Duke fans: hated nationally, loved passionatelyDuke’s loss in the Round of 64 of the NCAA tournament to No. 14 seed Mercer has come with the expected wave of head-scratching, crushing disappointment and nation-wide euphoria associated with a Blue Devil defeat. For the second time in three years, we have been sent home early to mourn while the rest of the country celebrates. As a recent piece in The New Yorker put it, “Duke loses, world wins.” We are undoubtedly the school everyone loves to hate.
Although we join head coach Mike Krzyzewski in congratulating Mercer for the great game they played, we also want to take advantage of the loss to do some soul searching. For better or worse, being Duke fans puts us in a unique position. For starters, we are part of the commercial behemoth that is not only Duke basketball, but also NCAA athletics. ESPN’s 24-hour college basketball coverage makes us players in a spectacle all its own, one that tries to monetize our reputation, tenting traditions and body paint. We have made Cameron Indoor Stadium legendary—and a terror for visiting teams. This season we went undefeated on our home court because, behind the incredible talent of our team, the Cameron Crazies stood and cheered.
But being a Blue Devil is a lesson in the burden of expectations. We have no shortage of passion, but we rarely feel our victories as deeply as our losses. In most games, Duke is the favorite to win. Had we beaten Mercer, it would have been business as usual, a fulfillment of our expectations, and we would be gearing up for the next game. We take victories in stride and have gotten used to doing so, but when we lose the basketball world turns its head.
In all likelihood, we will never experience what Mercer did that fateful Friday afternoon. Our basketball team will never be the underdog. We will never feel the rush of toppling a giant against all odds—of being the David to some other school’s Goliath. No one will ever tell the inspiring story of the little Blue Devil that could. We will not have opportunities to storm the court, but we can still expect to have it rushed whenever another team beats us on their home turf (because, remember, we do not lose in Cameron).
So although our coaches try to understand where we went wrong, we look into our Duke-blue souls and realize that this is what it means to be a Blue Devil. It means we will never be a Mercer. It means being really loud. It means being held to the highest standards, not only of play, but of behavior, since Coach K demands as much of the fans courtside as he does the team on the court. And it means being hated for all of these reasons.
We love you Duke, and, as always, GTHC.