It erupts 20 minutes before every game. A few voices, a dull murmur and then a united roar.
"Cra-zy Towel Guy... Cra-zy Towel Guy."
Some names are destined to be attached forever to Cameron Indoor Stadium: Mike Krzyzewski, Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, Francis Redding, Herb Neubauer...
If you have ever been to a game in Cameron, the name Herb Neubauer might not be so familiar. That's because, to the Blue Devil faithful, Herb Neubauer-middle-aged, retired area supervisor of Food Lion-is more recognizable as "Crazy Towel Guy." He is the man who sits in the upper stands overlooking the student section-the conductor of the Cameron Crazy orchestra below.
He is the man who breaks every lull in enthusiasm by waving a white towel while pumping his other fist in the air. For the past 10 seasons, Neubauer has, at times, singlehandedly generated energy from the entire crowd simply by being his normal Cameron Crazy self.
"It makes me feel good," Neubauer said. "I feel the excitement as if I was a student. I like seeing the people get into the game."
And when the Cameron crowd gets into the game, there are few places that echo with the same impassioned resonance. But for every roar, there must be an ignition-enter the Crazy Towel Guy. Neubauer actually began bringing a towel to games during the 1987-88 season, after he noticed that his trademark blue leather hat caused his brow to sweat.
Although he lost the 10-year-old hat and the original towel in a house fire in December 1994, he was sure to replace the towel.
The symbol remained and, with it, the legend.
"Somebody told me years ago that I was a cult hero," Neubauer said. "It's great for me. It's fun. I enjoy supporting the team."
Neubauer is a supporter of not only the men's basketball team, but of many other Duke athletic squads. He has been a basketball season ticket holder since 1980, a mere pittance considering the fact that he has been attending football games at Wallace Wade Stadium for 33 years.
But Neubauer's home attendance only tells half of his story. This past football season, he went to eight football games-a fact not so astonishing were it not his lowest total in more than 30 years.
Neubauer's devotion has earned him the attention of the national media spotlight on multiple occasions, as well as the praise of the University's president.
"From the first time I attended a Duke game, when Herb introduced himself, I have noted his presence at virtually every game of every sport at Duke that I've been able to attend," President Nan Keohane said. "His support for Duke athletics is infectious and magnificent. He's truly Fan No. 1 for the men's basketball team, but also for women's basketball, and every other sport. He inspires us all!"
During the past 37 years, Neubauer has seen it all in Duke sports, including 10 Final Fours that encompass both basketball championships and the men's soccer title in Tacoma, Wash., in 1986. During the Blue Devils' consecutive men's basketball title runs in 1991 and 1992, he did not miss a single game.
Neubauer's relationship with the University began during the Eisenhower administration in 1959, when he was an incoming freshman. A native of Rockingham, N.C., 74 miles southeast of Charlotte, Neubauer was a point guard on his high school basketball team, but did not play basketball at Duke; instead, he managed the 1961 Blue Devil baseball team that won the Atlantic Coast Conference title and played in the College World Series.
Neubauer's student years marked only the beginning of his commitment to Duke sports. He has been a charter and lifetime member of Iron Dukes, a president of the Duke Club of the Triangle and is currently a board member of the Blue Devil Booster Club. Since his retirement from Food Lion in 1987, Neubauer's life has revolved around Duke athletics.
But Neubauer is not the only one who bleeds royal blue. He is a benchmark in the tradition of vocal Blue Devil spirit that has characterized Duke basketball-a spirit he first experienced as a student cheering on the team during the Vic Bubas era of the 1960s.
"It's always been wild," Neubauer said. "I can remember a lot of things that have happened here over the years. And now, the students seem to be back into it this year."
And perhaps now, like never before, the students have embraced the Crazy Towel Guy as one of their own. Towels have begun to pop up in the stands, and at virtually every key moment of a game, the man once dubbed "Duke's No. 1 Fan" is called upon time after time to pitch the crowd into a feverish frenzy.
"He brings an unabashed loyalty to Duke which the students feed off of," Trinity sophomore Jeff Grieb said. "Being the most visible fan in the upper section, the students appreciate his efforts."
His exuberance is noted not only by the students, but also by the players themselves.
"It just shows the enthusiasm of the fans in the upper stands," sophomore forward Taymon Domzalski said. "We're used to the students going crazy, but it's nice to have someone up above really get into the game."
And as the Blue Devils prepare to head into tonight's contest against Davidson, the support of the fans will be more important than ever. After Sunday's loss against Michigan, which Neubauer considers perhaps the most heartbreaking of the Krzyzewski years, the Crazies will be counted on to rejuvenate the team.
"I think the fans will be crucial," Neubauer said. "I thought the fans were great [against Michigan], and now, they realize just how important tonight's game is."