After a 2-0 start for the first time in five years, the Duquesne Dukes football team is hot.
It’s also pretty classy. “Duquesne” has the distinction of being one of the few words of French origin that we here in Pittsburgh grant actual French pronunciation (Chartiers and Versailles have not been given the same fate). Duquesne also has the super-classy Sportexe Momentum — the latest in AstroTurf innovation — covering the Arthur J. Rooney Athletic Field. This unique football stadium rests high on the Bluff, with views of Downtown, the Mon and the Allegheny County Jail. (See? Classy.)
The stadium has been there since 1993, when they actually paved a parking lot and put up a football paradise. Well, maybe “paradise” is a bit of an exaggeration, but it is a pretty cool place to see a game.
The 2011 and 2013 Northeast Conference co-champions are poised for another every-other-year title. Head coach Jerry Schmitt has a lifetime 62-47 record and is bringing back some recognition to the little-noticed Duquesne football program. Really-old-timers will tell you that Duquesne was once one of the premier colleges for football. That crazy old man is correct: During Franklin Roosevelt’s first three terms, the Dukes had a 71-22 record. The only colleges with more wins during that span were Alabama, Duke, Fordham, Tennessee and Notre Dame.
Duquesne even won the Orange Bowl in 1937. The university also led in game innovations: Former head coach Elmer Layden was the first to use hand signals in a football game. These are the very same hand signals that the New England Patriots steal today. Also, coach Layden was the first to have different jerseys for home and away games. This led to the tradition of Steelers fans getting a home Steelers jersey for Christmas and an away jersey for their birthdays.
The 2015 Dukes have gotten off to a scorching start. First they dismantled those holier-than-thou jerks at Kentucky Christian in a devilish 47-7 romp. In week two, the Bucknell Bison put down their dukes and promptly received a 26-7 pummeling. Junior quarterback Dillon Buechel has a rifle of an arm to go with an outstanding receiving corps including Chris King, Dave Thomas, Wayne Capers and Dominique Terrell. If that’s not enough offense, two running backs each rushed for 100 yards in the opener. Klartel Claridy and freshman PJ Fulmore pulled off the feat, and they aren’t even the best backs on the team. Zach DeNardo and Rafiq Douglas went into the season with that title. Nathan Stone, Abner Roberts and Sam Martello, who had 15 tackles against Bucknell, lead the smothering defense. It was the first time Duquesne ever won on Bucknell’s campus.
So come out to 2,200-seat Art Rooney field to see the Duquesne Dukes play some football this season. That early success proves that just because it’s a small school doesn’t mean it’s short on talent.
Upcoming games include a showdown with the hated Alderson Broaddus Battlers from West Virginia, who come into town on Oct. 10 for the homecoming game. On Halloween night, the Wagner Seahawks visit the campus. That college is in New York City, so clearly those guys think they are better than us. The fact that the School of Rock movie was filmed there is its only redeeming quality.
The 2015 home schedule winds up Nov. 21 with a matchup against St. Francis of Pennsylvania — they’re not even the best college named St. Francis. Sure, the Dukes don’t get the coverage of most of the other football teams in town, but that is just another reason to like them. General admission tickets are $10, so all the seats at the stadium are cheap seats. That is my kind of place.