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Twice upon a Time
March 19, 2007
The Blue Devils of 1991 and '92, the last repeat champions, have instructive tales for the team that would match their feat
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March 19, 2007

Twice Upon A Time

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The Blue Devils of 1991 and '92, the last repeat champions, have instructive tales for the team that would match their feat

NO, THE 1991 and '92 national champion Duke Blue Devils won't be angry if Florida joins them as the second team since John Wooden's UCLA dynasty to win back-to-back titles. Just so you know, those former Dukies don't gather every year when the defending champ goes down to drink a champagne toast--as some alums of the undefeated '72 Miami Dolphins do whenever the last perfect NFL team loses each season. "We don't take it that seriously," says former Blue Devils forward Grant Hill. "We're pretty secure in our place in history, and feel like we're up there with those UCLA teams."

"I believe that we were the best team ever," says Brian Davis, who was Duke's co-captain with Christian Laettner. "We felt like if we beat the best team ever in UNLV [in the 1991 national semifinals], then we were the best, and going back-to-back proved it."

Like Florida's 2006 championship, the Blue Devils' first title was a surprise. But their successful defense with the same nucleus (Hill, Laettner and point guard Bobby Hurley) was a completely different experience. Hill remembers arriving at their hotel in Philadelphia for the '92 East Regional and being met by hundreds of teenage girls screaming for the team--or at least its matinee idol. One woman was wearing a homemade sweatshirt that read LAETTNER LOVER. "I felt like I was traveling with a rock star," Hill says, "and I was the bass player."

That Beatles vibe only intensified after Laettner received Hill's 75-foot pass and hit the turnaround buzzer-beater that sank Kentucky 104--103 in the East Regional final, which is still considered by many to be the greatest college basketball game of all time. Yet the focus of the Devils' recollections may be different from that of most fans. "We realize it was an exciting game that symbolizes March Madness to a lot of people, but we were disappointed that we let it be a close game," Hill says. "Still, it helped us regroup for the Final Four."

When Duke repeated by blowing out Michigan's Fab Five 71--51 in Minneapolis, the feeling was more of relief than of triumph, Hill says. Davis and Laettner had motivated the team by stoking a desire to silence coach Mike Krzyzewski, who had made constant references to his first Final Four team. "We were like, 'We're better than that,'" says Davis, who has teamed with Laettner to form Blue Devil Partners, a real estate development firm that's bidding to purchase the Memphis Grizzlies. "So we won back-to-back titles and asked him, 'Are we better than '86 now?'"

The Duke alums say they'll be watching Florida over the next three weeks, and their advice for the Gators is straightforward. "Treat your teammates like brothers and don't think about the NBA," says Davis, one of six members of the '92 team to play in the pros. "Think about winning." They also appreciate the opportunity that the Gators' quest has given them to relive their own run. "We still have that one thing that bonds us," says Hill. "I don't have a relationship with anyone else like I do with the guys on that team." --G.W.