Another weekend, another doubleheader. Given the logistical challenges of my new environs in the Northeast, I have to take advantage of every flight to maximize opportunities to explore the college football landscape. So when two weeks ago the game times were announced for an afternoon Duke game followed by a North Carolina night tilt, I scrambled my calendar to take advantage of a rare doubleheader along Tobacco Road. With only fifteen miles separating Durham from Chapel Hill, the two schools are one of the preeminent destinations in the country for hoop heads, but I’d gladly settle for a few ACC pigskin match ups in mid fall.
I rise early on Saturday to a perfect crisp day overhead, the forecast bodes a clear fall afternoon for football. The first order of business is to scope out one of the well regarded breakfast haunts in Chapel Hill known as Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen. Dishing out epic breakfast biscuits for over three decades, owner Barry Campbell borrowed the recipe from his grandmother to start the little shack. The Chapel Hill location is drive thru only, and a continuous flow of cars backs five deep waiting to order at the tiny window. They churn through cars efficiently though, and I order up their signature fried chicken, egg and cheese biscuit after the order girl points it out as the best seller. Tossing in an order for a ham and egg biscuit as well, my entire order checks out at around nine dollars and I retreat to the adjacent parking lot for a feast on the trunk of my rental Kia. True to reputation, the biscuits are pillowy and soft, yet light. The hefty chicken biscuit is a best seller for a reason, completely overshadowing its porcine brethren, and I’d happily order a pair of them the next time around.
Loaded up for the morning, I finish the easy drive over to the Duke, where I’m corralled into a ten dollar lot to park. The sprawling Duke campus is carved into a few hundred acres of piney woods, and thusly void of any real sides streets or public access of any kind, which thwarts my usual free side street parking.
It’s an easy walk over the the Duke campus, easily among the most picturesque in the country despite being beset by construction and cranes on the day of my visit. The Chapel is the centerpiece of the lush green central quad, a 210ft. soaring Gothic masterpiece faced with Bluestone, a local material quarried from nearby Hillsborough, North Carolina. While the chapel certainly impresses, it’s not the building I’m here to see.
The building I’m most interested in, actually, is the Von Der Heyden Pavilion which lies tucked discreetly into the courtyard formed by the central William R. Perkins library on campus. The Pavilion, a small, unobtrusive, glass box – somewhat of a contrast to the heavy stone facades found throughout campus – was a building that I designed during my days as an architect. As my sole commission before joining the ranks of corporate america, I spend nearly an hour reminiscing inside something that I designed. Admiring the rolled steel gothic arches, a contemporary spin on the lines found throughout campus, the building is still standing after ten years. In fact, it has aged quite well, and the expansive glass and natural light beckons students into the space even on a football Saturday morning. Evidently, I was doing something right as an architect once upon a time…
Nostalgia complete, I make my way towards Wallace Wade stadium as the noon kickoff approaches. A few blue tents are set up in the parking lots as I pass by the hallowed halls of Cameron Indoor Stadium, home of Duke basketball. Raising a lone finger in the air, I quickly locate a $20 seat on the 30 yard line, a bargain compared to the forty dollar seats the box office is hawking. Carved into a hillside on campus, Wallace Wade is a low slung, understated venue, where even the press box is overshadowed in height by nearby trees. Despite the smaller dimensions, the bleachers feel distant from the action, as a track encircles the gridiron creating a wide chasm between the stands and the field (The University of Washington shares a similar drawback, but their aluminum roof overhang helps amplify the crowd noise onto the field) . This distance, coupled with the low angles of the seats, make it hard to generate any intimidating crowd noise in the horseshoe – although, despite their recent success, historically the Duke football program has offered little for fans to get very excited about.
As the game kicks off, the Blue Devils jump out to an early onslaught. marching 62 yards down the field into the end zone to open the scoring. They follow the quick touchdown up with a field goal to start the second quarter, and, jumping out to a 10-0 lead, it portends a blowout for the visiting Cavaliers. But the Wahoos battle back in the second frame with a touchdown and field goal of their own, knotting the score at 10 apiece for halftime. Despite the two middling ACC squads on the field, we have a game on our hands folks.
The second half proves to be a back and forth defensive battle, as both offenses anemically struggle to move the ball and they claw and scratch for inches of field position on each successive drive. Far from the snooze fest that I expected, the battle turns into a nail biter as the ACC squads muddle into the third quarter tied at 13. Finally, deep into the 4th quarter the Duke offense finds a glimmer of momentum. They march 65 yards down the field on 9 plays. The drive is eventually punctuated by backup quarterback Thomas Sirk, who flips an easy three yard touchdown completion – his only passing attempt on the day – to wide receiver David Reeves as the Blue Devils assume a 7 point lead. Their exhausted defense manages to hold off the final few drives by Virginia, and Duke skates away winners in Wallace Wade by a final of 20-13.
After the final whistle, I trot quickly back to the parking lot, I’ve got a night cap to get to at North Carolina Chapel Hill, and there’s some barbecue on the menu in between….
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