Why Football Matters: Timeline

Nov. 27, 1888:

Trinity College’s inaugural football team, organized and coached by president John Franklin Crowell, beats UNC 16-0 in the first game played in the South under recognizably modern rules.

Oct. 28, 1893:

Trinity topples UNC 6-4 to capture the unofficial North Carolina championship and spark “great rejoicing” on the Durham campus.


Issues of governance come to a head when football advocate Crowell lobbies for greater control of Trinity’s athletic policies. Methodist leaders disagree, and Crowell resigns his post. He is replaced by John Kilgo, who declares football “unfit” to be played at a Christian college.


No team is fielded.

Oct. 5, 1929:

Four years after becoming the Duke Blue Devils, the school opens its state-of-the-art stadium—the first structure to be completed on West Campus. Duke’s outrageous ambition outstrips its talent, as the Devils lose to Pittsburgh 52-7 before 25,000 fans.


In a stunning move, coach Wallace Wade leaves the University of Alabama to come to Duke. He will lead the Blue Devils to nearly two decades of prosperity and national renown.


Starring Hall-of-Fame fullback Eric Tipton, the Iron Dukes aren’t just undefeated through nine games—they’re unscored-upon. But one of the greatest seasons in college sports history is snuffed out when Southern Cal scores a last-minute TD to beat Duke 7-3 in the Rose Bowl.

Jan. 1, 1942:

Unbeaten Duke is set to face Oregon State in the Rose Bowl, but after World War II breaks out on Dec. 7, the game is moved from Pasadena, Calif., to Durham. The Beavers upset the Blue Devils 20-16 before more than 56,000 fans.

Jan. 1, 1945:

With Wade away at war, Eddie Cameron coaches Duke to its first postseason victory, a 29-26 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Nov. 25, 1950:

Following a 7-0 shutout of North Carolina, Wade retires with seven Southern Conference titles and a 110-36-7 record at Duke.

Jan. 1, 1955:

Head coach Bill Murray caps Duke’s first undisputed ACC title with a 34-7 win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

Jan. 2, 1961:

QB Don Altman ’61 finds All-America receiver Tee Moorman ’61, M.D. ’66 for a nine-yard fourth-quarter TD pass as Duke beats Arkansas 7-6 before 74,000 fans at the Cotton Bowl. It would be the Blue Devils’ last bowl appearance for 29 years.


In a pair of games emblematic of Duke’s struggles in the 1970s, the Blue Devils go to mighty Michigan and lose by a combined score of 73-9—but crowds of more than 104,000 help pad athletics’ bottom line.


New coach Red Wilson hires Steve Spurrier to run a high-octane offense that spurs a catchy, if illogical, marketing slogan: “Red Means Go.” Duke finishes 2-8-1.


Despite a blazing attack featuring quarterback Ben Bennett ’84 and back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since the ’60s, Duke fires Wilson—a clear indication of higher expectations.


In the culmination of a three-year rebuilding project, Spurrier leads Duke to an 8-4 record, a 41-0 victory over UNC, an ACC title for the first time since 1962, and an appearance in the All-American Bowl. Then he decamps to Florida.


Duke is competitive for a fleeting moment under national Coach of the Year Fred Goldsmith, finishing 8-4 with an appearance in the Hall of Fame Bowl.

1996, 2000, 2001, 2006:

Duke fails to win a game. From ’95-’07, the Devils will suffer through ACC losing streaks of 21, 30, and 25 games.


In the fifth year of David Cutcliffe’s tenure, Duke finally becomes bowl-eligible again, thanks largely to a 33-30 win over UNC on Jamison Crowder’s last-minute, upside-down TD grab.

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