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Thursday, September 13, 2012
What's the deal with ... James Madison?

By Patrick Dorsey

Mickey Matthews, Kay Matthews
Coach Mickey Matthews and wife, Kay, celebrated big in 2004. Will they do the same Saturday?
We know about the big boys. But what about the little guys? Throughout the 2012 college football season, Playbook Fandom will take a look at some of the less recognizable schools you might see on scoreboards and TV screens.

We're not talking about the president. We're talking about the college -- the one whose football team is about to take on the ninth-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers.

So what's up with this midsized institution in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley? Playbook takes a look:

• Yep, the Harrisonburg-based college is named for President James Madison, America's fourth commander-in-chief who was born in Orange County (Virginia, not California). It's the only college to bear Mr. Madison's name.

• JMU, a public school, didn't start off with those initials. It also didn't even start off with a coed student body. The school was born in 1908 as State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg, with no men receiving diplomas until 1927. It didn't adopt Madison's name until 30 years later (as Madison College), and JMU didn't happen until 1977.

• JMU's athletic teams are known as the Dukes, but that's not an allusion to royalty. No, when the school created its first men's basketball team in 1947, it decided to honor then-college president Samuel P. Duke in exchange for towels and basketball equipment.

• The school's mascot, Duke Dog, does trace a royal lineage, as one school official in the 1970s decided a British duke's best friend would be an English bulldog.

• The Dukes' football team is ranked fifth in the Football Championship Subdivision this year, and coach Mickey Matthews' crew won the then-Division I-AA title in 2004 by winning three road playoff games in a row before the final.

• On Matthews' coaching staff: His son, Clayton, who was paralyzed from the chest down after two separate automobile accidents in 2003 and 2004 but has led the wide receivers and kickers for five-plus seasons.

Justin Rascati celebrates James Madison's national title
Party in the JMU? Fans sure celebrated the 2004 national title with QB Justin Rascati.
• Outside football: JMU's other national championship came in women's field hockey (1994), and the Dukes made a Stony Brook-esque run to the College World Series in 1983.

• It's all something to celebrate, and Playboy noticed. In 2009, the magazine ranked this 17,000-student undergraduate school as the No. 22 party school in the nation.

• Notable nonsports alumni include country music artist Phil Vassar, documentary filmmaker Steve James ("Hoop Dreams") and Marcia Angell, one of Time's 25 most influential people in 1997 and the first female editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine.

• Notable football alumni include multiple Pro Bowler and Super Bowl-winning Washington wide receiver Gary Clark and two names with famous Super Bowl ties: Charles Haley, who with the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys won more Super Bowls than any player ever, and Scott Norwood, whose infamous miss in Super Bowl XXV cost the Buffalo Bills their first title.

• Notable alumni from other parts of the sports world include NASCAR driver Elliott Sadler, who played basketball at JMU, 2012 Olympic silver-medalist team archer Jacob Wukie and -- hey! -- ESPN's own Lindsay Czarniak.