Before there was the catch, the one Jamison Crowder managed to grab and hold onto to seal a come-from-behind win and bowl berth against UNC last year, there was the shoestring play.
On November, 22, 1969, with the score tied 7-7 in the third quarter, Duke quarterback Leo Hart kneeled down, mimicking tying his shoe. The Tar Heels’ defenders took note and didn’t break their huddle, and, suddenly, wide receiver Wes Chesson took a direct snap and ran 53 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in a 17-13 win.
“It was the easiest touchdown I ever scored,” Chesson said, “And the only one anybody remembers.”
Chesson will be remembered this weekend, when he is enshrined in the Duke Athletics Hall of Fame. Chesson, who serves as the analyst for football broadcasts on the Duke Radio Network, is one of seven inductees, a list that includes former basketball star Jay Williams.
Chesson played at Duke from 1968-70 and was drafted in the seventh round by the Atlanta Falcons. He spent four years playing in the NFL. In his senior year, he established ACC single-season records for both catches (74) and receiving yardage (1,080). His 74 receptions stood atop the Duke record book for 42 years, as both Crowder and Conner Vernon eclipsed it last season. Chesson is also Duke’s representative in this year’s ACC football legends class and will be honored during the ACC championship game.
His most famous play, the shoestring play, came in the final game of his junior year. Duke was 2-6-1 entering its home game with the Tar Heels, and, through watching film, the Blue Devils had noticed the UNC defenders lined up with their backs to the ball.
“To tell you the truth, I thought it was just something we were messing around with the last week of practice of the season,” Chesson said. “I had no idea we would actually try to use it in the game.”
But in the third quarter, head coach Tom Harp called for Hart to run a quarterback sweep to set the ball on the proper hashmark for the shoestring play.
“I said, ‘Oh, gosh, if this doesn’t work we’re going to look like the biggest idiots that ever played in Wallace Wade Stadium,’” Chesson said. “But as we lined up, Carolina, they were in their defensive huddle, all of them had their backs to the line of scrimmage and didn’t notice that we were setting up to run a quick play. And Marcel Courtillet just picked the ball up, threw it back to me, and we walled off their huddle.”
Said Hart: “Wes used to always kid me, saying, ‘gosh, Leo, you played in 1,800 plays at Duke, and the one you’re probably remembered most for, you were sitting down on the job.”
After retiring from the NFL, Chesson moved back to Raleigh and became a successful businessman, buying and selling life insurance at The Chesson Company. In the early 1980s, a spot on Duke’s radio broadcast team opened, and then-athletic director Tom Butters called Chesson, whom he knew from his time at Duke. Chesson joined Bob Harris in the booth, and the two have been working together for more than 30 years.
“He loves coming to Wallace Wade on Saturdays, and that’s what keeps him going,” Harris said of Chesson. “I tell him all the time, it’s almost like a married couple, I can start a sentence, and he can finish it.”
Harris was working at the local radio station in Albemarle, when Chesson made his shoestring catch, and, 43 years later, both men were in the radio booth at Wallace Wade when Crowder made his legendary play against UNC.
“He jumped me on the touchdown call,” Harris said. “I wanted to wait and make sure, because Jamison was in a crowd, and I didn’t know, because there was a defensive back on either side of him.”
Oftentimes, if a Duke receiver makes the wrong cut on a route, Chesson will slam his hand on the desktop, wich startled Harris the first few times. By now, though, he’s used to it.
“That’s Wes’ enthusiasm,” Harris said, “Not only for the broadcast, but for the school and university.”
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley