Reprinted from the December issue of GoDuke The Magazine, the official monthly publication of Duke athletics
A Rose Bowl bid, Duke’s second in four years, already had been offered and accepted by the time Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, precipitating America’s immediate entry into World War II.
The war would have a transformative effect on the nation and the world. At Duke, an insular, regional university, norms were challenged and relationships redefined. Over at the far edge of West Campus, the war caused a reshuffling of coaches in football and basketball, and martial adjustments inside the basketball arena the 1942 student yearbook called “the new gymnasium.”
And, of course, for the only time in history, due to fear of enemy attack along the West Coast, the Rose Bowl was uprooted. Cities from Memphis to Baton Rouge to Chicago offered to serve as substitute hosts, but college football’s most prestigious bowl came to Durham.
For about a week after Pearl Harbor it appeared the game would proceed as scheduled on January 1, 1942, the appearance of normalcy touted as good for national morale. Four-day train excursions from Durham to Pasadena, California — the “Blue Devil Special” and “The Duke” — were quickly arranged, advertising first-class accommodations, Pullman berth excluded, for $125.58 round trip. As the 1942 Chanticleer, the school yearbook, reminded readers, “Duke students are rabid football enthusiasts and are eager to follow their team all over the country.”
Back then, the winner in the Pacific Coast Conference, in this case Oregon State College, got to choose its opponent. Spurning several Texas schools not already committed elsewhere, the Beavers invited Wallace Wade’s 9-0 Blue Devils. Despite playing in the much-disparaged Southern Conference, the record included a Homecoming win over Tennessee, the Volunteers’ first regular-season loss since 1937.
Four days after the Pearl Harbor attack, Duke graduate Dick Herbert arrived in California to compile a confidential report for Wallace Wade, the school’s athletics director and head football coach. Herbert, later the well-respected sports editor of Raleigh’s News and Observer, was sent to assess the climate of opinion regarding the Blue Devils’ pending visit, for which the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association already had sold 65,000 tickets.
Duke was anything but a popular choice to appear in the game. One Los Angeles-area newspaper reported that announcement of the pick at a local college football game was greeted with “a moment of silent shock” followed quickly by “a full-throated chorus of boos.”
Duke’s previous Rose Bowl appearance, later credited with paying for its new indoor basketball arena, also had proved a public relations and competitive setback of notable proportion.
The Iron Dukes, led by Football Hall of Famers George McAfee and co-captains Dan Hill and Eric Tipton, led Southern Cal until the final 40 seconds of the ’39 Rose Bowl. That’s when Trojan sophomore quarterback Doyle Nave threw a touchdown pass to fellow sub Al Krueger to shock Duke, 7-3.
Wade, a future Hall of Famer, was highly regarded as a coach but routinely described as quiet, taciturn, glacial, and other variations of imposing and not-the-best interview. “During a football game, and for some time after the final whistle, he’s so tense over the issue at hand that he can’t relax and settle down to normal conversation,” explained a sympathetic California sports columnist fed information by Herbert.
Following the crushing Rose Bowl defeat, Wade had difficulty meeting USC coach Howard Jones to offer congratulations. As he navigated a crowd to reach the Trojans’ locker room, Wade was asked by a reporter if he would shake hands with Nave, who had thrown the decisive pass. Wade declined, in what some onlookers apparently perceived as peremptory fashion. The coach later explained he was focused on seeing Jones and meant no disrespect.
This became known as “the Doyle Nave incident” among L.A. writers. At some point Wade apparently also made a remark casting doubt on his willingness to ever again bring a Duke team to the West Coast. “That was one of the infrequent occasions when we writing fellows were in full accord with Wally,” wrote a columnist in the Los Angeles Times.
The Duke coach, an admired figure back home, became “the hated Mr. Wade” in print in California. When publicist Herbert came to town to assess the damage, the Pasadena Post ran a story on his arrival, accompanied by a photo that referred demeaningly to “Wally Wade.”
Needless to say, the media climate was far more welcoming in Durham, which combined with Duke to host the displaced Rose Bowl. The Jan. 1 game sold out in three days, attracting 56,000 fans, many accommodated by extra bleachers borrowed from the University of North Carolina.
Unfortunately the contest was played in a driving winter rain that began three hours prior to the 2 p.m. game time. The Devils fumbled the opening kickoff on the slippery turf at Duke Stadium, and never gained the lead. They rallied to ties in each half, led by All-America halfback Steve Lach, only to fall, 20-16.
Initially it seemed the Rose Bowl had a greater impact on campus than the advent of world war. But by February 1942 some 200 Trinity College students had left for active duty or military-related roles. The curriculum was jiggered to reflect a wartime emphasis, if only in name; typical was a course on parabolic equations that became “Math of Artillery Fire.”
Within 14 months of the Rose Bowl, two-thirds of Duke male undergrads were in some sort of reserve training program. Experiencing a decline in enrollment, the school admitted greater numbers of women. (Females were forbidden, incidentally, from intercollegiate competition. They participated in play days and intramural games, “giving them,” said a contemporary publication, “greater moral and spiritual courage.”)
Duke’s most conspicuous military ties were with the U.S. Navy. During the summer of 1941 the university had added a unit of the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. Of 218 applicants that first year, 110 were chosen.
The program was based in the building later named Cameron Indoor Stadium. A shooting gallery was located in what are now offices behind press row. Storerooms and an armory were placed upstairs. Among NROTC’s accouterments were a torpedo, a machine gun, and a scale model of the battleship North Carolina, permanently docked these days at Wilmington, N.C., as a tourist attraction.
By 1943 Duke added the Navy’s V-12 program, an accelerated training regimen to speed qualified military personnel and high school students into active service as officers.
Within the basketball arena’s public spaces, Eddie Cameron’s last Blue Devil squad went 22-2 in 1941-42, the best record of his 14-year tenure. Duke was led by captain Raymond “Hap” Spuhler and a quartet of Durham High grads, notably guard Cedric Loftis, the team’s top scorer (8.3 points per game). The season ended on March 7 as the Devils repeated as Southern Conference champions.
Wade resigned the same month to return to active military duty, having served as a captain in World War I. This time he volunteered as a major in the field artillery, leaving Cameron, the football backfield coach, to take his place as athletics director and “acting head coach.” (A later Duke legend, basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, likewise served as a field artillery officer in the U.S. Army and rose to the rank of captain.)
Cameron’s place on the basketball sidelines was taken by Gerry Gerald. In football Duke lost 21 players from the Rose Bowl unit, but the new coach opened up the offense and posted four straight winning seasons. “Eddie Cameron has done a splendid job with the material available,” said one local writer.
The final game during Cameron’s inaugural season came against Jacksonville Naval Air Station. The Flyers, an all-star unit, beat Duke 13-0 behind McAfee, the 1939 Blue Devil leader in total offense as a senior.
Wade, meanwhile, advanced to lieutenant colonel in the Army, eventually serving for 15 months in France and Germany with three different American armies. Wade did not entirely get away from football, however. Before shipping out for Europe, late in the summer of 1942 he coached the West Army All-Stars to a 2-3 exhibition record against National Football League opponents as part of an effort to sell war bonds.
Upon concluding his military career Wade was awarded a bronze star. He retook the football reins at Duke in 1946, only to retire permanently from coaching in 1950 with a career record of 110-36-7.
It’s a pretty safe bet no one again called him Wally.