Ben Cohen

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Football Coach Doubles As Political Wonk

It has become somewhat of a tradition for David Cutcliffe to start his Tuesday press conference with a prolonged lighthearted quip or engage with the media mob in a topic other than football. He chided reporters for the impressive arsenal of digital recorders and iPods with microphones in front of him one week and expressed his literal distaste for yellow jackets before Duke played Georgia Tech.

This week, Cutcliffe began with a political statement.

“If we win, there is certain to be an Atlantic Coast crisis in the next six months,” he said.

Pause.

“Y’all don’t get it. I don’t believe it!” he said jokingly. “Do y’all not watch the news, the last days in politics? Anybody pay attention to what’s going on? Anybody know what Joe Biden’s quote was? Good gracious guys, you have your heads buried in the sand. Never mind, you won’t get what I just said.”

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Editor Devotes Column To Krzyzewski’s Criticism

John Drescher, the executive editor of The (Raleigh) News & Observer, is probably a bigger sports fan than most of his counterparts at the top of mastheads across the country. He has tickets to N.C. State basketball games, tries to take in games in Cameron Indoor Stadium whenever he can and self-deprecatingly says that “it’s probably not a good sign when you’ve read more John Feinstein books than books by Ernest Hemingway.” It’s also fortuitous that such a sports nut is the editor of the Triangle’s largest and most influential newspaper, because he is far from naive about the impact of athletics on the area.

And he’s certainly not one to dismiss press criticism from perhaps the most prominent figure in the area, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who blasted local newspapers Jan. 7 after he was displeased that no media outlet printed a story about his Blue Devils jumping to No. 2 in the rankings.

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What Did Greg Monroe Say?

Mike Krzyzewski and John Thompson III both refused to credit the Blue Devils’ 76-67 win to freshman center Greg Monroe’s second-half technical foul. Krzyzewski said that the the foul, Monroe’s fourth, simply “stopped the game for a while” and allowed Duke to “right the ship” after the Hoyas had cut Duke’s lead to four. Thompson was understandly more terse, saying that “The technical was a key part of the game, let’s not try to run from that,” after successfully dodging an initial question about the technical.

Still, it was clear that Monroe’s technical foul did change the tenor of the game. The Blue Devils surged from that point, going on a 15-3 run to put the game out of reach. Monroe was noticeably rattled, and when he came back into the game, he was so hesitant to foul out that he backed off on defense.

But the question still remains: Did Monroe actually merit the technical foul? Did he, in fact, say something to Big East official John Cahill, or did the referee attribute a comment from a fan to Monroe?

“A lot of people were saying things,” Monroe said after the game. “I don’t even believe he was really looking at the bench, but I know I definitely didn’t say anything. I can’t say if I heard someone else, but I know I definitely didn’t say anything.”

It wasn’t as black-and-white in the media.

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Cutcliffe Opposes Obama’s Playoff Push

President Barack Obama’s willingness to stray from normal politics and stray into athletics has once again emerged in the transition period from Grant Park on Nov. 4 to the Washington Mall on Jan. 20. We didn’t learn much new about Obama in 60 Minutes’ interview with him Sunday, but the man with too many sports connections once again articulated his stance on perhaps the hottest policy issue in all of sports.

Obama joined many critics of the Bowl Championship Series—he’s reaching across the aisle already!—and pitched his own version of an eight-tea, three-round college football playoff.

“If you’ve got a bunch of teams who play throughout the season, and many of them have one loss or two losses, there’s no clear decisive winner. We should be creating a playoff system,” he said. “It would add three extra weeks to the season. You could trim back on the regular season. I don’t know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this. So, I’m going to throw my weight around a little bit. I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Not so fast, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said Tuesday.

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White Introduced As Athletic Director, Live Blog

We’re in the Yoh Football Center, where Kevin White is minutes away from being introduced as Duke’s next Director of Athletics.

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My Sportsman Of The Year

David Cutcliffe’s office is simple but not bare, coated with dark mahogany, covered with posters of Cutcliffe’s quarterback protégés and accentuated by a 52-inch plasma television across from his desk. When I visited him there in the beginning of September, sunshine poured through the wall-length windows that allows Cutcliffe to peer into Wallace Wade Stadium at will.

The topic of the day, his 2005 brush with death, was grim, and to mollify the tension, we extended the small talk and chatted as human beings, rather than with the awkward strain that seems to plague introductory interviews. I wanted to delay the inevitable, but his curiosity in learning more about me was genuine, and I was rather alarmed by it, even though I felt comfortable with him and our chitchat flowed organically. Cutcliffe said his wife’s affinity for Broadway shows put him in a delicate situation because he would rather watch a football game at a New York City sports joint; I told him I felt the same way, but passed on a few musicals I happened to enjoy.

He was gracious in our subsequent discussion, which ranged from shoulder pain to bypass surgery. Fear of death was the conversation’s undercurrent, invisibly lurking and powering discussion, as it has a habit of doing. After about 30 minutes, I reached for my recorder to cut the tape. “You see that photo over there?” I remember Cutcliffe said, motioning behind me to an enlarged print equidistant from the window and the television and, in the process, rebuffing the tide.

It was the picture of fandom: Rows and rows of Duke students, their emotions bleeding through the canvas, cheering as if they were in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Except they were outside on a late summer night having just witnessed Cutcliffe win his first game, and the bliss that had been bottled up for an offseason of veiled expectation and years of futility finally surfaced. It was the essence of sport’s beauty, and Cutcliffe must have understood, even if he would never admit it, that he had inspired such splendor.

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National Signing Day, Live Blog

It’s now official: Duke’s Class of 2009, Cutcliffe’s first class, consists of 27 recruits, nine from North Carolina. In his press conference, Cutcliffe said he emphasized speed, size and skill and that he was impressed with the reception he received when he tried to sell Duke Football to recruits and high school coaches.

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The Twitterati’s Prayers Are Answered

Not even the Twitterati knew what to expect before Duke’s 101-91 win over Wake Forest Sunday. When we called for predictions on Twitter, no one called for career performances from Gerald Henderson and Jon Scheyer—but to be fair, if anyone had, we’d be sufficiently spooked. All rationality about this team was dismissed long ago. So the Twitterati resorted to prayers, and Henderson a higher force was there to answer.

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