My father curiously left me a voicemail the other day, imploring me to call him because he had a “sports-related question.” This happens as often as Tim Tebow has sex. To be clear, my dad’s vast sports knowledge consists of little league softball games, NASCAR race tracks, and the fact that Duke has a basketball team called the Blue Devils. That said, after forcing him to go to four years of Blue-White Scrimmages and Family Weekend football games, at least he knows where I went to college. The pertinent portion of our conversation went something along the lines of:
Dad: Does Duke have a monopoly on Blue Devils?
Me: Huh? What do you mean, “a monopoly?”
Dad: Like a trademark. Doesn’t Duke own the Blue Devils?
Me: I mean, we are clearly the most famous of Blue Devils, but we do not “own” the team name. Where is this coming from?
Dad: Well, we were driving through Deep Run last weekend (Editor’s Note: Take a left at Bumfuck, North Carolina, go three miles up the dirt road, hang a right at the tin mailbox, and boom, you’ve found Deep Run), and there is a big sign – I saw it twice – which said, “Welcome to Deep Run, Home of the Blue Devils.”
Me: Maybe it has some connection, like my boy James B. Duke had an illegitimate child there? Or a local sports team? I have no idea.
Dad: “Home of the Blue Devils.” I really thought Duke owned the Blue Devils. Well, what is a Blue Devil?
Me: A French soldier.
Dad: What? That doesn’t make any sense.
Me: Neither do you.
Dad: Your basketball team is named after the French? You know how I feel about the French after The Incident in Paris. (Thoughtful pause). But why? It just doesn’t make sense. Please find out how this happened.
Me: I am more curious about Deep Run’s connection to the Blue Devils, any Blue Devil for that matter, but okay.
The following history lesson of questionable accuracy goes out to my father, the wonderful man who drove all over the country to watch me play sports and yet still remains somewhat clueless about each of them.
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Once upon a time, in a land far far away, an elite army, dressed in dapper dark blue jackets and capes, was formed. Not just any army, but a specialized force trained to overcome mountains, standardized testing, and urban warfare. Ever since 1859, when the independent states of Italy finally arrived at a consensus that they indeed preferred to resemble a large boot as opposed to a collection of mismatching doll slippers, the French were very frightened. So in 1888, to protect the Alpine border, they created an infantry known as the “Chasseurs Alpins,” the very first military unit to ever pimp a beret – which was called a “tarte,” because it was the sexy size of a pie. They had style if nothing else.
Dispatched to the mountains, the Chasseurs Alpins were taught survival skills such as cross-country skiing, igloo building, personal weaponry, lemur hunting, collar popping, and beer pong. They were not taught how to play football. Still, the infantry was so elite that they banished certain words from their vocabulary and substituted new ones. For example, the Chasseurs – which remain a strong force in France today – do not say red, or “rouge,” but instead say “blue-cerise,” meaning cherry blue. They say “jonquille” instead of “jaune,” or daffodil instead of yellow. They do not wear a “uniforme,” but a “tenue” or outfit. The Chasseurs are so brilliant that they must literally speak down to someone else’s level in regular conversation.
The Chasseurs Alpins became internationally renowned for their skills, but more importantly, for resembling superheroes. During World War I, they were nicknamed “les Diables Bleus,” or the Blue Devils, due to the color of their uniforms, billowing capes, and ginormous hats. To raise support for the war, troops of French Blue Devils traveled around the United States, holding events for the public. Like Captain America, but not. Irving Berlin, the great songwriter, penned lyrics in tribute: “strong and active, most attractive…those Devils, the Blue Devils of France.” Rihanna did the remix.
Although World War I was ending, the bombs did not stop falling at Trinity College, a magical institution endorsed by Dumbledore and endowed with treasure, which later became Duke University. The Board of Trustees, still buzzed from its moonshine and mingle mixer, finally lifted its quarter-century prohibition of football in 1919. Thus, a year later, Trinity began dominating college athletics. At first, they were simply known as the “Trinity Eleven,” but that sounded too much like a group of secret agents or felons. They were then called the “Blue and White” or “the Methodists,” but neither nickname stuck because they were both horrendous. The student body sat perplexed in the stands, dumbfounded by who to cheer for or what to say. Silence and confusion have been longstanding traditions at football games ever since.
Praise Allah, in 1921, the journalistic geniuses over at The Chronicle saved the entire institution from crumbling. They campaigned for a “catchy name, one of our possession that would be instantly recognizable nationwide in songs, yells, and publicity.” The Chronicle has always had a habit of yelling at people. Nevertheless, they wanted to rival the Georgia Tech “Golden Tornados” and North Carolina State “Wolfpack.” A multitude of terrible ideas were floated. The Catamounts? Too dirty. The Grizzlies or Badgers? Too animalistic and inferior. The Dreadnaughts or Captains? Too pirate. Thankfully, the editors, who strongly believed that the school color of dark blue should be connected, said “Nevermind, you all suck at this, please pick from these: the Blue Titans, Blue Eagles, Polar Bears, Blue Devils, Royal Blazes, or Blue Warriors.” Admittedly, the Polar Bears would have been really awesome. But the student body hated all of them, especially the “Blue Devils,” which they thought was too controversial on a Methodist campus and could ultimately jeopardize the football program.
No decision was made for years. In fact, the stalemate and indecisiveness went on for so long that, in 1923, the editors of The Chronicle said “fuck it, we are just going to pick a name ourselves.” So that year, William H. Lander and Mike Bradshaw, respectively the editor-in-chief and managing editor, began referring to all Trinity athletic teams as the Blue Devils. Although it took years to catch on, the student body, full of returning veterans, did not complain. And on October 5, 1929 – the day that the football stadium was dedicated – the Blue Devil mascot made its first cameo during a Duke-Pittsburgh game. And Duke University officially adopted the Blue Devil as our own.
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Finally, to solve the mystery of why Deep Run, North Carolina is “Home of the Blue Devils,” I consulted a map. I felt just like Ferdinand Magellan. Deep Run is in Lenoir County, which is home to South Lenoir High School, which is home to the South Lenoir High School Blue Devils. You know who else has Blue Devils? Central Connecticut State University, Dillard University, Lawrence Technological University, SUNY-Fredonia, the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and these dancing fools. So no, Dad, Duke doesn’t own the Blue Devils; we just have the best ones.