Not the basketball season. That figures to go on for weeks, for an entire month if things fall into place. Not the rich panoply of campus athletic competition. For many spring varsity sports, from lacrosse to baseball to tennis to rowing to golf to track and field, the season is just hitting its stride.
And not the academic year itself, which concludes in early May.
For many, what ended the other night went beyond a 17th undefeated home season, the third in four years, for Duke men’s basketball.
Rather, the cold, wet March evening marked the conclusion of a six-month passage along a familiar route, marked by periodic visits that began as summer faded and culminated as winter yields to spring.
There’s much to be said for the electricity of competition, as well as enjoyment of watching teams that possess the will and wherewithal to win. But, in both victory and defeat, spectators at Duke contests, particularly in football and basketball, enjoy a quality of connection to place and history that stands apart.
If you’re looking for living athletic history, Duke is a good place to start. In their setting and the relative intimacy of their embrace, Wallace Wade Stadium and Cameron Indoor Stadium are throwbacks, links to other sensibilities and other times.
It’s hardly putting a romantic spin on a prosaic fact to say the pre-World War II buildings echo the past.
Even changes that gnaw at the landscape – eliminating trees and greenspace, adding pavement and buildings – haven’t significantly altered the character of the two key venues that dominate Duke athletics.
The history of both places is familiar, though still worth recalling.
Duke Stadium opened for use in October 1929, the same month the nation saw the greatest stock market crash in its history. Among the facility’s selling points to bond investors had been that, unlike most venues, it offers entrance from the top and unobstructed views throughout.
The horseshoe-shaped stadium, the first facility used on the university’s new West Campus, cost $330,000 to construct, according to the ACC. That’s about the equivalent of six year’s worth of tuition, fees, room and board for a contemporary Duke student. The sum was greater than was spent to erect football stadia built later at four present ACC schools -- Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, and Virginia.
Wade Stadium remains the sole venue outside Pasadena, California, to host the Rose Bowl (in January 1942).
Three years earlier Wallace Wade’s Blue Devils, perhaps better known in those days as the Iron Dukes, appeared on the West Coast in their first Rose Bowl. Proceeds from that game helped fund the school’s new basketball arena, originally designed as a domed structure with “sittings” for 5,000.
Duke Indoor Stadium, as it was then called, opened in January 1940 while the tides of world war lapped at the borders of America’s friends and allies in Europe. The arena preceded by 22 years the construction of every other home court presently employed in the ACC.
Named more than 40 seasons ago for Eddie Cameron -- a former Duke basketball coach, football coach, and athletic director – the Blue Devils’ home court was a colossus of its time, the largest indoor arena on the East Coast south of the Palestra in Philadelphia.
The Indoor Stadium hosted the Southern Conference Tournament, the nation’s oldest, from 1947-50. Everett Case’s Wolfpack won all four times the event was held in Durham. The building seated 8,800, 514 fewer than today.
Duke’s arena served as the model for 12,400-seat Reynolds Coliseum, which opened in December 1949 on the campus of N.C. State. The tournament for the Southern spinoff, the ACC, was held from 1954 through 1966 at Case’s place.
Visitors may not think of that history every time they arrive on campus for a game, but it’s there, on the tip of the mind’s tongue.
Look to many campuses that embrace big-time sports, and to many cities that do likewise, and a state of drama and flux have become the norm. Contests are moved off campus, or student numbers reduced in proximity to the court. Serviceable arenas are downgraded or discarded in hot pursuit of more seats, more revenues, more attention, more stylish flourishes.
Such modern afflictions have yet to reach Duke, where renovation and adaptation have been watchwords and old is now more reverently dubbed “iconic.”
Even the approaches to Cameron and Wade diverge from the norm.
Those who attend football and basketball games at Duke cannot do so without leaving major highways to travel smaller, tree-lined roads. Many traverse routes that haven’t changed in decades, winding through sections of Duke Forest or along the outskirts of the university’s main campus, the buildings along the way blending with, rather than looming over, the landscape.
When Duke football and basketball seasons end, game-time neighbors go their separate ways. But they part knowing the old places remain, the seasons of the year circling back to a fresh kickoff come fall.