In 1980, for the very first time, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski stepped onto the court that would bear his name 20 years later.
That same year, Duke alumnus Herb Neubauer-who saw his first game in Cameron Indoor Stadium as a freshman in 1959-would get his first set of season tickets.
A blue leather hat from Tijuana, numerous beers with Christian Laettner's dad, hundreds of Duke basketball games and several versions of that famous white towel later, Neubauer transcended the status of just any regular fan. He became Crazy Towel Guy.
The paradox of the Crazy Towel Guy is that he might be one of the most recognizable people on this campus, yet few people seem to know who he is exactly or how and when the practice of the Crazies calling him out began.
So, after the Georgia Tech game Feb. 18, I climbed up to Section 7, Row G, Seat 8 to try to learn more about the most famous Blue Devil fan around.
What I learned was actually surprising. More than a towel-spinning character, Neubauer came off like a Duke Basketball historian. He's had tickets to every home game in the past 27 years, was at every game the year the Blue Devils won their first National Championship and is on a first-name basis with Coach K.
But how did it all start, the spinning and the chanting and the mutual craziness between the Crazy Towel Guy and the Crazies who have heralded him?
"In 1985... we went to Tijuana, and I found this great blue leather Mexican hat in a back street," Neubauer said. "I'd wear it to every game and I'd sweat to death, so I take [a towel] and bring it and wipe my head off. Then I just started swinging it."
In 1994, a fire burned down Neubauer's house, destroying years worth of saved Duke basketball artifacts, Final Four tickets-and the prized blue Mexican hat. (Neubauer even says that Mike Gminski sent a box of his own Blue Devil possessions to try to make up for all that he lost, but that he sent the goods back to the former All-American.) But, even without the hat, Neubauer continued the tradition of bringing a white towel to the games.
The following year, the students began cheering for him in the stands and the rest is history-sort of.
The year after that, thousands of towels were sold on Duke's campus, custom printed with both Krzyzewski's and Neubauer's signatures, and $25,000 was raised for a local Durham food bank.
Now, Neubauer uses one-just one-of these custom towels for the duration of an entire season. It's ritual, just like he walks through the same entrance for every game, wears the same color shirt and carries a plastic bag to put his coat in. At the end of the season, he usually gives the towel to be auctioned off for charity.
Crazy Towel Guy has seen a lot of games in Cameron, but he says that his favorite was in the 1981 season, when Gene Banks hit a jumper to send it in to overtime against North Carolina. The Blue Devils won, and Neubauer said he has yet to see a crowd response that has matched the one that night 26 years ago.
When I asked Neubauer if he had a favorite memory of Coach K, he said that he didn't want to get too into it, but he provided me with this anecdote:
"In 1991, when Duke won the first championship, I was celebrating with Mike's brother Bill after they beat UNLV. We could party with the best-and I can remember that early the next morning, about 3, we were still going. We were hardcore. And Coach K came in the room, next door, he was still watching film and he asked us, 'You guys still partying?' And we laughed, and we said, 'You're still going, we're still going.' And he stayed up all night. That's the way he does it. That's the passion the man's got."
Neubauer also said that at the various booster brunches he goes to, everyone else relies on him to ask Coach K the tough questions-and the most powerful man in college basketball almost always answers.
I think it's because in the past 27 years that these two men have shared Duke Basketball together, they've grown a mutual respect for each other.
And I bet if you asked Krzyzewski about the biggest Duke fan around, he'd say, "That's the way he does it. That's the passion the man's got."
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