2009 ACC Football Legends: Bob Pascal, Duke
Nov. 10, 2009
Former Duke tailback Bob Pascal was one of the earliest stars of the Atlantic Coast Conference and helped lead the Blue Devils to the first three ACC Football titles. After a successful career in business and politics, Pascal is doing all he can to return Duke football to its rightful place.
Pascal is one of this year's Dr Pepper Atlantic Coast Conference Football Championship Game Legends who will be honored at this year's ACC Football Championship Game weekend. The Legends will appear at the ACC Coaches and Awards Luncheon at noon on Friday, Dec. 4, and will be honored at the "ACC Night of Legends" held at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay on Friday evening. They will also be recognized during ceremonies at Raymond James Stadium for the 5th Annual Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship, which kicks off at 8 p.m., Dec. 5 on ESPN.
Growing up in Bloomfield, N.J., Pascal was raised in a big Italian family who lived above a bakery. He began playing football in junior high school and athletics were always a big part of his life.
Coming out of high school Pascal was recruited by a few different schools, including Maryland, but his recruiting trip to Duke convinced him that Durham, N.C. was the place he was meant to be.
"When a recruit goes to a school, a lot depends on who he stays with, and I stayed with some great guys who are still my friends," Pascal said. "That really pushed me over the edge."
He initially wanted to go to medical school at Duke but switched to economics. Pascal admits his coursework was daunting at times but with some help he made it through.
"I was really challenged academically for the first time. Duke hung in there with me and helped with tutors and summer school. It meant a lot for me to get a degree from Duke, and it still means something, obviously," Pascal said. "It was a big help to me in getting any kind of a job, and also when I got into politics. People would say, `Look, if a guy can get a degree from Duke, he can't be all bad.'"
On the field for the Blue Devils, Pascal contributed in many ways. Although he was primarily a tailback, he also saw time at punter and even got to throw the ball a little.
"When I was there I kicked and passed and ran the halfback option. I had a lot of fun and had a lot of great athletes playing with me," Pascal said. "My teammates deserve an awful lot of credit."
Before the start of the 1953 season, Duke became a charter member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. At the time he had no idea what the ACC would eventually become, but he had a feeling that he was part of something special.
"Obviously it was new to everybody and very exciting," Pascal said. "It's grown in prominence since its inception, and it has great teams in all athletics, at any endeavor."
Pascal's Duke teams were very successful during the ACC's first years. From 1953-55 the Blue Devils never lost a conference game. Duke went 22-6-3 during that stretch including a 12-0 conference mark. The Blue Devils won the ACC title outright in 1954 and tied for the crown in '53 and '55.
"To win the Atlantic Coast Conference is quite an accomplishment," Pascal said. "To be able to win or tie every year for the championship was very special."
One of Duke's biggest wins during Pascal's playing days came in the Orange Bowl at the end of his junior year. The Blue Devils jumped out to a 7-0 lead over Nebraska on a 7-yard touchdown run by Pascal and never looked back. After rushing nine times for 91 yards in the game, Pascal helped lead Duke to a 34-7 rout of the Cornhuskers. The win was the first bowl victory for Blue Devils since 1945, and capped off an 8-2-1 season that pushed Duke to 14th in the AP polls.
During his three years at Duke, Pascal became the first person to earn All-ACC first team honors twice (1954 and '55), and was named a first-team All-American in 1955. Pascal's name is still etched in the Blue Devils record books nearly 55 years since he last donned the blue and white. His nine touchdown runs in 1954 have him tied for seventh on the single season rushing touchdown list and his 19 career rushing touchdowns have him tied for eighth place. He finished his career with 1,523 rushing yards and was named team MVP in 1955.
Mack McElhaney, a former teammate who blocked for Pascal on the offensive line and current Special Assistant for Football Operations at Duke, has remained friends with Pascal over the years and remembers what kind of player Pascal was.
"He always wanted the ball, he was a go-to guy and he knew it," McElhaney said. "He was always, some-how-some-way, going to get it into the end zone or get a first down. When things got tough he was the man."
In 1956 Pascal was drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts, but decided to head north and play in the Canadian Football League for the Montreal Alouettes. In his only season in the CFL, Pascal played for the Gray Cup championship. After only a year of professional football, Pascal returned to the United States and got a job in the propane business.
He eventually bought his own company - United Propane - and built it up into one of the top 25 in the country before he sold it. He was also heavily involved in politics where he served as a state senator in Maryland for four years, and a county executive in Anne Arundel County for eight years. Pascal ran for governor in 1982, then joined the cabinet of former Maryland governor William Donald Schaefer where he served as his appointment secretary for eight years.
"He's very much a people person. He loves to challenge people and he's a great leader, when he was on the field and in his business life," McElhaney said. "He has a million friends, and when you become his friend, you're his friend forever. He'd give you the shirt off his back; he's that type of guy."
Pascal's success in the business world has allowed him to give back to his alma mater. He recently donated six million dollars to Duke athletics - the largest single donation ever made to the Blue Devil program. He credits his success to his time at Duke, and thinks it's important to have a former football player step up and invest in the future of the program.
"I was fortunate enough to take the right roads and I was successful financially," Pascal said. "I think without going to Duke I might not have done as well. That's what money is for, to give back and make an investment in people."
With his generous donation Duke is in the process of building an indoor practice facility to be named - The Bob Pascal Field House. It will house not only the football team, but other Duke athletic programs and recreational activities.
"His heart bleeds Duke blue and he stepped up and did this for the program," McElhaney said.
In his spare time Pascal likes to hunt and fish on Maryland's Eastern Shore and he's very proud of his large close-knit family. He says that he's looking forward to the yearly Thanksgiving tradition of having his daughters and 11 grandchildren come over to his house for dinner.
"This Thanksgiving, as every Thanksgiving, everybody comes to my house and we have like 25 or 30 people, so it's a great heritage," Pascal said.