Duke Helmet Honors One of the Most Important Games Ever

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Alternate uniforms rarely warrant mention in college football anymore, but the new Duke helmet, unveiled on the program’s equipment staff Twitter account Thursday, is a very noteworthy exception.

The “Battleship Grey” Duke helmet commemorates one of the most important games in American history: the 1942 Rose Bowl.

Duke hosted Oregon State for the 1942 Rose Bowl, as the Blue Devils will host Virginia Tech Nov. 5 for Virginia Tech’s visit. The Granddaddy of ‘Em All moved from Pasadena to Durham that year as a result of bans on major events along the West Coast, the result of the attacks on Pearl Harbor just weeks earlier.

The game itself is historic for that reason alone. However, the direct impact players and coaches from the ’42 Rose Bowl had in World War II etches this game’s place in the annals of American history — say nothing of the sport.

In 2012, I wrote a retrospective of the game for another site. Below is an excerpt explaining the significance Beavers and Blue Devils meeting on the gridiron had later on the field of battle:

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Not long after the final whistle in Durham, fierce war raged in the Pacific and the Allies sought to launch counterattack on Europe via north Africa. Student-athletes who played their hearts out in North Carolina’s version of the Rose Bowl joined thousands of other young men in volunteering for the war effort.

The qualities that Wade employed as leader of the Duke football team were honed while serving as Captain of Cavalry of the 117th Infantry in World War I. He again brought his natural leadership to the battlefront in World War II. Wade served in the European Theater.

Gray went from a gridiron hero in the lax use of the term, as the player to cross the goal line for OSU’s winning score. He was a hero in the true sense as a bomber pilot, something about which he spoke to The Los Angeles Times‘ Robyn Norwood on the 60th anniversary of the ’42 Rose Bowl.

Four alumni of the ’42 Rose Bowl were among the over 100,000 American casualties of World War II. Wrote Michael Penn for Duke Magazine:

Duke back Walter Griffith, a sophomore, joined the Marines the same day as Barnett. Eleven months later, he was killed in a battle in the Pacific. Reserve running back Al Hoover dove on a grenade on Peleliu Island in September 1944, trading his life for those of his compatriots. Star tackle Bob Nanni was shot at Iwo Jima in March 1945. Oregon State’s Everett Smith drowned during a landing in the South Pacific.
But competitors on Jan. 1, 1942 became comrades in combat. OSU tackle Frank Parker helped save the life of backup Blue Devil quarterback Charlie Haynes, as detailed in Gordon White’s piece for The Southern Pines (N.C.) Pilot. A similar moment occurred during the Battle of the Bulge, when OSU tackle Steve Czech shared food with a fellow soldier who had not eaten in days.

It was Wallace Wade.

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fields-of-battle
While the Battleship Grey Duke helmet commemorates the “Fighting Blue Devils” of the 88th Infantry, the very stadium in which Duke and Virginia Tech meet serves as a daily reminder of the ’42 Rose Bowl. The Blue Devils’ home stadium was renamed for Wallace Wade in 1967.

The above only scratches the surface of the importance surrounding the new, Duke helmet. Brian Curtis’ book released just last month, Fields of Battle, covers the 1942 Rose Bowl Game in much greater depth.

No, the Duke helmet is no garden variety alternate. Important history is packed into that one lid.