I am an over the top obnoxious Duke Men’s Basketball fan. I have to be as the rest of my siblings and my wife and her siblings are Carolina graduates (now there is an oxymoron). Ever since I entered the hallowed halls of Cameron Indoor Stadium on the Duke West Campus as a freshman, I cheered the Blue Devils through good years and bad. Until Coach K came along there were a lot more bad years than good.
As the gods would ordain it, I was in Asheville, NC for a family life event last week. When I realized that I would be so near Durham, NC, I decided to spend a couple of extra days and see if I could get meetings with a recent addition to my “invisible university” Duke professor, Cathy Davidson. I arranged for the meeting and called my sister in Chapel Hill, NC to see if I could spend the night with her family. She was overjoyed and reminded me that it was my nephew Ross’s 16th birthday.
At our family gathering, I asked my nephew, Abe, whose son just turned 16 what I could get my nephew for his birthday. He laughed and said “If you are not giving him a car, 16 year old boys don’t seem to care about much else.” A car was out of the question, but I got to wondering if Duke might have a home game on Thursday night. As luck would have it, Duke had a home game with Wake Forest. So I then went to Stubhub to see if there were any tickets available. Eureka. There were. However as I checked out the prices they spiraled upward to over $200 a seat as game time approached. As much as I would like to irritate my sister, these prices were a little rich for me.
My sister suggested that the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team might be in town and we could go as a family group. Indeed the Hurricanes were in town so that was a viable option. However, I really wanted to see if I could get into Cameron Indoor Stadium and irk my sister something precious. So I checked the Duke official ticket website and I couldn’t believe it. There were lower bowl tickets for $65 a piece. It never occurred to me that I could get a seat at floor level in Cameron. I wasted no electronic time ordering the tickets.
I picked up my nephew, gave him his official Duke basketball shirt (angering my sister in her UNC sweatshirt mightily) and we headed to Durham for the game. When I’d picked up the tickets from Will Call earlier in the day, the agent said that I should get there at 4pm to lineup as the tickets weren’t for reserved seats. As we hurried to the game, I made sure that I took Ross through Krzyzewskiville to see the camping students. We were able to get in line about 5:30pm and we were only 40 fans back. Earlier in the day, Cathy Davidson talked about the amazing K-ville constitution that the students develop and ratify each year. This model of student governance is what led her to have the students develop a constitution in her class.
The doors opened at 6pm and we crowded in. When what to my wondering eyes would appear, we were channeled into the Duke student section. We were actually going to be able to stand on the top row of the student section bleachers directly across from the Duke bench. I had truly died and gone to Duke Blue Heaven. Ross had an ear to ear grin on his face and was distracted in every direction looking at the goofy costumes and painted students and the never ceasing cheers.
The last forty years of living were melted away and I was that goofy teenager attending my first Duke Basketball game in 1967. The mind is an amazingly plastic set of memories allowing me in a matter of a few minutes to go from an accomplished professional to a young college student cheering his brains out.
As I scanned the stadium’s rafters, there were lots of wonderful additions in the form of four National Championship banners. The newest addition was a big banner celebrating Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s becoming the NCAA’s winningest men’s basketball coach. Lots of the attendees were wearing T shirts proclaiming “903 wins and counting.”
Then the memories returned one by one. I remembered sitting under the Duke basket one night and having future Senator Bill Bradley from Princeton and NBA Hall of Famer land in my lap after being fouled by Mountain Mike Lewis from Missoula, Montana. I remembered the feverishly awaited showdown with the University of South Carolina when they were in the ACC. We, Cameron Crazies were out early that night for blood and couldn’t wait to swear at full voice at John Roche and Bobby Cremins and the rest of the “dirty” Gamecock players coached by the “get all red” in the face New York Irishman, Frank McGuire. Coach McGuire was doubly hated because he had coached successfully at UNC Chapel Hill for many years winning a National Championship in 1957.
Since the students could be right behind the visiting team’s bench, we were all wondering how McGuire was going to get any coaching in with the shouted profanities that would be going on all night. Imagine how we all were rolling on the floor laughing when we walked in and saw eight New York Irish Catholic priests sitting in the bleacher row right behind the South Carolina bench. Assistant Coach Hubie Brown had an uncle who was a priest and he’d paid for his uncle and seven of his colleagues to come down and “protect” one of their own in Frank McGuire. I don’t know that any cameras captured Coach McGuire’s face as he broke up in laughter when he saw his protective phalanx of Irish priests. Frank eagerly went over and shook the hands of all the priests and thanked them for being his guardian angels that night.
I have no idea who won the game, but I do remember that strangely enough there was no profanity in the air.
When I started at Duke, freshman were not allowed to play on the varsity team so there was a separate freshman basketball team. Two of the team members lived in our dormitory. I can remember many nights coming back to the dorm and having to slither my way through the narrow, short hallway where three 6′ 10″ outsized human beings were gathered around hunched over to avoid hitting their heads on the ceiling. I didn’t even come up to their belt buckles. I can remember sitting in the stands at their games and looking at the point guard, Dick DeVenzio, and marveling at what a shrimp he was. Then my roommate would laugh and remind me that Dick was taller than I was.
Before I knew it the Duke-Wake Forest game started, and there I was with the most unexpected seat in the house. I was back in the student section, the Cameron Crazies hallowed ground. I was taking pictures from every direction and emailing my brother and sister and taunting them about how great Duke is. Their taunts came flowing right back. All is right in the world.
As expected, the Cameron Crazies cheers were inventive as ever. So many of them never make it to TV. I particularly loved the faint murmuring of “four, four, four” accompanied by the waving of our fingers at the player whenever a Wake Forest player received their fourth foul. Yet, I was bummed as I never heard the cheer I was really wanting to hear. Oh ye of little faith. Wait for it … In the last thirty seconds of the game, the Crazies cranked it up “Go to Hell Carolina! Go to Hell!” Yes, all is really right with the world now.
I sent photos out to my children and my sports fanatic lawyer daughter, Maggie, immediately replied that what kind of dad was I because I’d never taken her to a Duke basketball game. Now that I know that I can get Duke basketball tickets I look forward to fixing that oversight.
To put a delightful stamp on the night, Duke beat Wake Forest, 91-73. What a joy to be 17 years young again and remind myself about where and how my life’s journey started – growing up in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
For those of you not familiar with the Duke-Carolina rivalry, I am told there is a wonderful book about it – To Hate Like This is to be Happy Forever: A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry. Even though I buy hundreds of books a year, I’ve never felt the need to buy this book – I’ve lived it for forty years.
Shortly after sharing this post with my brother he sent this photo to remind me that there is another side to this story:
After posting this blog entry, several articles are showing up on the decline of interest in Duke Basketball by the students. Their boredom was my gain in being able to relive the Duke Basketball experience.