I still hate Duke.
To all my followers and Terps fans out there, I pledge to you that my Duke hatred will never falter. Even in the face of adversity, as was the case this past Sunday night, I will continue to stand tall (or, well, about 5’7″ give or take) as a beacon of light for all anti-Dukies. Cameron Indoor Stadium is a subtle temptress. She lures you in with her rich history and non-commercialized appeal. She tempts you with her once-in-a-lifetime experience. Then she tries to turn you into a lover of her people BUT IT’S NOT GONNA WORK ON THIS KID, LADY!!
My Dad and I hit the road early Sunday morning. The game wasn’t until 8:00pm that night but we had a couple stops to make before then and we had been given several different estimates of the travel time by people who “know the road”. According to my smartphone’s map feature, it was supposed to take about 6 hours to get to my sister’s house in Raleigh and sure enough, we were right on schedule. I guess there’s a reason they’re not called dumbphones, right? Anyway, the excitement was building the whole trip and both of us were psyched to get there.
We made it to Stacey’s house just in time for the start of the 2nd half of the Ravens/Chiefs game (which thankfully ended with a Ravens win), so we said our hellos and quickly plopped down on the couch for the rest of the game. After the win, we spent the rest of the visit taking pics, playing a little Wii golf (which I dominated) and Wii tennis (which I didn’t), and enjoying a nice meal with the fam. It was great to spend a few hours with family that we don’t get the chance to see very often, but our alloted time with them was up. Time to get back on the road to the hotel so we could check in before heading to the game.
The wife had been kind enough to scout out a hotel close to the school when she purchased the tickets so all our plans were set. The beautiful Days Inn of Durham, our home for the night, was sketchy to say the least. Tucked behind the Budgetel Inn in a dimly lit lot just off the highway, it felt like a place you might go to “make the drop” if you know what I mean. The amenities didn’t matter to me though, we just needed a place to crash for the night and this place served that purpose just fine. We checked in, dropped our bags, and headed right back out around 6:30.
Duke University was a mere 2 miles from our hotel so directions were really not necessary as we were able to follow signs and other cars heading to the stadium. The campus was big, I could tell by the several miles it seemed we had to walk from the visitor lot to the stadium, but it gave off a small-school feel. We passed several old brick buildings that housed classes, completely surrounded by trees and tucked away down tiny streets. Walking from the car to the arena, I fully expected to be heckled as I donned my Terps gear which included a red knit beanie cap that stood out like a sore thumb in the sea of blue. I was told later by wy wife that the hat wasn’t working for me but being fashion conscious wasn’t my priority this night. You can be the judge, just check out the picture below.
As we followed some Duke fans down a tree-lined dirt path, I had two thoughts. Either this is a shortcut to the stadium or we just made a big mistake and will soon be on the news as “two unknown Maryland fans that were found beaten outside Cameron Indoor Stadium”. Thankfully, the former proved to be the case as the trees opened up to reveal the arena in all its historical glory. We passed the area known as Krzyzewskiville, where Duke students camp out in tents for tickets to the annual Duke/North Carolina game, and followed the crowd into the stadium. The entrance looked like the front door of someone’s house; nothing fancy or elaborate. Only the plaque above the doorway let people known what building they were about to enter. It felt like walking into a high school gym, not a famous college basketball arena, as we climbed some steps that led to the main concourse.
The hallway that goes around the periphery of the arena was filled with Duke memorabilia and brought back memories of some of the most famous, and hated, Duke players of all time. A picture of Christian Laettner hitting the famous 3-pointer to beat Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional Final hung in a protective glass case. A jersey worn by JJ Redick, my nemesis from 2003-2006, hung in a corner along with a plaque of his career statistics. I felt nauseous just looking at them so I focused on the section numbers as we made our way to our seats.
I had checked out a seating chart prior to our trip to get an idea of how good our seats were. Section 2, row O seemed like a middle of the road spot, not up front but not in the back either. As it turns out, Cameron Indoor Stadium must have a bias against the letters P-Z because row O is where it stops. That’s right, last row! Now in many sports arenas, the last row means you might as well just watch the jumbotron because you’re not seeing any action on the court. Cameron is different however. The place is smaller than many high school gyms and only seats about 9,000 people so the last row turned out to be pretty sweet viewing.
We were in our seats by a little past 7:00 so we had plenty of time to soak in the atmosphere as the teams warmed up and the students began their choreographed chants and hand gestures. As the crowds filed in, we noticed that the section reserved for fans of the away team was on the complete opposite side of the court from us. We were all alone in our Terps gear surrounded by hundreds of Duke fans but that was what made it even more exciting!
From the opening tip, the place was electric. I’ve been to lots of stadiums before, including many games at Comcast Center, home of the Terps, but nothing was like this. The ground under my feet shook with every Duke basket as the crowd roared. For our part, we supported the Terps 110%, screaming and cheering every time they scored. In fact, twice during the game I made an appearance on the jumbotron as I pointed to the word “Maryland” on my jersey and screamed at the top of my lungs. When Duke would make a run, the Terps answered right back and I was sure to let the fans around me know it. I was hoping to instigate a few Dukies with my loud cheering but to no avail.
The Terps hung in there with the #1 team in the country for most of the game, but victory slowly slipped away down the stretch. The defeat was disappointing to say the least, but the experience of seeing it in person certainly made up for it. Being able to cross this one off my list was a dream come true. Any real sports fan should do their best to visit this arena at some point in their life. As the crowd cleared out after the final buzzer, my Dad and I sat in our seats soaking in what we just witnessed. A Duke fan, sitting a few seats over, reached over and shook our hands and said, “Great game fellas. Your guys kept it close.” I nodded back, surprised that he hadn’t gloated or made some comment about how they kicked our a**. “Maybe Duke fans aren’t that bad.” I thought as he turned to walk away. Was Cameron getting the best of me? Was my loathing for Duke fading away? Then I saw that ugly blue “D” on the back of his jacket and suddenly wanted to tackle him in the aisle. Good try Cameron, you evil temptress. Not this time.