A few years ago, when I was in college and wanted to write something long and important, my best idea was to ask Duke football coach David Cutcliffe if I could hang around the team during spring practice. For some reason, he said yes. I ended up seeing a lot and also not that much. I sat in on a staff meeting. I took notes on the instructions to one secret handshake. I learned what half-assin’ meant and how it could be used in a sentence. I drove with Cutcliffe to Washington, D.C. for a fundraising event. We had lunch at Cracker Barrel on the way.
But one of the coolest parts of the whole thing happened near the end of a practice one day when a plump guy named James Mitchell spotted me from across the field and waddled over. Mitchell was the school’s director of football development. What that quite meant, I had no idea. The first time he had seen me on the practice field, he stomped over and demanded to know who had allowed a reporter on the field. He was nicer the second time we met, and we had even compared childhoods the time after that. I’m from New Jersey. He was from Mississippi. He was a religious man — a pastor! — but also had been an assistant football coach at a whole bunch of small colleges. I really enjoyed talking to him, and we were both really enjoying North Carolina.
“Been here for about a year now,” he said.
“Because of Cut?”
The Triangle was much different from what he expected. As was the case with Duke football, he said, most of what he had heard about the area wasn’t true. “I don’t know,” I said. “Most of what you heard about Duke football probably was true before Cutcliffe came.”
“And that’s what I’m sayin’!” he said. “Comin’ to work now, it’s kind of like bein’ a part of — what’s the word? A resurrection.”