The 1938 Iron Dukes: A Lasting Legacy

The most famous Duke football team of all lost only one game—to the University of Southern California in the 1939 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Yet the team accomplished a feat far more difficult and commendable: winning all nine, regular-season games without ever being scored on.

The 1938 Iron Dukes

It was after their fourth game of the season, a 6-0 victory over Georgia Tech, that Duke was first referred to as the “Seven Iron Dukes,” by Bill Cox, a reporter for The Virginian-Pilot. The name stuck, and the toughest defensive team in university history eventually came to be known simply as “The Iron Dukes.” Led by co-captains and All-Americans Dan Hill ’39 and Eric Tipton ’39, Duke recorded victories over Wake Forest, North Carolina, Syracuse, and North Carolina State, earning a number-three ranking as the team prepared for its final game of the regular season against Pittsburgh, known for its high-scoring offense.

The game was held in Duke Stadium in snowy conditions before a crowd of more than 45,000 fans. The teams were evenly matched, and there was still no score by the end of the third quarter. The deadlocked game came down to one crucial play in the fourth quarter, when Duke’s Willard “Bolo” Perdue ‘37 blocked a punt by Pitt’s John Chickerneo deep in Pitt territory. Perdue recovered the ball and ran it into the end zone for a score. When “True-Toe” Tony Ruffa ’41 converted the extra point, Duke took a 7-0 lead and held on to it until the final horn sounded. The crowd stormed the snow-covered field to celebrate the record-making victory. The Iron Dukes of 1938 had completed a perfect season and became immortalized in college-football history.

Share your comments

Have an account?

Sign in to comment

No Account?

Email the editor