From the book, "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," by Will Blythe. Copyright (c) 2006 by Will Blythe. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, New York, N.Y.
As North Carolina and Duke ready for another epic bout in that long-running confrontation between good and evil, the teams find themselves in slightly different positions. The Tar Heels are on an upswing, the Blue Devil's fortunes seem to be dipping ever so mildly. If his shooting stats from the last three games are any indication, J.J. Redick's legs may be starting to tire, as they have the previous two seasons. That sweet, inevitable jump shot of his then turns as erratic as a car engine on a frigid morning.
However, Duke fans should not despair. Last season, when I went to Cameron Indoor Stadium on a secret mission behind enemy lines (that should tell you where I stand on the good versus evil question here), I witnessed Duke's weapon of last resort in a Tar Heel-Blue Devil war. His name is Speedo Guy and he was terrible to behold. It is my hope that I will never have to witness his like again.
The sight lines throughout Cameron were clean, no video boards to tart up the atmosphere. Completed in 1940 for $400,000 and originally called Duke Indoor Stadium, the joint had been renamed for former Duke coach and athletic director Eddie Cameron in 1972, on the day that Bucky Waters's Blue Devils upset a highly ranked Tar Heel team on Robbie West's shot with seconds to go.
There was something old-school about Cameron Indoor Stadium. It summoned up winter nights of basketball in the Forties, long before the days of sneaker fetish and droopy shorts, long before every junior high bench player could execute the behind-the-back dribble, the spin move, the crossover, and the jank in your mug. It evoked Friday evenings at the local gym, farm boys shoveling snow to practice free throws at a basket hanging from a weathered barn, an entire nation of knobby-kneed jump shooters with cowlicked hair, apple pies cooling on windowsills, milk in the bottle, cream skimmed off the top. That's what the architecture, the simplicity, the midcentury economy of Cameron Indoor Stadium, with its 9,314 seats (more seats than Duke students), was saying to me. It was a tender moment of nonpartisan reverie.
Then Speedo Guy brushed by me on his way onto the floor. Speedo Guy was not old-school. Speedo Guy was not apple pies cooling on the windowsill, milk in the bottle, cream skimmed off the top. Speedo Guy was very hairy. Speedo Guy was a little too doughy for public display. Speedo Guy was wearing a tiny brown (not your color, Speed) bathing suit, sneakers, a fake nose, and a blue bra painted on his regrettably pendulous breasts. As a descriptive term, "pendulous breasts" should exist only within skin mags, not within the realm of sporting literature. The phrase "pendulous breasts" should never be necessary in describing a fan. I didn't know whether tonight's Speedo Guy was an imitation or the original, who had first popped up a season or two ago, attempting to distract opposing free-throw shooters, much to the bemusement of the Carolina players, who tended to enjoy the carnival atmosphere at Duke. Given the spectacle, it was a moot point.
What Speedo Guy did on Krzyzewski Court, I regret that I must describe. He gyrated. He shimmied. He shook. He raised his hands. He called for applause, maybe for the Blue Devils, maybe for himself. Maybe the two categories were confused in his mind. Speedo Guy jumped up and down and his pendulous, blue-painted breasts jumped up and down, too. He and his pendulous breasts were not in synch. He jumped, and a second or two later his pendulous breasts jumped, which meant that when Speedo Guy was coming down, his breasts were still going up and appeared to be assaulting him. I wish I could tell you otherwise. But someone had to attack Speedo Guy. It might as well have been his pendulous breasts. When Speedo Guy was finished, he ran off the court and stationed himself directly next to me.
I was sitting under what would become the Carolina basket in the second half. So was a dewy clump of Duke cheerleaders. Speedo Guy cozied up to one of them, bare shoulder to bare shoulder. I think he was simply looking for acknowledgment of his contributions to school spirit. He grinned. When the cheerleader saw who it was, she pulled away, horrified. Speedo looked crestfallen. He also looked very cold, if you know what I mean. I wished the cheerleader had befriended Speedo, despite his abominable performance. Clearly, there was a clash of aesthetic sensibility here. The cheerleaders -- now they were old-school. Their sense of theater was traditional. Relative to Speedo's banana hammock, so were their outfits. And given their reputation as the ACC's ugliest cheerleaders, they weren't that bad. Although in that respect, our neighbor Ted on Hillcrest Circle had told me a relevant story. He was an Iron Duke, one of the athletic program's boosters, and once had been invited to help select the cheerleading squad. He clashed with one of his fellow judges over one of the gals she was favoring. "I could carve a better-looking girl out of a bar of soap," he told her.
"I think that's really all Matt Doherty was trying to say," I told Ted.
Now the Duke players came running out of the tunnel back onto the court. They looked as if they were about to storm the beach at Normandy. That stare! Their eyes were pinpoints of flame and focus. The crowd erupted. We were all burning now inside a volcano of noise, a molten core of blare. How tempting it would be to go over to the other side, to merge into this joyous animal froth and frenzy. Just capitulate to the crowd's numerical superiority, its collective happiness, its desire to annihilate the enemy—that is, me and my kind and our Tar Heels -- representin', as the kids these days said. Every Crazy was merely one screaming cell in a vast roaring organism. Join us, the animal was saying. You, too, can be one of us. It's easy. It's fun. Don't think. Just do it. Duke. Duke. Duke.
And just then the animal welcomed its whip-master, Mike Krzyzewski, who shouldered by me as he trailed his team onto the floor. Dressed in an undertaker's dark suit, he looked tight, cadaverous, intent. He stared straight ahead. He walked stiffly, with a bit of a hitch, like a man still aching from a bad back. The tumult now was ungodly.
I felt like a teetotaler at an open bar, around me the bright sounds of hilarity rising by the drink, and me, sober on the sidelines. Fortunately, at my moment of weakness, I spotted the funniest sign of the evening, and it was being held not by a Crazy but by a trio of fellow Carolina fans. It featured arrows pointing away from the sign toward the surrounding Duke fans, and it proclaimed simply: "Posers."
A few feet away, Doris Burke, the ESPN floor reporter, rehearsed for her upcoming spot. She kept looking at cue cards, mouthing the words, trying to memorize her spontaneous appearance. Nothing distracted her. The Duke band danced beside me. The cheerleaders cheered. And Speedo Guy bounced up and down in excitement. So did his pendulous breasts.
Then the game began.
"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," by Will Blythe, is available in bookstores nationwide. Click here to purchase it on Amazon.com.