Confession is supposedly good for the soul, so here goes. As a high school student I applied to Duke.
It was almost a scientific experiment. I farmed out the letters of recommendation to the teachers I disliked, treated the essays as rough drafts for the real applications, and generally tried to see what was the least I could do and still be accepted in Durham. (It turns out the essay practice was for naught. Only one other school I applied to, Johns Hopkins, required an essay. UNC, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, with its sweet one page front-and-back application, did not. Yale required three, which was a high enough energy barrier to keep a lazy kid rapidly losing his Christmas break from mailing in that application. I was accepted everywhere I applied, and Hopkins was the only one that even remotely tempted me away from Chapel Hill.)
Anyway, the Duke application required an interview with a Duke alumnus, so at some point in Febraury of that year I drove over to a law office near the Cone Mills complex in Durham and spent thirty minutes talking about myself, high school, and Duke. I don't remember a thing about that conversation, save this. At the end, when asked the standard interview closing question, "Is there anything you'd like to ask?" I blurted out the only thing that popped into my head:
"How do those idiots who paint their faces and wear half a basketball on their head get in to this university?"
I've been thinking about the Cameron Crazies a bit this year. It began when I started seeing Nike Cameron Crazies t-shirts in the stands at games on TV. What kind of fan would allow Nike to co-opt their cheering section? Didn't they repect the tradition behind these sort of things?
Which is when it dawned on me, they really don't know anything about it. 85% of Duke students are from outside of North Carolina. (The number for UNC is 17%. It's significantly harder to get into Carolina than Duke if your a Jerseyite.) Most arrive in Durham with no knowledge of the rivalry, or worse, just the impression they get from ESPN. That it's a Yankees-thing. A jealousy borne of Duke victory. And that the idiots in blue face paint are the sine qua non of Duke and college basketball fandom.
Unfortunately, the reputation the folks from Jersey step into is a hollow shell. The Cameron Crazies suck.
They didn't always. They invented the airball chant. They first jingled car keys at a player with a suspiciously extravagant ride. The chanted at Steve Hale "Inhale, Exhale!" while he sat in street clothes on the bench with a punctured lung. It's damn funny - even Hale was supposedly laughing on the bench - and it was in 1985.
Now, Duke fans are gullible enough to taunt themselves. They pass out cheersheets. They "camp out" in luxury, with ethernet-enabled street lamps and all the conviences of the dorm. They've become a basketball cargo-cult, not understanding what they're doing, just repeating the same tired motions taught to them in the hopes the gods drop another Blue Devil victory from the sky, or at least Dick Vitale to surf around the stands. Admit it, you read the leaked cheersheets and wondered what kind of fan needs to be reminded of what happened at the last ACC tournament. Hell, what kind of fan needs to be reminded to cheer?
Tonight is another game set in a sweaty little gym - one of these days I will have to spill the dirty little secret of Cameron - with average fans wearing Nike-branded shirts with their own nicknames on them. And through the miracle of branding and P.R., they'll be hyped. They'll be honored. They'll be praised to the high heavens.
And their team will lose.