5 years ago the words “DUKE” and “LACROSSE” were synonymous with every angle of wrong. Rape. Racism. Contempt. Players were embarrassed. A season was lost. A coach abandoned his team. They were a rising power in the world of lacrosse, newly minted number team in the land, viewed by many as the team to beat. Then the actions of three affected the lives of so many.
Fast forward to 2010. Zack Greer, Matt Danowski, Ned Crotty and Tony McDevitt were the remaining players from a scandal that rocked college sports. Fifth-year seniors who were granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA and that stayed at the program where so many of their friends and teammates abandoned them so as to not be mentioned in the same breath as Duke, their loyalty to their school was rewarded. The same team that was shamed in 2006 became champions in 2010 by beating Notre Dame 6-5 for their first national title. Some turnaround huh?
“We knew no one liked us and we definitely leaned on each other” said Crotty. We realized the only thing that mattered was us. We knew everyone else hated us, so we knew we only had each other. That’s why this team is so tight-knit.” They had to be. In the months after the scandal of 06 everyone from Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to celebrities such as rapper Common blasted the team. They were disgraced and humiliated in a trial of errors from phony testimony to a DA only interested in re-election.
There was support from fellow Duke Athletes who wore “Innocent” bracelets at the 2006 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but little else. Nothing good could have possibly come from the words “DUKE LACROSSE.”
After the soap opera played out in the court room, Duke went back to work on the field in 2007. The scene was different as Mike Pressler resigned and gave way to John Danowski. The results on the field were still the same but now there was a new tagline for the dukies, they couldn’t get it done when it mattered.
They lost heartbreaking one goal games to lacrosse powerhouse Johns Hopkins in the national title of 07 and the final four of 08. Then they were beaten to a bloody pulp by Syracuse in semis again last year. It seemed as though heartbreak and anguish just new when and where to find Duke in the previous four years.
This year was different. They weren’t the power of college lacrosse, not even in their own conference. Those distinctions belonged to North Carolina and Virginia whose men and women lacrosse programs have also had their share of rough times recently. Duke came in as a 5 seed in the tournament with little shot at making the semis again. Yet after dismantling Johns Hopkins in round one, then beating heavily favored UNC in the next round you could sense something brewing. It came to a head against Virginia in a 14-13 victory. Duke held off a late rally against the number one team in the nation to advance to the title game against unranked Notre Dame, who was also seeking their first title.
It wasn’t the type of game that the high scoring Blue Devils were used to. Irish goalie Scott Rogers and his 6’4” 260 pound frame kept the nation’s leading scoring team in check all game and with under minutes left, the Irish maintained a meager 5-4 lead. Then Justin Turri’s tally at 8:44 tied up the game and it stayed that way until overtime. C.J. Costabile scored the game winning goal just five seconds into overtime that gave Duke its first national championship in lacrosse and that finally put to rest the shameful past that has haunted its program. Once the goal went in and the celebration took to the field you could see more than just happiness that comes with winning a national championship, you could see the relief of players and a program that could now be known for more than just an awful set of circumstances that took place in 2006.
“I hope this takes over the story of Duke Lacrosse,” Crotty said. “Hopefully we can put everything else to rest, so when people think of Duke lacrosse, they think 2010 national champions.” hopefully so. The program and school never received apologies from the civil rights leaders that bashed them though evidence proved them to be innocent. There still is sentiment shown towards them in a negative light. However, those storm clouds have passed and it’s time to move on from a past discrepancy that was shady from its inception and only involved a few people. Crotty is right; this is what we should now know this program for. For perseverance during dark times and for showing championship grit when it mattered, because that’s what Duke has become, champions. “DUKE” and “LACROSSE” are no longer words to be scared of; instead it’s something to be very proud of.