Being that I might never see another Duke basketball game, I thought that I would have to do it right. I showed up two hours early and just walked around Cameron and Krzyzewskiville trying to soak it all in. For me it felt like a movie that should be set to a soundtrack of songs from the band Explosions in the Sky. It is rare for moments with such lofty expectations live up to them. Gameday at Duke exceeded every expectation.
Below is my best breakdown of Duke on gameday:
The Cameron Crazies:
There has been plenty of talk about the Cameron Crazies and the fans live up to the hype. They were there 2 hours before the game lined up outside the stadium waiting for entry. Once unleashed into the stadium the students ran inside to get the best seats to cheer both for Duke and against St. John's. The Crazies are both intimidating, insulting, and clever without crossing the line. For example when an small, somewhat lumpy looking (5ft 9in 155lb Sophomore Matt Duell) St. John's player was warming up the Crazies starting chanting "Umpa Lumpa" over and over. Now, I don't know if it is worst to be called an Umpa Lumpa or to be listed as a 5ft 9inch forward on espn.com. I don't know of any 5'9" players that could be forwards in women's basketball.
Cameron Indoor Stadium
The stadium itself is remarkable in how small it is. Never in your life will you be around 9,314 people (Duke's capacity) and feel like it is a small gathering of friends. The new generic box arenas (think the Target Center or Dean Dome) that are so prevalent might hold more than twice the amount of people (capacity 20,500 and 21,750 respectively), but as the saying goes bigger isn't always better. In those arena's cases bigger most definitely is worse. Basketball isn't like football or baseball where big stadiums help convey a larger than life aspect to those sports. Basketball is for lack of a better word a more intimate sport and and is something that needs to be enjoyed up close. Thankfully Cameron Indoor Stadium forces one to be close to the action.
Another great thing about Cameron is that it doesn't force anything on you. There aren't any songs playing during the game or a jumbotron telling you when to cheer. Nobody is tossing t-shirts into the stands or trying to entertain you with some inane contest at every single moment during the game experience At Cameron the game is the experience. Cameron Indoor Stadium is the way people were meant to watch basketball and if there were more places like it then there would be more true basketball fans. I truly believe people would respond to passion, enthusiasm, tradition, and quality basketball viewed up close. Strip away the fat and just give us the red meat.
Maybe, I am just being unrealistic because for every winner there is a loser? For every Duke there is a New Jersey Institute of Technology (check out their record). For those teams maybe artificial measures need to be taken to try and entertain the crowd. Thankfully Duke doesn't have to worry any time soon about fielding a bad team.
Duke beat St. John's 86-56. They were down 7-0 and tied for the first 10 minutes before turning on the afterburners and blowing out the young Red Storm team. They had balanced scoring and were playing with a definite edge after two straight loses. This is the type of game that hopefully will help right the ship and be the beginning of a winning streak.
The Upper Level Fans or what I like to call the Cameron Retirees
Not to be confused with the Cameron Crazies who are students, these fans are either long-time Duke fans, Duke fans with lots of money, or more likely both. The average age of these fans is roughly 65 and that is including the age of their grandchildren that they bring along to the games.
I was sitting three rows up in the Upper Level (which was an amazing seat) right across from the Duke bench and right behind the Crazies. Next to me was a retired Duke professor and his wife. She was one of the nicest ladies you could meet and with whom I had a friendly conversation. She informed me that her and husband had been sitting in those seats and going to Duke games since 1978. They go to men's and women's basketball games as well as football games. She lovingly referred to players by their first name ("DeMarcus is such a nice guy"), criticized the refs ("You see because Duke is good their are a lot of people who don't like them. That includes the refs") and spoke of the virtues of former Duke players ("Chris Duhon still comes back and runs a summer camp in Durham"). We shared stories and even a high five after a Greg Paulus three pointer. At the end of the game I shook hands with both of them and wished them and Duke luck.
In addition to these nice people I met the Cameron Retirees also include the Crazy Towel Guy and an approximately 90 year old man who brings a trumpet to play for the appreciate student section.
They serve Chick-Fil-A and Bullocks BBQ inside the stadium. It is a crime that a cardboard flavored Dome Dog at the Metrodome costs about the same as the best chicken sandwich in the southeastern United States.
Duke girls are underrated. While there weren't many knockouts, there were plenty of B pluses and A minuses. My brother-in-law disagrees, but what can you expect from a Carolina student? Of course none of the girls compare to OSU field hockey girls.
At my former job they taught me that if you don't recap it then it didn't happen. I think the above should be enough of a recap for now. There will more to come later as I look through (and post) the pictures, but for now I have written enough. Thank you to M and my family (even the Carolina section of my family) for providing a remarkable, memorable quarter century gift.