Anthony Dilweg had spent three years on the bench waiting for a moment like this. With Vanderbilt leading 15-14 and seven minutes left to play, Dilweg, Duke's quarterback, was facing a third-and-15 from his own eight-yard line. He stepped into the huddle, fixed his gaze on his teammates and calmly called the perfect play: "Wahoo Steamer!"
Four wide receivers—three on the right side—trotted to the line of scrimmage and on Dilweg's second "Hut," blasted downfield. Flanker Clarkston Hines cut to his left, sliced through four Vanderbilt defenders covering the middle of the field and leaped to snare a 21-yard Dilweg pass. Commodore linebacker Billy Cunningham slammed into Hines at the 29-yard line. The ball squirted loose, but Duke wideout Walter Jones fell on the fumble.
"I felt bad," Dilweg said later. "But I had to lob the ball, put it over the linebackers. I told the guys to watch out—to catch the ball and get down—because somebody would be coming."
Hines's reception—plus three more Dilweg passes—set up a 44-yard field goal by Doug Peterson, which put the Blue Devils in front to stay two weeks ago in a game Duke won 17-15. "I felt we'd win," Dilweg said afterward. "I had a premonition in the third quarter. I've seen so many things bad happen in my career here. Sooner or later something good had to happen to us."
So far this fall something good has happened to the Blue Devils every week. Going into Saturday's game at Clemson, Duke is 5-0 for the first time since 1957, a miracle conjured up in large part by Dilweg.
Before this year Dilweg, a fifth-year senior from Bethesda, Md., had started only two games for the Blue Devils. Dilweg had been the regular punter since 1985, but he was best known around the Duke campus as the football player with the wacky sense of humor. He plagued his teammates by spraying shaving cream in their jockstraps. In a public speaking class he delivered an emotional halftime oration while dressed as a transvestite basketball coach, complete with panty hose, black pumps and red lipstick. "The teacher said that anybody who had the guts to do such a thing deserved a good grade," says Dilweg.
This season, though, Dilweg is being recognized as one of the most productive quarterbacks in college football. He is second in the nation in passing yards (1,814) and is third in touchdown passes (12). The acclaim these accomplishments have attracted hasn't changed his style of living. For example, on a campus loaded with new cars, he drives a battered 1976 Mercury Capri. The exhaust pipe is fastened to the underbelly with five coat hangers.
Dilweg, who carries a double major in drama and psychology, has been on the stage crew of numerous campus productions and last year played Scarey Maverickson, the lead character in A Scarey Point of View, a satirical play written by a Duke student. He also got a taste of Hollywood as an extra in the Nick Nolte movie Weeds, filmed in Durham in the winter of '87. "I never saw the movie," Dilweg says. "It was so bad, it never made it to Durham."
During this academic semester, Dilweg is keeping a journal of his season, with particular emphasis on whatever stress he may feel, for an independent study on sports psychology. The paper might be a bit thin—Dilweg is so relaxed before the kickoff that he has been known to wolf down a ham and cheese sandwich in the locker room. And he tries to instill the same calm in his teammates. If he senses tension in the huddle, he'll nonchalantly begin to sing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall until the 25-second clock ticks down and then call timeout to regroup.
"The team takes its cues from me," Dilweg says. "I always have to be confident and in control. I can't let anything faze me. If guys are pressing, it's my job to loosen them up. I'm eccentric, but there's a reason for everything I do."