I posted this elsewhere, but since it’s personal, I’ll repost here.
“My best friend is a Duke fan.”
About twice a year (sometimes three), I think these words to myself and physically recoil. How could I be associated with such a being? How could I justify my fandom as a Tar Heel when treason runs so close to home?
In short? I rationalize. Sam and I were friends before I went off to UNC and he went off to Duke. We shared social circles, experiences, friends. We’ve traveled abroad together. Once, we almost got murdered in a Greek soccer riot (true story). We are both hyper-competitive people: Sam crushed his ex in mini-golf on their first date. I once forced my dad to drink a “Cup of Shame” of milk and lemon juice from a sippy cup because I had just defeated him in a game of chess. We are very similar.
Yet twice a year, I mentally lump Sam in with the rest of… those dark blue people. Sam becomes an dookie. I dredge up my anemic highlight reel of dookies fulfilling their stereotype:
- Visiting Sam my sophomore year, we drove from his apartment to a party in his friend’s BMW. Guess where his friend was from? New York.
- On a subsequent visit, we went to Shooters with a few of his friends (because there’s nowhere else to go in Durham if you’re white and from Duke). After one drink, one of his friends says, “I’m going to go creep on a freshman” and disappears. I never saw him again.
- I got a parking ticket on that trip.
- On a visit for the T.I. concert, I actually had to go inside Cameron Hansbrough Indoor. It was hard, but made harder by the fact that T.I. showed up two hours late and played two tracks before dropping the mic and leaving. Obviously, he couldn’t take how dookie Duke was.
(See the kid in the Duke sweatshirt photobombing an otherwise perfectly good picture? That’s Sam.)
The list goes on. When I was a young, naïve freshman, my Tar Heels came back from 10 points down in the 2nd half to win at home. It was my first firsthand experience with the UNC-Duke rivalry. I ran screaming from my dorm on South Campus to Franklin Street with two thousand like-minded zealots, about a mile. I don’t think my feet touched the ground.
When the celebrating was over – the burned-Duke-shirts fire jumped, the trees climbed, the TAR! HEELS! back and forth cheer completed – we skipped down the moonlit quad, which at that moment even seemed tinged Carolina blue. On the way, I made the first sports mistake of my long friendship with Sam: I called to gloat.
I caught his voicemail. I didn’t even get the satisfaction of hearing a voicemail-voice; his greeting was the generic Sprint woman. Undeterred, I left a vitriolic scorched-earth diatribe for him to check later that included the gleeful phrase “MCROBERTS JUST GOT ACQUAINTED WITH BRANDAN WRIGHT’S NUTS!!”
We didn’t talk for five months.
Since then, we’ve established a ground rule. (Technically, we established the ground rule before we started at school. I just didn’t obey it.) For the 24 hours preceding and the 48 hours following a UNC-Duke game, we do not speak. We do not post messages on each other’s Facebook walls. We don’t text. There is no communication. By the time the two-day postgame moratorium expires, the fires have settled to glowing embers, raw nerve endings have begun to heal, and we can civilly discuss the game. Usually.
Here’s what Sam had to say:
Despite the rule, there was bound to be some back and forth. For the most part, it’s educational and civil. Player X just got recruited to Duke, player Y is thinking about leaving UNC for the NBA. Other times, not so much: yelling “SUCK IT TAR HOLES” while joyriding around Chapel Hill after beating UNC on their home court is just one example. And it felt oh so good. I still own my “Go to Hell Carolina” T-shirt I bought our freshman year. In fact, I wore it out the other day and was complimented on it. GTHC, GTH. Our friendship also lent to interesting situations, such as the time I wore a Duke Basketball sweatshirt when I went to visit Nate in Chapel Hill, only to have some 65+ year old woman on the street give me a face, thumbs up, and yell “Niiiiiceee sweatttttshirtttt.” As Nate writes a lot, he often mentioned a number of things about Duke and would post blogs and articles he found thrashing Duke. I never quite returned the favor but definitely reveled in the smashing of Hansbrough’s already unattractive face. I’m sure Nate would love to cite that as one reason for Hansbrough’s clinically retarded behavior, but I went to a Will Ferrell comedy show with Nate where Hansbrough sat with an expressionless face clueless to how much he was being made fun of, so a head bashing could only have improved his situation.
HANSBROUGH is ugly? HANSBROUGH!? Ryan Kelly. Jon Scheyer driving the lane. J.J. Reddick’s back. SHELDEN FREAKING WILLIAMS, the man who looks like a manatee about to get hit by a boat propell- oh, crap. See what I mean?
During my first three years at Duke, UNC came to Cameron [Hansbrough] Indoor and won three times. I slept out on the pavement for days. During the game, I enjoyed every anti-UNC chant and especially the Duke students pouring Duke blue paint all over the idiot tar holes who wore UNC jerseys to the games at Cameron. Burning stuffed animals was frowned upon by the cops but they weren’t about to stop 1,500 raucous Blue Devils as they cheered on the smoking ram. They were incredible games and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. But it SUCKED to lose. And while Nate was a dick the first time, how can you not rub that kind of thing in? Did I want to smash his face in like Henderson did to Hansbrough? Yes. Did I? No. Did we maybe not talk for a few days following? Damn straight.
Hansbrough and Co. were undefeated at Duke during their tenure, in case you’ve forgotten.
I asked Sam how we’ve remained friends. An answer, with Sam’s parting shot:
So if we were so competitive how did we remain friends? I mentioned one piece of it: that we set some ground rules and both of us backed off a little. When UNC won the national championship I wouldn’t speak to Nate, since I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold back in the same situation. Of course, when Duke won the national championship the following year I didn’t hold back. I was at Lucas Oil Stadium when they won and after the shit Nate gave me about how Duke wasn’t going to make it that far in the tourney I couldn’t help but gloat. It was fantastic since they won out of nowhere, which made it even better. Not only did I win my senior year but UNC went to the NIT (aka Nonathletic Inferior Troglodytes). I can honestly say that if only one of us had walked away with a national championship during our college tenure things would unavoidably still be tense when we talked basketball. Thankfully, Scheyer put on his best photogenic smile and won one for me! Phew.
Ugh. Scheyer. I hated that little dagger-shooting sonofa- oh, crap. Sam’s Blue Devils won the national championship our senior year, which means my last two semesters are forever marred by that surprise run to the 2010 title while his are bathed in golden glory. Not that I’m bitter.
Sam and I are still good friends. We’ve managed this in spite of our school affiliation, and probably persevered because we are similar enough to beat the prejudices of our respective schools. I like to think that Sam’s avoided the pitfalls of a stereotypical Duke student: the last time I saw him, he borrowed his mom’s minivan to come over. Also he isn’t from New Jersey. I also like to think that I’m not the Duke version of the UNC stereotype, though I do love Wal-Mart and have slipped “y’all” into my vocabulary.
Bottom line? Anyone who punks his first date in mini-golf and is banned from go-karting for bumping that same girl off the track is solid friend material, regardless of whether he cheers for a coach who might be the embodiment of evil or “revels in the smashing of Hansbrough’s face.”
GO TO HELL, CAROLINA, GO TO HELL!/GO TO HELL DUKE!
Enjoy the game, everyone. (Go Heels. Go America.)