The History Corner: Duke-Stanford, 1971

As Duke prepares to play Stanford at 3:30pm Saturday, Lewis Bowling enters the TRB fray with a piece on the last time these teams met, in 1971. In addition to being a published author and a Duke historian, Bowling writes for and the Herald-Sun, and teaches a sports history class at Duke.

Duke had a new coach in 34 year old Mike McGee. Tom Harp’s last year as coach of Duke was 1970, so 1971 under Coach McGee had a lot of question marks. Great players in Leo Hart, Wes Chesson, and Dick Biddle had played their last games in 1970. The team lacked depth, according to Coach McGee, and faced a tough schedule.

But after impressive wins over Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia to start the season 3 and 0, Duke climbed to the 19th ranked position in the nation in the AP poll.

But now their task was their biggest of the season, taking on the defending Rose Bowl champion Stanford, who came into the Duke game ranked number ten in the country. Like Duke in losing their great quarterback from 1970, Leo Hart, John Ralston’s Stanford club had just graduated the 1970 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback in Jim Plunkett. But Stanford had an outstanding replacement for Plunkett in Don Bunce, who had a plethora of skilled, agile, and fast receivers to throw to.

So on October 2, 1971, in Palo Alto, California, before 61,000 loud fans, pretty much all yelling for Stanford, not many people gave Duke much of a shot to pull the upset. And with Stanford on the Duke 16 yard line with a first down on the third play of the game, things didn’t look so good for the Blue Devils. To make matters worse, Duke came into the game with most of their offense missing in fullback Steve Jones. Also, just about their entire defensive line had been lost to injuries and were not playing, including defensive ends Bruce Mills and C.G. Newsome and defensive tackles Melvin Parker and John Ricca.

Steve Jones was out of the game in part because of a girl. Former Duke head man Wallace Wade would have been livid over such a thing, as the old coach didn’t believe that football and girls mixed well at all during a season. But this was a different time, and Jones had borrowed the car of quarterback Dennis Satyshur to return a date to Duke’s East Campus. After dropping the young lady off, the car blew a tire on Campus Drive on Jones’ return to the West Campus and ran off the road, injuring Jones’ sternum. The car was a total loss, and the injuries could have been much worse. As it was, there would be no Steve Jones running and punting against the powerful Stanford Indians, as they were referred to at the time.

Wallace Wade speaking with his team

To put it bluntly, Jones had been pretty much Duke’s offense in the first three games of 1971. He had rushed for 469 yards for an average of 156 per game. He was Duke’s punter. Along with that, he had caught two passes. As former Durham Herald-Sun sportswriter Frank Dascenzo had put it, “Jones is 90 per cent of Duke’s offense. Quarterback Dennis Satyshur and his receivers and the other Duke runners are the remaining 10 percent. Make no mistake about it, the Dukes are in big trouble without Jones. His loss is like taking Alcindor from the Bucks, Gabriel from the Rams, Hull from the Black Hawks, Mays form the Giants. He’s the guts of the team and more importantly, the man who moves the football.”

Carmen Falcone, a Duke assistant coach who had scouted Stanford’s 37 to 17 win over Oregon, commented on what Duke was to face. “Stanford has experience, they have a great passing game, they have a great running game, they have a great kicking game, and they play great defense. Those factors make them a real football team.”

But make no mistake, Duke had weapons too. They had Ernie Jackson, Rich Searl, and Bill Hanenberg in the defensive secondary. Amazingly, all three would make All-ACC for the ’71 season. Ed Newman was one of the top linemen in the conference and big Willie Clayton stood 6-3 and weighed 256, and could run like a deer, clocking a 4.6 forty. By the way, on the side, Clayton threw the shot put for the track team and Newman was the reigning ACC heavyweight wrestling champion.

Mike McGee knew a thing or two about coaching linemen, having won the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation’s outstanding linemen, in 1959, playing for Duke. After a serious neck injury ended his promising pro career with the St. Louis Cardinals, McGee served as an assistant coach at Duke before becoming head coach at East Carolina. Coach McGee would go on to successful tenures as athletic director at the University of South Carolina, Cincinnati, and Southern California.

Wallace and Mrs. Wade with Mike and Ginger McGee

But now let’s get back to the game in Palo Alto, 61,000 are screaming as Stanford has a first down on Duke’s 16 three plays into the game. Things look rather bleak for Duke, as their best offensive player and most of their defensive front are not available to help. But after a couple of Don Bunce passes fall incomplete, Stanford’s Rod Garcia missed wide left on a field goal. Shortly after that, Ernie Jackson intercepted a pass and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown. The point after by David Wright was blocked, but Duke led 6 to 0. That score stood up through halftime. Wright kicked a 21 yard field goal to make it 9 to 0 in the third quarter.

