Five area coaches gathered Tuesday for the largest event of its kind anywhere in America.
  • Photo by Alexis Baird
  • Five area coaches gathered Tuesday for the largest event of its kind anywhere in America.

EMBASSY SUITES/CARY Football, food and frivolity were the order of the day as usual at the Pigskin Preview sponsored by the Bill Dooley Triangle/East Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame.

But this time, it was Black cats and a mystery man named “Dave Fedora” who stole the show.

A record 430 people attended the event, the traditionally the largest chapter gathering anywhere in the nation with head coaches from Duke, East Carolina, UNC, N.C. Central and N.C. State as the quintet of headliners.

There was also a record haul from the helmet auction, in which the Blue Devil, Wolfpack, Pirate and Eagle helmets got bids of $2000 each before the Tar Heel helmet went for $2500.

Early in the program, veteran master of ceremonies Don Shea got tongue-tied and said something about a Coach Dave Fedora, combining the names of new N.C. State coach Dave Doeren and second-year UNC mentor Larry Fedora. And Duke coach David Cutcliffe, perhaps imagining his boys in royal blue having to line up against an imposing 22-man lineup of 11 guys in Columbia Blue and another 11 in vermillion on every play, said he didn’t want to play a game with that mystery man roaming the sidelines.

“You blend those two together and we’re not even going to play this year,” Cutcliffe said. “We wouldn’t have a chance.”

And the Duke coach wouldn’t let it go. Shea asked the coaches who should play them in a movie, and ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said his should be Denzel Washington with NCCU coach Henry Frazier agreeing — although he added that his players somehow think he looks like Forest Whitaker. Doeren said he likes Adam Sandler. And with an assist from movie buff McNeill, Tar Heel coach Fedora — who said his cinematic knowledge is pretty weak — went with Colin Farrell.

But it was Cutcliffe who brought the house down with his quick answer: “Dave Fedora.”

Interspersed around newsworthy questions about the upcoming season were what Shea calls his “tossup” questions, like the one about movies and nicknames and bucket lists.

And when he asked about superstitions, Cutcliffe was the only one with a particularly noteworthy one.

“I’ll tell you how superstitious I am,” Cutcliffe said. “I came to work at Duke, and where I was having to pull into the stadium — this was early on in my career — and a black cat on Friday the 13th walked right in front of me. And I thought ‘Now I know the problem here.’ So I backed up and went all the way on the other side of campus to go in and had to get a gate unlocked, because I was not driving across that path of that black cat. So that’s the reason we played in a bowl game this year.”

That perfectly teed up for Frazier’s best line of the day.

“I’m going to send a bunch of Black cats over to Duke on August 31!” he quipped.

Cutcliffe replied, “We play the 31st, not the 13th.”

To which Frazier retorted, “We’re going to flip those dates.”

The Eagles’ visit for the third Bull City Gridiron Classic will be one of a record six scheduled meetings in the same season between the five schools represented at Thursday’s luncheon.

UNC will host ECU on Sept. 28 while UNC is at State on Nov. 2 (exactly 100 days away, Fedora noted), State at Duke on Nov. 9, ECU at State on Nov. 23, and the Tar Heels will host the Blue Devils in the Battle for the Victory Bell on Nov. 30.

Duke, which went 6-7 and went to the Belk Bowl last season, is picked to finish seventh in the ACC’s Coastal Division.

ECU, which went 8-5 and played in the New Orleans Bowl last season, is picked to finish first in Conference USA’s East Division in its final year in the league. The Pirates will open Aug. 31 at home against Old Dominion.

UNC, which went 8-4 and was bowl-ineligible last season,
is picked to finish third in the ACC Coastal. The Tar Heels open Aug. 29 at South Carolina.

NCCU, which finished 6-5 last season, is picked to finish fourth in the MEAC by The Sporting News.

N.C. State, which finished 7-6 and played in the Music City Bowl, opens against visiting Louisiana Tech on Aug. 31.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe addresses the audience.
  • Alexis Baird
  • Duke coach David Cutcliffe addresses the audience.

They said it …
Cutcliffe: “We return a lot of players so I am excited. … We’re replacing a three-year starter (Sean Renfree) at quarterback and the all-time leading receiver (Connor Vernon) in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference on offense and another slot receiver in Desmond Scott. Those guys made a lot of plays for us, and you just can’t assume it’s going to be an easy transition. But I like what our team did and I like what (new starting QB) Anthony Boone did all spring. Defensively we’ve got to replace basically the secondary minus (All-ACC CB) Ross Cockrell. That’s a dangerous place to be inexperienced, but I like the front we return.”

McNeill: “I appreciate the challenge (of being picked first in the division) and we’re not going to back away from it.

ECU coach Ruffin McNeill makes a point.
  • Alexis Baird
  • ECU coach Ruffin McNeill makes a point.

I’ve been asked about our group and it’s the largest core group I’ve had at East Carolina. They’ll set goals, but understanding the process is the most important thing and I say that quite a bit. Attacking that process is a daily operation. And it’s good to have a group that understands what it takes to just win that day and have our best day that day. I can’t wait to get them out. I love those kids.”

UNC coach Larry Fedora answers a question.
  • Alexis Baird
  • UNC coach Larry Fedora answers a question.

Fedora: “Each and every year you really don’t know what you’ve got until you get into fall camp and then you start playing some games and find out what this team’s going to be. You’re trying to find a new identity each and every year because none of them are the same. You find different personalities, different maturities — everything’s different. So we’re going to find out a lot in 35 days when we go down to Columbia. I don’t know if that game will define our season, but it’s a great measuring stick for us to find out where we are as a football team in the second year of the program.”

Frazier: “Our offense is going to have to step up for us early on. We replace a lot of guys, especially in our defensive

NCCU coach Henry Frazier makes a joke.
  • Alexis Baird
  • NCCU coach Henry Frazier makes a joke.

line, and we’re going to have to do some creative things to kind of camouflage that. The guys have been working extremely hard all summer. But when I look at the schedule and see August 31 and Duke, that’s where all that rain came from this summer. I was sitting around thinking about the season, and then I’d think about Duke. ”

State coach Dave Doeren analyzes his team.
  • Alexis Baird
  • State coach Dave Doeren analyzes his team.

Doeren: “Are you talking about (contending in the ACC) this year? I just read the other day that we have the fewest number of lettermen and starters coming back. I’m excited, but I don’t know what our chances are yet. That’s why we play the games. But I know we’re anxious to get on the field. Every year you have a new team that has to re-prove itself and that’s what we’re about to do. Until you’re out there against the competition and out there with your guys, I don’t think you really know what you have.”