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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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No wonder Duke is a team fans love to hate
By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published March 8, 2007
TAMPA -- Ian Williams assumed that it would pass with time, that he would see it as childish or merely a college phase. Not so much.
Although he's 38, lives a world away from the University of North Carolina in Venice, Calif., and has a grown-up job as a writer for television and movies, he still can't let it go.
He fervently, absolutely, can't stand Duke and Duke basketball.
"I thought I'd be the one saying, 'Hating Duke is so juvenile,' " said Williams, a former columnist for the UNC school paper who first wrote about his feelings for that other university in 1990, a treatise that has taken on Gospel-like stature for Tar Heel fans ever since. "But it's only gotten worse. It did really just ferment."
He has plenty of company, especially when it comes to Duke's basketball team, which plays North Carolina State today in the opening round of the ACC tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum.
But then the Blue Devils are to college basketball what Notre Dame is to college football, the New York Yankees are to major league baseball. They're the team that people everywhere either love or hate.
There's no middle ground. There's no switching allegiances once you declare. And apparently, there's no getting over it.
"A lot of times," Williams said, "I feel defined by my loathing of Duke."
Hatred by the book
Will Blythe begins his book, To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever, as if he were an addict at his first AA meeting:
"I am a sick, sick man. Not only am I consumed by hatred, I am delighted by it.'
He referred to it as his little problem.
"I don't know if you can tell," said Blythe, 49, a native of Chapel Hill and UNC alum who's a freelance writer living in New York, "but otherwise, I'm a fairly reasonable person in my life."
Except when it comes to his beloved Tar Heels and those Devils from Durham.
Blythe gained a broader perspective of Duke and its program while researching his book (He actually admits, god forbid, that he likes J.J. Redick, not that he wants to see the Blue Devils win). He said ill feelings for Duke begin for most folks with that fact it's a small, private school seen as a haven for elitist interlopers from the northeast. UNC is public, the everyman school.
"Duke hatred is a great outlet for class hatred that rarely finds an avenue of expression in this country," Blythe said. "Within the state of North Carolina, it's intensified. It is a way of declaring yourself, a way of identifying what kind of person you are. ... It goes pretty deep and it's strange that it's expressed in a sports rivalry."
When coach Mike Krzyzewski first won big at Duke, reaching the NCAA title game in 1986, his players, gifted athletes to be sure, were lauded as hard-working, angelic kids with high SAT scores. They were held up as the best of ambassadors for the student athlete.
"I don't think you can run across a guy who ever played there or coached there who would tell you that all the guys are perfect and nobody ever made a mistake," said Jay Bilas, a member on that '86 Duke team, one-time assistant and now an analyst for ESPN. "But that's the way it gets portrayed."
He himself was cast as a product of privilege. Yes, he was from an affluent area outside of Los Angeles, but his father was pure blue-collar and Bilas was the first in his family to go to college.
"As the press continued talking about Duke as the Golden Boys, fans at other schools, rightfully so, wondered, by praising Duke, are you denigrating us?" said Michael Hemmerich, who has three degrees from Duke, is an associate dean in Duke's Fuqua School of Business and launched a Web site, Dukebasketballreport.com more than a decade ago.
Disdain for Duke was born and began to spread beyond Tobacco Road.
But it wasn't just the players who were incessantly portrayed as the benchmark. The Duke students, the Cameron Crazies, gained a national reputation as the quintessential fans. Their chants weren't merely loud or vulgar; they were clever. Other students are boisterous, even smart in their chants, but who does stories about them?
"The Crazies, because they're held out as the epitome of college basketball fans," Blythe said, "they inspire a lot of envy and loathing."
Ultimately, folks get tired of a team that wins a lot, especially at the expense of their team.
This has become the Devils' sin.
Under Krzyzewski, they've won three national championships, including back-to-back in 1991 and '92. They also have won seven of the past eight ACC tournaments. With success has come more exposure, which has prompted more of the nation's top players to choose Duke, which has meant more success and has made the Blue Devils a TV franchise a la Law & Order.
They're everywhere, every day.
"Duke, like the Yankees in baseball, like Notre Dame football, the public wants to see them," said ESPN analyst Dick Vitale, who UNC fans derisively call Duke Vitale. "Even if it's to see them fail."
And for many, the face of Duke is Krzyzewski.
The haters insist that he's disingenuous and holier than thou. They say he browbeats referees, which allows his team to benefit from phantom calls or no-calls or perhaps additional time put on the clock as was the case against Clemson this year. (Heck, there's a Web site devoted to Duke and K bashing; truthaboutduke.com.) All the while, he's praised on TV for his resume.
"It's hard for a UNC fan to talk about Krzyzewski's attitude and hypocrisy without devolving into epithets," Williams said. "But like any good hatred, to maintain it, you need a little food. It seems that every couple of years, Duke has a guy who fits the mold of someone who was genetically engineered for hatred."
Guys who carried themselves a bit too much like their coach.
Guys like Danny Ferry. Christian Laettner. Bobby Hurley. J.J. Redick.
"It would be nice to be loved and accepted by people that don't go to your school, but sometimes that can't happen," Laettner said. "When you're beating their team or maybe representing something that's really good, they may hate you a little bit. But I'm sure there's a lot of Duke fans who hate other teams, too."
Hemmerich, a voice of rationality in this passion play, concedes as much.
"A lot of it is way over the top on both sides," he said. "I wish people would appreciate the good things about the rivalry and how we help each other."
For the most part, the UNC and Duke players themselves do just that. There's a mutual respect (Gerald Henderson's elbow to the nose of UNC's Tyler Hansbrough on Sunday notwithstanding) between UNC and Duke players and many of them play together in summer pickup games.
"Whenever anyone asks me if I hate Duke, I say, 'Yes,' " said former UNC star Eric Montross, now a UNC radio analyst. "But in all honesty, I don't hate Duke. I love the fact that there's a rivalry like that, that close, and that we have such great competition."
He also understands how he might have been viewed differently had he signed with Duke, a school that recruited him heavily. The same could be said, in reverse, for Ferry, Laettner and Hurley, three kids who nearly wore UNC jerseys.
"It's amazing how a kid's choice of blue can affect your whole viewpoint of him," Bilas said. "There's a part of it (the hatred for Duke) I understand and there's a part I don't get."
But apparently, it doesn't fade to black.
- Brian Landman - neither a Duke nor North Carolina alumnus - can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.
Devil of a time
ACC opponents' records all-time against Duke. The Blue Devils have dominated all but North Carolina: