As an outsider, I can only imagine what it would be like to watch a game inside the hallowed halls of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Just walking inside the building gave me chills when I thought about all the great moments, teams and players that were contained there. Even after calling more than 1,200 Duke basketball games, legendary voice of the Blue Devils Bob Harris can recall his first time inside.
“I came in through the campus side,” he said. “And I walked through the doors there at the edge—the lights were off [he was there for a football press conference] in Cameron—I walked about four steps out on the floor. I looked around, and in that darkness I thought, ‘This is where Dick Groat, Art Heyman, Jeff Mullins and Jack Marin and all these guys played. Wow’”
Harris also mentioned in an email that he had a good relationship with Eddie Cameron, the man the building is named after.
“He [Cameron] took an interest in me very early, and once told me, ‘Harris, I like your enthusiasm when you call our games. People need to be enthusiastic about Duke football and basketball, and you can help them with your broadcasts.’”
The Duke archives are full of letters where Cameron wrote he was willing to do whatever he could to help the university. When he retired after 46 years of work, he mentioned he wanted to use the celebration as a way to help Duke out however possible.
When he started at the university in 1926, he had the same attitude. He started as an assistant football coach that season, but in 1930 he was made the head basketball coach. He proceeded to go 226-99, and he also kept good relationships with many players. The Duke archives have letters from former players who kept in touch, especially during World War 2. Russ “Sparky” Bergman wrote fondly of a time when Duke was playing poorly against North Carolina and Coach Cameron gave a pep talk at halftime.
“You took off your coat and you really started giving us the WORKS. You got [Herbert] Cheek and our center crying, and you had the rest of us fighting mad by the time that we left the locker room.”
The Blue Devils would go on to lose that game, but the team made it a close game. Sparky was part of the team that won Duke’s first Southern Conference tournament title in 1938.
When head football coach Wallace Wade served in the military during World War 2, Cameron took over the football team. His success in basketball went with him to the gridiron, as he led the Blue Devils to their first bowl win in the Sugar Bowl in 1942. His success was helped, in large part, by his willingness to adjust. In basketball, he made his scheme fit his players’ abilities. In football, he came up with new ways to attack a defense. In a letter from Yale’s football coach, Howard Odell, Odell wrote about copying Cameron’s idea of sending a player in motion on offense to disturb the defense. Cameron led the team to its first bowl win in the Sugar Bowl in 1942.
After the war, Cameron finished coaching and started working in the athletic department. He helped make it easier for underprivileged student-athletes to come to school. In the 1950’s, he helped found the ACC. In Cameron’s career full of great moments, Bob Harris wrote that Cameron viewed forming the new conference as one of the proudest moments of his career.
Thanks to Bob Harris and the Duke archives for the stories and emails used in this story.