Just before the third period ended, Rich Searl intercepted a pass to stop a scoring thrust by Stanford. Chuck Munday had stepped in to take the place of Jones as punter, and he punted Duke out of bad field position after Duke failed to move the ball following Searl’s interception. Munday was outstanding all day long, punting nine times for a 45.4 yard average.

Stanford got its only points of the afternoon when Garcia made a field goal in the fourth quarter, and the game ended 9 to 3 in Duke’s favor. Duke had beaten the 10th ranked team in the nation on its home field without much of its key personnel. This game has to rank as one of the best upsets for Duke in its football history.

After the game, Coach McGee, commenting on Duke getting outgained in total yards 362 to 139, said, “That’s the way it is gentlemen. We’ve been out-statisticed in three of our four games, but we’re still 4-0.” Frank Couney, a writer for the San Francisco Examiner, summed up the game well, “The injury plagued Blue Devils utilized a quick reacting defense, a second string punter, and a ho-hum but timely offense to establish and maintain control of Stanford.”

Because of their depleted defensive line, Duke had to realign their formations, which ended up confusing Stanford. “We ran out of defensive ends,” Coach McGee said after the game. “So we had to play a defense where we used only one defensive end. We played a linebacker as a weak end. Although we used three linebackers, it looked more like a 5-2 defense than a 4-3.” Coach Ralston of Stanford commented on this also, “They changed from the 4-3 to an odd defense at times. Some of their defensive stunts kept us off balance.”

At Fisherman’s Wharf Saturday night in San Francisco, the Blue Devils ate dinner at Dimaggio’s to celebrate the big win.

A large crowd, estimated to be over two thousand, greeted the team at the Raleigh-Durham Airport Sunday afternoon on its charter flight from the West Coast. When the plane arrived, the crowd roared and the band played the Duke fight song. Ernie Jackson was carried away on the shoulders of the crowd.

Duke finished 6 and 5 in 1971. Ernie Jackson had one of the best seasons any Duke player has ever had. He was named ACC player of the year, and an All-American, and was named defensive player of the week three times and offensive player of the week after rushing for 187 yards against Navy. As a tailback, Jackson averaged 5.5 yards a carry on 65 attempts and scored five touchdowns for the season. He also caught a pass for 21 yards. He returned 18 punts for a ten yard average and one for a touchdown, while also returning 15 kickoffs for a 23.7 yard average. Plus, Jackson intercepted four passes, two of which he returned for scores. Steve Jones recovered from his injury to come back and finish the 1971 season with 861 yards rushing, caught 3 passes, and passed for 3 completions. He also punted 25 times for 37.2 yard average. Rich Searl also showed his various talents in 1971, intercepting five passes, returning a kickoff for 24 yards and 15 punts for a nine yard average. On offense he rushed for 186 yards, caught a pass for 28 yards, and passed for 221 yards on 16 completions. Ed Newman made the All- ACC team as an offensive tackle along with defensive backs Jackson, Searl, and Hanenburg as previously mentioned.

Mike McGee is retired now, living on a ranch in Colorado. He still keeps up with the Blue Devils, where he played and coached. Asked how he spends his time, he replied, “Well, I’ve got 15 grandchildren, so that answers that question. Also, I raise running quarterhorses, which I really enjoy.” Recalling the Stanford game now, 30 years later, Mike McGee said, “By the time Stanford realized they were in a football game, it was too late for them to catch up. Sure, I think we caught them a little off guard; after all, they were the defending Rose Bowl champions and were highly ranked coming into the game. They had one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Don Bunce.”

On September 10 of 2011, a highly regarded Stanford team will pay a visit to Wallace Wade Stadium to play Duke, 30 years after the 1971 game. David Cutcliffe, Duke football coach, knows his team will have their hands full, especially with the aerial attack led by Heisman Trophy contender Andrew Luck, Stanford’s quarterback. “We have a huge challenge in playing Stanford this season. They are a well disciplined and coached team with some greatly talented players. Often when a player is touted as a preseason phenom it is mostly hype. I can honestly say that Andrew Luck is the best player in all of college football. We will have to be at our best to pull off an upset of this fine Stanford team.”

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3 Responses to The History Corner: Duke-Stanford, 1971

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  1. TarHeelAlex says:

    THree comments. First, I enjoyed this feature. I love articles dealing with history, so this is a really cool feature. Also, Duke has a sports history class? That is awesome. I will concede to Duke that you have bested us in that column. I would love to take such a class.
    As for the third comment, Mike McGee is from up my way in NC. Although I’ve never met him, I do know his brother who is a legendary high school athletic administrator. If Mike is anything like his brother, he must be a real nice guy.

  2. Smoky says:

    Great great story. Unfortunately I don’t think this is Duke’s day for a big upset. Cutcliffe just isn’t getting it done.

  3. Sandra Pierson says:

    I am trying to locate Melvin F. Parker who was a student at Stanford University circa 1918 and would appreciate any information or leads on his life and family. Sandra Pierson

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