stanley Monk for 12. Slayden scrambled 12 yards, setting up a short TD pass to Keith Daniel.
"For some reason, they weren't guarding Keith," Slayden recalls. "He looked at me and his eyes were wide open. And then, I almost missed him. But he made a great catch."
Boone had an astonishing 11 catches for 142 yards at the half. Duke led 24-7.
Tech made some adjustments at halftime to control Boone, but Slayden kept finding other targets.
Gast and Lester connected for 87 yards on the second play from scrimmage of the second half, closing to 24-14.
It was a brief respite. Slayden passed to Boone for 27 yards -- his last catch of the game -- setting up Slayden's fourth touchdown pass, 11 yards to Hines on third-and-goal.
Randy Sally recovered a Tech fumble at the Duke 37. Touchdown pass number five was 11 yards to Colonna; 38-14.
A Dewayne Terry interception of Gast at the Duke 27 led to a 28-yard FG by Peterson, making it 41-14.
Duke got the ball back late on a Fonda Williams interception. Slayden figured his day was done. "Coach told me to get back in. I wasn't going to argue."
Spurrier knew something that Slayden didn't. Slayden was tied for the ACC record for touchdown passes in single game, set by Tommy Suggs of South Carolina in 1968 and equaled by Kevin Anthony of UNC in 1985.
Duke moved down the field on the ground before backup tight end Bud Zuberer became recipient of touchdown pass number six, 19 yards out, with 1:43 left.
It ended 48-14. Slayden finished 31-50, for 396 yards, without a single interception.Boone had 12 catches for 169 yards, Hines 6 for 81 yards. Nine different Blue Devils had catches.
Spurrier explained his decision to leave in Slayden. "We knew he was going for the record, otherwise the other quarterback would have been in there."
Tech coach Bobby Ross refused to shake Spurrier's hand after the game but later calmed down and said he understood the decision.
Two players since have tied Slayden's ACC record, Florida State's Chris Weinke in 1999 and Virginia's Dan Ellis in 1999.
Slayden -- who is a realtor in Charlotte -- is a top-notch golfer, and he compares this game to golf. "When you're playing well, you never know how many shots under par you are. You just know you're playing well and you want to keep doing it. I'm surprised the record has lasted this long. You've got to throw a lot to throw six touchdown passes, and they're throwing it a lot more these days. It was a great day and a great memory."-d-u-k-e-