This weekend in Durham, N.C. was marked by College GameDay, beautiful campus vistas, Carolina barbecue and a near-heart-attack-inducing match between Notre Dame and Duke. The Irish’s last-minute 21-14 victory over the Blue Devils in Wallace Wade Stadium was a thrill to watch in person and a fitting end to a wonderful day. Read along to hear what The Observer sports staff was up to this weekend in Bull City.
After a brisk 1.5-hour flight from South Bend on Friday afternoon — thank you United direct flights — we arrived in a sunny Durham just in time for dinner. Upon checking into the hotel and settling in, we parted ways to spend time with family and friends in the downtown area. The city adopts an industrial charm, with the Burt’s Bees warehouse and energetic night scene taking top marks. The night brought plenty of festivities for us with a delicious tapas meal, a lively Notre Dame pep rally and an exciting mechanical bull ride — a 10/10 experience, I may add.
The next day, we were up and at ‘em early and arrived at ESPN’s College GameDay on Duke’s Abele Quad, upon which we had to confirm we were in the right place. Though the unmistakable Home Depot orange was nestled underneath the towering Duke Chapel, the fan environment and crowd numbers were lackluster compared to the infectious energy present on Notre Dame’s Library Lawn last Saturday. We quickly were able to sift through the sea of blue and work our way up to the front of a fence, playing our cards right to get a front-row seat to watch hosts Pat McAfee, Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard run a portion of the show.
Comedian and guest picker Ken Jeong entertained the crowds as we maneuvered our way to the front of the crowd. A Lee Corso Irish jig helped round out the morning when all other pickers bestowed favor upon Duke. We headed around back to see some of the hosts hop in their vehicles, even watching Lee Corso get out of his car to kiss a doting fan on the cheek. Get it, Lee.
From there, we headed into downtown Durham for some authentic Carolina barbecue. To our surprise, the downtown area was not as crowded with fans as expected. We quickly got a table and enjoyed our lunch outside, with some hushpuppies and seasoned fries stealing the show. After a filling lunch, we gathered at Duke Gardens, 55 acres of landscaped and wooded areas right on Duke’s campus. Walking around, you could easily have convinced us we were in some forested paradise and not directly adjacent to an American university. We walked around for a few hours, passing by lakes, flowers and Asian-style architecture as we admired the natural beauty of Duke and learned about the garden’s history. We even stopped at a hut that looked straight from a story book, getting popsicles to round out our visit, deftly fighting off bees in the process.
Following our tour of Duke Gardens, we walked extensively around the campus, especially enjoying a tour of the cavernous Duke Chapel. It reminded us of the basilica at Notre Dame, but with a much more rigid and gothic aesthetic. This colder, gothic feel is how we would best describe the campus at Duke. Students seemed more subdued and we even saw quite a number of students hard at work as we peeked our heads into the library. Where’s the school spirit?
We headed further through the campus to the athletic complex in preparation for the game, where we observed several tailgate lots with blue and white tents. A decent crowd surrounded these areas, though it was certainly not how the Irish do Saturdays. On the way, we checked out Cameron Indoor Stadium, home of the famous, championship-winning Duke basketball team. We entered the stadium through a free tour offered by Duke volunteers, learning the rich history of Duke basketball and getting to see where all the magic happens. We even got the chance to compare my feet to that of players whose size 18 feet model engulfed our size 7 and 9 shoes. A true fan-girl moment. A few pictures later and we were on our way to the press level, where we enjoyed another barbecue meal.
We headed down onto the field prior to the game, in which we scoped sizable groups of Irish fans among the sea of blue. We stayed on the sidelines until a few minutes before kickoff, watching as the Irish warmed up for the fight against the Blue Devils that ensued. Afterward, we made it back to the press box for the team entrances, noting how much Duke likes their pyrotechnics. Even the moon showed out for us, ascending above the stadium as the teams took the field.
Late in the fourth quarter, we rushed down to the field to catch the final few moments and be able to fully convey our emotions while free from the press box’s no-cheering rule. We witnessed Hartman’s instantly-iconic 4th-and-16 play and his successful look to junior running back Audric Estimé from the very same end zone where the touchdown occurred. We could even hear Hartman’s immediate call for what would become the Irish’s successful two-point conversion and Marist Liufau’s following fumble recovery.
Put simply, it was awesome. The energy was infectious as the crowd erupted in a “Let’s Go Irish” chant and the players enthusiastically ran off the field as we viewed Hartman and Freeman’s post-game on-field interviews. We couldn’t help but think about how we were on the reverse end of this very outcome last weekend against the Buckeyes. But, this just made being there for this victory all the sweeter.
There was no short of celebration from the players, either. The song “SkeeYee” could be heard from the Notre Dame locker room in celebration during the post-game press conference as we struggled to hear the remarks from head coach Marcus Freeman. After a late night of writing, we headed to the airport Sunday morning where we helped a former Domer locate her lost phone and made various other alumni connections. Notre Dame truly is everywhere.
All in all, we both agree that this has been our favorite Observer trip to date. Between the thrilling matchup, beautiful views and extensive exploration, Duke did not disappoint. One thing is for sure though, the Irish will always keep us on our toes no matter where we are.