Duke

Duke football team makes its own Christmas in New York City

Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk, left and teammate running back Shaquille Powell (28) celebrate after Sirk scored a touchdown with six seconds left against Miami in October. The Blue Devils face Indiana Saturday, in the Pinstripe Bowl in New York, a destination that’s easy for players’ families to travel to.
Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk, left and teammate running back Shaquille Powell (28) celebrate after Sirk scored a touchdown with six seconds left against Miami in October. The Blue Devils face Indiana Saturday, in the Pinstripe Bowl in New York, a destination that’s easy for players’ families to travel to. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Early on Christmas Eve morning, Valarie Edwards had plans to get in her car near Atlanta and start the drive north to New York. At the end of the more than 850-mile trek is her son, DeVon, and the rest of his Duke teammates who are there preparing for the Dec. 26 Pinstripe Bowl.

“It’s going to be a long trip,” DeVon Edwards said. “She said, ‘It’s the first time in four years that I get to spend Christmas with you.’ 

New York City is a much easier travel destination than the Sun Bowl in El Paso, where Duke played last year, so Edwards’s mother isn’t the only one taking advantage.

Quarterback Thomas Sirk’s parents and girlfriend are flying in Christmas Day. And running back Shaquille Powell will get to spend the first Christmas since losing his 7-year-old brother Malachi Briggs to cancer in June with his mother, her fiancé and some of his uncles.

“There will be a fair amount of family there for the holidays,” Powell said. “I never thought I would ever be able to go to New York, so just getting that opportunity is pretty cool.”

Edwards has never been to New York City either, and Sirk has been just once. Not all bowl destinations are created equal, and New York, especially during the holidays, registers high on the excitement level for the Blue Devils.

“In El Paso last year, I didn’t get to be with my family on Christmas day,” Sirk said. “I’m really excited that they get to make this trip and come up on Christmas day. They fly in during the afternoon, so I get to see them that night. What better setting than New York City?”

There will be a fair amount of family there for the holidays. I never thought I would ever be able to go to New York, so just getting that opportunity is pretty cool.

Duke’s Shaquille Powell

Duke coach David Cutcliffe has organizational skills that are second to none, so the Blue Devils’ itinerary for New York was planned out well in advance. And the coach did take Christmas into account.

The Blue Devils, who are staying in Times Square, will have breakfast and a team meeting before heading downtown to the National September 11 Memorial.

“That’s about as good of a Christmas morning as you can have, in all sense of the word, so I’m looking forward to that,” Cutcliffe said.

Next on the agenda is a trip to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, where Cutcliffe will meet with the media. The players will see the field for their first and only time before the game. The Blue Devils will dress for practice there and then head back to Manhattan, where they will go through their final practice of the 2015 season at Columbia University.

Later that afternoon, there will be a Christmas service available for anyone who wants to attend. And once night falls, it’s into normal day-before-a-game mode.

“The best part of that, I can tell you, for most all of it, we’re going to be together,” Cutcliffe said. “For our coaches that have smaller children, if they want to have a little Christmas, they’ll have a little bit of time. If they’re like my kids when they were small, they’re up at 5 o’clock. We’ll see.”

It might not be a traditional Christmas, but it’s not too out of the ordinary for the Blue Devils and other major college football teams. They spend Thanksgiving together, too, so they’re plenty used to each others’ company during the holidays.

“The first year was a shock for me,” senior linebacker Dwayne Norman said. “I wanted to be home. I thought it was a bit unusual to not be with my family. I have a new family now: Duke football. We get to be with the team and practice and play around in the game room wherever we are. It’s now something I’m actually excited about, the chance to be with my team for the last time on Christmas.”

Laura Keeley: 919-829-4556, @laurakeeley

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