By following the Duke Basketball or Football team for any length of time, most fans would have heard the voice of Bob Harris. Bob has been the voice on the mic for Duke Athletics since the mid 1970’s. He called football games before there was the current press box that we see today in Wallace Wade. He began in a location he described as a wooden “lean-to” near the ten yard line on the home side of the stadium.
Bob’s voice is not only recognized instantly by the Blue Devil faithful, but also by many March Madness fans every year. This is, in particular, thanks to his call of a long pass, catch, and THE SHOT, from March of 1992 happening in 2.1 seconds as Christian Laettner “stomped” the hearts of Kentucky Basketball fans forever. Bob has been told that his call has been cited as the second most recognized sports call in history, ranking in the top five calls of that category.
Bob dove right into sharing how he became the voice of the Blue Devils. He attended NC State University in the textiles program. He would soon find out that many textile jobs were relocating overseas. Seeing this job trend, he would leave school and eventually arrive back in Albemarle, NC after spending time working in South Carolina.
Bob’s first stint as a play-by-play man would come by chance. His first Duke Basketball game would ironically take place in College Park, Maryland against the former ACC squad of the Terrapins. Bob’s relationships with former players of Duke are so important to him. This is evidenced by former Blue Devil, Tate Armstrong. Tate introduced Bob to someone who had found their ticket stub from that first game on February 7th 1976. Bob had filled in for the play-by-play commentator who was sick that day, even though Bob was supposed to do color. He was astounded that someone would still have the ticket stub and would be thoughtful enough to let him have this memento from his first call as The Voice of the Blue Devils.
Apparently a favorite question by many reporters are requests for Bob to name his favorite players of all time at Duke, whether it be by position or by a top ten or top five list overall. He gets questioned this way all the time but refuses to answer, but not out of spite. It is simply because he believes that it belittles the contributions of all of the other players. This reporter had planned to ask those same questions but Bob must have known since he mentioned these questions first. He also described how hard it is to say that one team was or is better than another in Duke history due to the changing times and rules. I did get him to smile thinking of what would happen in the prime of both the 1992 and 2001 championship teams had they played one another. The 2001 team, Bob said, may have been Coach K’s best ever.
Bob and I spoke extensively about his experiences with basketball and football. Since the football season starts in two weeks, I want to share what he had to say about the recent success of the football program and what he thinks is coming up this year for the Blue Devils. Please note that this conversation took place in early July.
What does Bob think Coach Cut does that is different from his predecessors, and making the difference today?
“This is not a technical thing in a sense, but if you go back and look, David is the 9th football coach that I’ve worked with at Duke in 39 years. He has the longest tenure in my 39 years. In those 39 years I have worked with 123 assistant coaches, five of those twice, one of those three times. The longevity of assistant coaches and staffs has not been anything at all in my tenure here. David’s first two years - we did not have any changes. That's the first time in 33 years that it had been the same staff from one year to the next. One QB not long ago had four offensive coordinators. That has been the biggest issue (before Cutcliffe) as I see it. The level of ability that is coming into Duke now, we would get a smattering of three star athletes or maybe every now and then a four star. Sports information would put out a preseason media guide and would include the players bios, “He chose Duke over….William and Mary and maybe one ACC team but for the most part they were over a mid-division one or the other. As you see, now we’re getting three stars…and two four stars for next year! Took one out from under the nose of Southern Cal! When we beat out Carolina for a player we thought that was something.”
“Listen to the assistant coaches talk. Each one that we have lost has gone on to a higher rated position.”
What does he see as being the key to continuing the path of success?
“Well as Bill Dooley used to say when coaching in Chapel Hill, ‘Success breeds success.’ And he’s right, I think, because of what they (Duke) have been able to do the last two years. I could see them winning ten games again this year. The schedule works. We go to Pitt and Syracuse. I don’t know about Syracuse, they have been down for a little while. We don’t have to play Florida State. Georgia Tech is going through a shuffle. Miami will be interesting.”
I asked if the win versus Miami or the back-to-back wins over North Carolina were more impressive. He explained how he put the win over UNC in perspective for the “giddy” players after the game as he rang the Victory Bell. He told them “last night was my thirty-seventh Duke/North Carolina football game to broadcast. It was my seventh win to broadcast in that series!”
Harris would go on to say, “Cutcliffe has instilled a work ethic. He has instilled a winning attitude.”
I asked how he would describe his relationship with both coaches.
“It’s a friendship. Coach K and I have a great working relationship, so do Coach Cutcliffe and I. But Mike and David and I have a friendship. David is a great coach but he is an even better man.”
When I asked what do you want your legacy to be, Bob would recount a story about Joe DeLamielleure. They had a phone conversation where Joe would say “When I listen to you, I can see the game.” “That’s the highest compliment any play by play man can ever receive.”
My conversation with Bob was like talking with a beloved relative. Someone that was eager to share the “family history” so to speak. Bob knows what you want to ask before you ask it. To say that I enjoyed our lunch conversation at Jimmie’s Famous Hotdogs in Durham, is an understatement. He offered me advice on working in the media and writing articles. I’m extremely thankful to have had this opportunity and I hope others will have the chance for a special conversation with Bob, one of the “truest” Blue Devils.
As we closed, I asked what his biggest accomplishment has been as the voice of the Blue Devils.
“What I’m most proud of - there is not a former Duke basketball player that wouldn’t walk through that door that I wouldn’t get a hug.”
Follow Daniel on Twitter: @Thebluecharger
Graduate of Asbury University (undergrad) and UNCG (graduate) with Bachelor and Master Degrees in Music Education. Choral director and lifelong Duke fan.