The last time Duke and North Carolina’s football teams were this good at the same time, the United States was still sending men back and forth to the moon, and Starbucks was opening its first store. That was way back in 1971 when Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” was the biggest hit on the charts.
Currently, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels are both 4-0, which hasn’t happened since 1971. Football fervor filled fans and alumni (check out Duke alum, Kim Jeong, on College Gameday before the Duke-Notre Dame game this Sat.) alike at those schools. Rightfully so: this season one of those schools, usually known for basketball more than football, might win the ACC conference title. That hasn’t happened since 1989. That’s right: the last time either Duke or UNC won an ACC football title, the Soviet Union still existed.
In 1989, Duke won the ACC football title (sharing it with Virginia). The last time North Carolina won it was 1980, more than four decades ago. That’s a long dry spell for a Tar Heels gridiron championship. But don’t shed tears for Tar Heels Nation. Since 1980, UNC has won five national titles in basketball. Michael Jordan and Tyler Hansbrough have made fans at Chapel Hill forget a lot of football losses.
This year, regardless of how far Duke and UNC continue to rise in the AP poll, North Carolinians won’t be able to place in legal sports bets on their teams. North Carolina online sports betting won’t launch until at least Jan. 8, 2024, but it’s not likely that the industry will get off the ground until later into the spring or summer.
What happened the last time the Blue Devils and Tar Heels were both 4-0?
The last time these two prestigious North Carolina schools were both 4-0, each football team lost their fifth game. In 1971, Duke faced Clemson, who was 0-3, at home, with a 4-0 record. In that game, the Blue Devils apparently lost track of the end zone and fell 3-0. That’s right 3-0. Must have been a thrilling contest. After defeating NC State a week later, Duke fell apart, losing four of their last five games, including an embarrassing 38-0 shellacking at home against North Carolina. Ouch.
On October 9, 1971, the same Saturday that Duke was losing to Clemson, No. 18 North Carolina hosted Tulane. Mike Walker, quarterback of the Green Waves, tossed four touchdowns in the first half to build a 28-7 halftime lead. The game tightened in the third, but then Coleman Dupre returned a kickoff 100 yards for Tulane to ice the game in the fourth. The final score was 37-29, and Tulane toppled the Tar Heels, handing them their first loss. NC lost to No. 7 Notre Dame the following week but recalibrated and won five consecutive games, including four in-conference. The Tar Heels were invited to the Gator Bowl but lost to Georgia.
Good coaches lead to good seasons for Duke, UNC
Any student or fan of Duke or North Carolina knows that Coach K and Dean Smith (or Roy Williams) were instrumental in the success of college basketball at those schools. The same is true for their oft-overlooked football programs.
In 1971, the UNC head football coach was Bill Dooley, who spent 26 years on the sidelines, mostly with North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Dooley won three ACC championships, including the Tar Heels’ first in 1971. He won 165 games and is a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
Duke’s coach in 1971 was Mike McGee, a former Blue Devil who won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best lineman for the school. McGee did the best he could at Duke with modest talent, posting two winning seasons in eight years, and winning as many as five games five times. He was destined for other success: serving as athletic director at three schools, including USC. McGee was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1990. He frequently was seen in the stands for Duke home games well into his 80s.
Brown and Elko provide superb leadership
Current Duke head coach Mike Elko has injected fresh air into a Blue Devils program that. Last season, his first in Durham, Elko led the team to its first nine-win season in nearly a decade and a bowl win. He’s a defense-minded, hard-nosed, old-school coach who seems intent on transforming the program from “pushover” status to contenders in the ACC.
Mack Brown doesn’t need to prove anything in his second stint as UNC head coach. In 33 prior seasons, he’s led his teams to 25 bowl games and twelve 10-win seasons. His 99 wins are a school record, and his .589 winning percentage is second all-time among UNC coaches with at least 100 games. This year, Drake Maye’s sophomore campaign has him in the Heisman Trophy odds conversation, and so far the Charlotte native hasn’t disappointed.
Thanks to their fast starts, Duke and North Carolina are only a few wins away from bowl eligibility and bettors checking NC college bowl game odds. Both have set goals of winning an ACC title. And that’s something that has not happened for these schools in a very long time.
Image Credit: Ben McKeown / AP images