SportsProf

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Difficulty Being Duke

Of all teams perhaps in all NCAA sports, the one that everyone wants to beat seemingly is Duke's men's basketball team.  Now, I know that Dookies love to beat Carolina, Notre Dame likes to beat USC in football, the Auburn-Alabama football rivalry is a great one, but it seems that many programs and many non-Duke folks love it when Duke's men's basketball team loves.  And, the funny thing of it is, I cannot totally figure out why.  I can posit some reasons below, which I will do, but there are many reasons to like Duke:

1.  It is an excellent school.
2.  It graduates its athletes.
3.  It has a great men's basketball tradition
4.  Coach K is one of the best coaches of all time
5.  Cameron Indoor Stadium is one of the all-time college basketball venues.
6.  Their fans are very creative.

There also are many reasons to root against Duke:

1.  The school seemingly is the overdog, has everything going for it, is supposed to win. Americans like underdogs, and Duke is the total opposite of an underdog.
2.  Duke supporters will be perhaps the first to tell you how great the school, the program and all things Duke are.  Someone once said it ain't bragging if it's true, but others will counter that at times the boasting lacks an appropriate measure of humility.
3.  Coach K isn't the most likable of the all-time coaches.  John Wooden was sage, Dean Smith was wise and humanistic, and, well, Coach K seems too corporate for a country that thrives because of business but sometimes doesn't think it's cool to be as buttoned-down as Coach K is.
4.  Their fans take their humor to a level that sometimes others miss it and that sometimes others could argue is either cruel or condescending.    Usually, it's pretty clever.
5.  Or, you're just a "Carolina" person, in the same way you cannot root for both Harvard and Yale, Ohio State and Michigan, etc.  And, if you're a "Carolina" person, you just cannot root for Duke.

But seriously, I hear more people say "I'm happy Duke lost" even if that loss busted a good portion of their bracket.  And, my guess is because those non-Dookies either didn't have a Duke experience, feel condescended too, get tired of the huzzahs for Duke or feel inferior.  Because I doubt that most fans had heard of Mercer before yesterday let alone rooted for them or picked them in their brackets.

Which means, for Duke, that every time they go out there, their opponents want to beat them more than they want to beat any other opponent.  There are bumper stickers in California that read, "My favorite team is Stanford and any team that is playing USC."  My guess is that there could be bumper stickers on Tobacco Road that say "My favorite team is Wake Forest and any team that is playing Duke."  That's a supposition; I'm not sure that I am right.  But it does make it hard for Duke -- every time they go out there, it's a championship game for someone else.  Beat Duke, and, well, your fans will be talking about it forever.  Beat Duke in the tournament, and CBS will be re-playing the opponent's celebration on it's pre-game reels for decades.

Make no mistake -- Duke is an outstanding school, has a great program and has a great coach.  When you get into that rarified air, though, there are people who will measure themselves against you and come at you constantly.  And, you'll have your detractors.  For some way, for Duke men's basketball team, it's a perfect storm.   And that means that they have to play just that much better as the mountain gets steeper.  They usually do, too.

But not yesterday.

2 Comments:

Anonymous George Clark said...

I trace the animosity back to the Laettner era, although it may have older roots. Duke has enjoyed prominence on the national scene for 50 years, but didn't provoke much venom (aside from within its League) until the smackdown of Michigan 20 or so years ago. Preppies vs. The Street Gang. Laettner was just too white while Grant Hill was not black enough. And, as you note, K is the ultimate reflection of the corporate take-over of college basketball. If there is another private school that has maintained its place at the table in Big Time Basketball as long as Duke I can't think of it. The elite of the elite. Sparks a lot of resentment.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Doug Sligh said...

I am a Ga Tech dad, but live in eastern NC. Tech came to Durham this year to play Duke. I had tickets, but my wife decided to stay at home for the weekend. Fortunately, my neighbor's daughter is a student at the School of Science & Math in Durham. She is a devote UNC fan, as both her parents are grads. Days passed with no answer. When I told her she could boo Duke as much as she wanted, she jumped at the idea of going to a game with a very old neighbor.

7:48 AM  

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