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A (Bowl Game) Day in the Lives of Alumni
The following series of vignettes captures how several Duke alumni experienced game day on Dec. 31, 2013, at the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.
On the twenty-eighth floor of the Centennial Tower on Marietta Street, John Dolan '85, Phil Ebinger '84 and Scott Wilkinson '85 have organized a pregame party for former Duke athletes and friends.
As partygoers eat and reunite a few hours before kickoff, they look down upon a carnival of sights -- the twinkling 200-foot SkyView ferris wheel and a glowing Georgia Dome. But tonight is not just about a party with a spectacular view or even a big-time bowl game, the partygoers will tell you.
It's about a family.
"As time goes on, the things that are the most important really are the relationships," says Ebinger, a former Duke football center. "Many of the guys that I played with, I still know."
Over the years, Ebinger, now chief financial officer of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, has tried to keep up with the centers who have gone after him -- Carey "Bubba" Metts '90, Chris Davis '08, Bryan Morgan '11.
He describes the offensive line as a lineage.
"For me, there's something very special about being an offensive lineman," Ebinger says. "It's a willingness to work hard, to not be recognized, but to know the success of your offensive unit is very much dependent on those five guys upfront. What I've found as I've gone on in my business career and my professional life is that type of mentality has remained with me."
Tuesday night also is a time to reflect on what the former players have been through together as a Duke football family.
"We've lived though some really difficult years," Ebinger said. "I think we all feel bad for the players who were put in a position where the odds were stacked against them and where it was difficult to find a way to win."
But things are changing, he says.
"We're not just trying to put together one good team. We're trying to build a program," Ebinger says. "This season exceeded everyone's expectations."
When Atlanta attorney Harry Harkins '73 learned that his Texan friends were planning to travel to the Chick-fil-A Bowl to support the Texas A&M Aggies, he decided to throw a party.
Harkins, who works on LGBT issues in the Atlanta community, wanted to bring together LGBT alumni and allies from both schools.
On Tuesday, they gather in Harkins' light-filled home for champagne and hors d'oeuvres.
"To me, it's all about networking and making new friends," Harkins says.
While he and many LGBT alumni have issues with the views of Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy, who has publically stated he is against same-sex marriage, Harkins says he can support the bowl -- formerly the Peach Bowl -- because it is an entity separate from the company.
"I'm proud that Duke is in the Chick-fil-A Bowl because it's a major and prestigious bowl," Harkins says.
The afternoon provides Damon Pike '84 and Wayne Hoffman '76 an opportunity to connect with fellow Dukies in their community. They also talk about how they stand behind Duke as it continues to support LGBT students.
Pike established a scholarship for students whose parents serve full-time in the armed forces, and it gives preference to LGBT students. It's Pike's way of giving back to Duke because he benefited from a scholarship. But it's also a way to support students who want to come out of the closet, he says.
Hoffman remembers when Duke's group for gay students met in the basement of an academic building in the 1970s.
"Duke was probably more open than many other southern schools at the time, but still it was not a very open society," he says.
Today is different, he says.
"The fact that they have an LGBT center right now in the Bryan Center?" Hoffman says, referencing the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, which opened in the Bryan Center in September. "I was just there a month ago. I was amazed."
Harkins says that the pregame party was about celebrating alliances -- with rivaling fans, with LGBT alumni and allies, and with Duke.
"It's wonderful to feel valued for what I am as an alumnus, in all respects for what I am," Harkins says.
It's nearly halftime when Lisa Borders '79 opens the door of a club-level box in the Georgia Dome to greet President Brodhead.
She's just come up from the bleachers, where she was busy high-fiving alumni and fans as the Blue Devils built what would become a 38-17 halftime lead. But tonight cheering on her alma mater is just one item on her busy agenda.
It's hard for the former Atlanta vice mayor and head of the city council to separate her love of community from a football game.
Football arenas are full of community life, she says.
When Borders sees people wearing their Duke t-shirts and jersey and hats -- she knows they are her "extended community."
"The collegiality and the camaraderie is instantaneous as soon as you walk into the arena," Borders says.
Borders comes from a long line of family members who serve their communities, including clergy and physicians. Being a civic leader in Atlanta and now working as the chair of The Coca-Cola Foundation has given her the opportunity to serve others in her own way, she says.
"I have the privilege of making communities stronger across the globe," she says.
And when it comes to Duke -- whether it's an athletics, arts, you-name-it event -- Borders says she goes out of her way for the fellow Dukies she meets along the way.
"Pretty often, whatever they are asking me for -- whatever support that they need or guidance or counseling -- they're going to get," she says.
Sue Wasiolek '76 understands the fragility of football.
Having missed only one home game in 40 years, the Dean of Students has been through enough seasons with the Blue Devils to know the years when they were good -- and the years when they were working on getting better.
But she also knows that during the difficult years, it's most challenging for the players, who must be strong in the midst of public critique and who grapple with the reality that the hardest workers don't always win, she says.
Wasiolek is a die-hard football fan and travels with the team to road games. But there's something else that keeps her traveling with them.
She hopes to communicate that Duke cares simply by her presence.
"My hope is that when they see me, they somehow feel that there's this extra level of hope," she says.
They, in turn, have formed a special relationship with her.
They invite her to their weddings and to their babies' baptisms. There's one former player who calls her from a bar on New Year's Eve every year just to say hello.
On Tuesday evening, as the Blue Devils fight in the final minutes of a back-and-forth fourth quarter, Wasiolek stands, encouraging the players with her cheers. And when the game ends just short of the new year, she is still standing. But this time she is silent, her hands clasped to her chin in reverent support.
Like many Duke fans, Wasiolek feels at this moment a mix of sadness and pride. But she also knows that pride will ultimately win out.
And she'll be back in the stands next season.
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