My brother said he didn’t even know that Davidson played football.
“Well, they’ve had a team for more than 100 years,” I said after explaining that I was covering the Wildcats’ football game with Marist College for The Charlotte Observer today. (A look in the media guide revealed that 2009 was the 111th Davidson football season.)
“But they’re more of a basketball school,” said my brother, not one to let go of a point easily.
True enough, I said. Then we talked for a while about the Davidson basketball games we saw with our Dad at the old Charlotte Coliseum in the early 1960s, when Lefty Driesell coached the Wildcats to their first national prominence.
Even those who don’t go back nearly that far probably still think that Davidson + sports = basketball. You know, that guy named Stephen Curry and that team that came a basket away from the Final Four in 2008.
But it’s sometimes an uneasy co-existence when a college’s football and basketball teams play on different-sized stages. A few years back, I read a book called “A Season in Purgatory” about Villanova football by a Philadelphia sportswriter named Tony Moss. It described how the school’s football team took a back seat to its high-profile Big East basketball program.
I’m not saying that that’s the way it is at Davidson. But at least this afternoon, as the Wildcats’ struggling 3-6 football team took the field for its last game, the buzz seemed to be about basketball.
A TV in the press box at Richardson Stadium was tuned to the Wildcats’ season-opening basketball game at Butler — a big early-season clash of mid-majors — when it started about an hour after the football game kicked off. It marked the beginning of the post-Stephen Curry era, the Wildcats’ prolific scorer having gone on to the NBA after the end of his junior season last spring.
Compared to the nationwide exposure the basketball team gets, Davidson football labors in relative obscurity. The Wildcats play in what is now called the NCAA’s Football Championship Series (the clunky name for the former Division I-AA), in a conference called the Pioneer Football League. It’s an odd aggregation of 10 teams spread from coast (Marist hails from Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) to coast (the University of San Diego is the westernmost team).
A crowd of 4,011 — smaller than some of the school’s basketball throngs, I’m sure — turned out for the Senior Day contest. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon with a sort of throwback feel to it. There were lots of well-turned out alumni — fellows in jacket and tie and khakis and women sporting corsages.
And the game turned out to be a typical performance by the Wildcats in what has been a frustrasting season. In a 14-6 loss to the visiting Red Foxes, Davidson’s defense grabbed three interceptions and blocked a field goal. But the Wildcats, as has been their problem most of this season, couldn’t score points.
Afterwards, Davidson coach Tripp Merritt was understandably subdued — his team had just lost a very winnable game. And he even sort of apologized to me for not being very talkative — again, not a problem, coach.
“There just wasn’t one thing you could put your finger on,” he said. “We were always a day late and a dollar short.”
I went back upstairs to write my story. Players and their families were mingling on the field and in the stands before the football gear was packed up for the season.
The basketball game was still on the TV. Davidson, which had led by 10 points in the first half, now trailed by two. (They ended up losing by 11.)
One season ends, another begins. In sports, it’s the way of the world.