Duke Defeats Michigan to Silence the 21st Century Anvil Chorus
On November 22, 1963 President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The Duke–Michigan basketball rivalry began one month later.
As part of a traveling package, Coach Vic Bubas with his assistants Chuck Daly (Yes, the same Chuck Daly who would lead the Detroit Pistons the NBA Title) and Bucky Waters, decided to take Blue Devil show on the road.
The Blue Devils were a Final Four team the year before and enjoyed a No. 4 pre–season ranking for the 1963–64 season. It would be a method to familiarize the country with Duke basketball.
Road–weary and worn down, the Blue Devils checked into a local Ann Arbor hotel. While the players tried to catch some shut–eye, Coach Bubas went over his scouting report to prepare a game plan.
After several minutes Bubas leaned back in his chair and remarked, "fellas, I think we have a problem on our hands here."
For years a mere also–ran in the Big 10 Conference, feisty coach Dave Strack of Michigan had performed one of the great recruiting and turn–around jobs of all–time.
On hand that night to do battle with the "Pride of Dixie" Blue Devils were Center Bill "The Big Bossman" Buntin, 6'7" 240, Power Forward Oliver "The Arm and Hammer" Darden, 6'7" 225, and Guard "Jazzy" Cazzie Russell, 6'5" 235. Russell would eventually become the National Player of the Year as a Senior.
"I believe we're going to run into an old–time anvil chorus tomorrow, we'd better have our ducks in a row", said Bubas. "What's an anvil chorus" inquired Daly? "When the big drum goes boom, boom, boom, those guys look like they stepped out of a blacksmith shop," answered Bubas.
The fearsome Wolverine front-line dominated the Blue Devils the next night and destroyed Duke, 83–67. That would be the Blue Devils' worst loss during the season.
This fact would weigh heavily upon the team, and one that Coach Bubas would eventually turn to his advantage.
Three months later Duke faced the Wolverines in the Final Four. Running the giant Michigan Five into the ground was the assignment, and the Blue Devils played superbly. The final score of 91–80 does not do justice to the Blue Devil domination.
During the next two seasons the schools split a pair of games, as each titan won on the other's home turf (See Pictured Above). Later, following a few years of meaningless games, there was a near 20 year silence in the series.
By December of 1991 history had nearly repeated itself as Duke waltzed into Ann Arbor as the defending national champion and ranked No. 1 in the country.
The Wolverines had won the national title in 1989 and had recruited a group of star freshmen nicknamed "The Fab Five", a take–off of the nickname "Fab Four" given to the Beatles when they arrived in the U.S.A. in 1964.
Bill Buntin lived again in the form of one Chris Webber, Oliver Darden walked the court under the name Juwan Howard, and Cazzie Russell was represented, in diet form, by Jalen Rose.
Duke expected little more than a quick work–out from the Michiganders. What they got was an overtime thriller that pushed the mighty Blue Devils to the brink. "We'll see them again" intoned forward Brian Davis of Duke. He would be a prophet.
In the National Championship game that season the Wolverines faced the Blue Devils. Duke calmly took Michigan apart to win, 71–51.
The following season the Wolverines were considered the preseason No. 1 ranked team while Duke had lost the National Player Of The Year in Christian Laettner.
The two schools squared off in Durham the next December, and Bobby Hurley led the Blue Devils to a 79–68 destruction of the vaunted Wolverines. Hurley was a career 3–0 versus the Fab Five.
Later, Michigan hired former Duke point guard Tommy Amaker as head coach. During this era, the Duke–Michigan series went through a hiatus, only returning to its full fury the past season.
And so it goes until the two ancient rivals, who fought titanic clashes many years before any of the current players were a twinkle in their Fathers' eye, met for the showdown in New York City, the 2008 version of the Anvil Chorus. This one played under the name of "Coaches vs. Cancer".
The agile, mobile, and hostile Blue Devils swarmed Michigan's young guns and recognized early that only Manny Harris seemed willing to challenge the defensive thresher known as the Duke defense.
The pace of Michigan's play kept the game relatively close for a half, but there is no disputing the Blue Devils were the superior team on this night. Their play in the second half proved it.
There would be no mini–explosion by the Wolverines, the likes of which took out tottering UCLA on Thursday. The final score, Duke 71 Michigan 56.
As the powerful Blue Devils stood proudly to accept their Championship Trophy and awards for winning the Tournament, one can imagine that somewhere in the ear of the cast of Devils a voice whispers, "Beware The Anvil Chorus".
"We'll see them again" would be appropriate as the two old rivals will hook up next month in Ann Arbor.
Then it will be time for round two, and we can only hope the great rivalry can live up to its past days of glory. It helped heal a hurting country once before, it may be able to do so again.
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