For the few, the proud and the brave among you who have actually attended every Duke home football game (and have been sober enough to see), you've probably noted the constant presence of a group even fewer, prouder and braver than yourselves.
They call themselves Roof's Rough Riders, and they hang their banner right behind the Blue Devil bench each and every football Saturday in support of their beloved coach-despite how rough the ride has been.
Last Saturday-in light of Duke entering a game against Florida State without having scored a single point at home-I decided it was finally time to discover who the Rough Riders were and, why, in K's name, they felt so compelled to publicly display their affection for head coach Ted Roof.
After making the long walk around Wally Wade and descending the bleachers of Section 7, I resolved that I was going to be as straightforward as possible in my questioning of the Rough Riders. I didn't want to fumble my first foray into investigative journalism like a blown Duke snap.
"Who are you and why are you Ted Roof fans?" I asked.
"Uh, well, how much time do you have?" one of the two Riders responded.
Wow, this was going to be better than I thought.
Kevin Houston and Will Lang, a.k.a. Roof's Rough Riders, claim they have been fans of the coach ever since his All-ACC linebacker days at Georgia Tech. They also have been to every home game since Roof took the reigns of the team as interim head coach for the final five games of the 2003 season.
"We're just huge Duke fans, and we get behind people that we think can turn the program around, and we really think Roof's the guy to turn it around," Lang said. "Steve Spurrier had it going for quite sometime. Then we had that jackass here for whatever."
"Carl Franks," Houston interjected.
"Carl Franks, yeah," Lang said of the coach who went 7-45 in his tenure at Duke.
Amid many doubters, the Rough Riders are adamant in their support of Roof, repeatedly affirming their belief in his coaching ability-particularly in his recruiting skills-and backing up their talk with their perfect attendance.
Sick of Duke fans who only support the basketball team, the Riders are true believers in Duke Football. They're in it for the long haul, they say.
I won't even speculate upon the amount of time Roof may have left at Duke, but I'm pretty sure it's been one very long haul already.
As for how the two 20-something year-old Carolinians came up with the name for themselves, it seems as if there were two primary influences.
"Big fan of alliteration," Houston said.
"Big fan of DMX-and alliteration," Lang added. "Big fans of alliteration equals Roof's Rough Riders."
First of all, I beg you to google the lyrics of DMX's "Rough Riders Anthem" and find a connection to Duke football. Secondly, I'd say "big fans of masochism equals Roof's Rough Riders" might be a more appropriate assertion; but who am I to question the self-designation of the undoubtedly most loyal pair of Duke Football fans out there?
In fact, I'd like to defer to some of their thoughts on the state of Duke Football, which they passed on to me as I stood with them on an almost-empty first bleacher.
"What do you think about the fact that none of the Duke students show up to games?" I asked.
"Well, maybe they have better things to do, such as recover from hangovers," Lang said.
In my view, that's not a valid excuse. That's what tailgating is for.
Regardless, my last question evoked perhaps the most telling response from my new rough riding friends. I asked Houston and Lang if they ever had tried to expand the Rough Riders.
"We've had many people down here, but it's hard to keep 'em coming back," Houston said. "Until we get some more wins, it's going to be hard to grow the group of us, much like it's going to be hard to get the students to come out until we put a better product on the field. But we think Ted's the guy to do it, so that's why we keep coming out."
So, Coach Roof, if you're reading this, know that there are believers out there other than those inside your program-and win one for the Riders.
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