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We're bringing Crazie back

The Cameron Crazies have improved this year, but can make a few simple improvements to regain their past glory, columnist Tom Gieryn writes.
The Cameron Crazies have improved this year, but can make a few simple improvements to regain their past glory, columnist Tom Gieryn writes.

Ten minutes prior to the tip-off of Sunday’s game against Boston College, I tweeted from Cameron Indoor Stadium’s press row that the student section was as empty as I had seen it all season that close to game time.

I don’t have any scientific numbers, so I couldn’t tell for sure if it was the smallest student crowd of the season, but as the game went on, I was nonetheless impressed by the enthusiasm from the group that did make it out for a Sunday afternoon contest.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski was pleased as well.

“The last game we played here was against Carolina, and you can have a hangover,” Krzyzewski said after the game. “And our crowd didn’t. Our crowd was hungry. They’ve been terrific all year long. This is one of the best years for our crowd in Cameron, and they came through again today.”

So in a way, saying that the stands against Boston College were relatively empty was a compliment.

In the three years that I’ve been here, it might be overly generous to say that student interest in attending games at Cameron has fluctuated. More accurately, it had waned. The Chronicle ran a front-page piece last year on the declines in student attendance, noting that the athletics department was selling general admission tickets in those rickety bleachers for the first time in history.

I’ve had plenty of discussions with friends and colleagues about why Cameron crowds had been shrinking. Undoubtedly the prevalence of online streaming affected things. The changing composition of the student body has probably contributed. And it certainly didn’t help that last year’s squad, which lacked cohesion even among its own members, was not the sort of team that was easy to rally around.

So I headed into my senior year with trepidation that I would have to spend my final year at Duke lamenting a continued downturn. But then the Ohio State game early in the season was one of the most electric atmospheres I had seen at Cameron.

New records were set for participation in black tenting, with 45 makeshift structures making the plaza in front of Wilson Gymnasium appear almost as full as it had been just days before the same contest in 2012.

So I think, at this point in the season, it’s safe to say: The Crazies are back. But not quite all the way. Not yet.

Much as I’m loathe to compliment the same Maryland fans who have chanted all sorts of unprintable obscenities at Duke players throughout the years, I have to admit I was very impressed by the coordination that the Terrapin faithful showed when I visited College Park 10 days ago to see the Blue Devils lose 83-81. Go search on YouTube for a video entitled “Maryland Students Flash Mob and Harlem Shake.” Trust me, it looked sweet.

We’ve got the enthusiasm here, not to mention a good, very likable team and one of the nation’s best venues. We used to have the coordination as well. After all, this is the same student section that invented the “Airball” chant—and even chanted it in German in when Washington came to town in 1985 with its imported star forward Detlef Schrempf. In 1980, the same crowd rattled its keys in unison every time N.C. State star Clyde “The Glide” Austin touched the ball. The forward was under investigation for having multiple cars registered under his name on campus and went 1-for-6 with just three points at Cameron, after having averaged double-digits in scoring each of his first three years prior to being investigated as a senior. This is the legacy we inherit.

Some of the traditions that have made me enjoy Crazieness so much are disappearing, so consider this my last-ditch attempt to save them. With that, I present a list of reminders for all Crazies, past and future:

  1. When the opponent has the ball in bounds, keep your hands down. The high-decibel drone is always the same when the opponent has the ball, but the hand-waving at the player with the ball occurs only when the ball is not in play (i.e., being inbounded). Once the ball is in play, we stick to jumping up and down.

  2. Listen to the band. They’re there for a reason. Almost all of the classic Duke songs—especially “Devil with the Blue Dress On”—have hand motions or words that go along with them, and it makes me sad when the only people waving along are seniors. This year, on multiple occasions, we’ve been chanting for Crazy Towel Guy over the band. We can do better.

  3. Do your homework. Creativity takes preparation. The involvement of the line monitors is crucial on this one, and this is where cheer sheets—which have appeared less and less frequently as time has passed—are so important. Any opposing player can expect road crowds to chant about his height or his haircut, but the chants that really get under the skin are the ones they don’t see coming. It also looks bad when we can’t get a chant started for an important recruit who is visiting. Being well-informed is what makes us stand out.

  4. Not every chant has to be completely novel. It seems to me that this season we’ve lost some of our go-to chants. Older cheer sheets used to have the staple cheers on them as well as opponent-specific material. I’ve yet to hear “He’s a fresh-man” for either Rasheed Sulaimon or Amile Jefferson. It’s been a while since we’ve done “It’s a school night” for a game delay on a weeknight. We’ve got some clever classics that it never hurts to break out.

  5. Don’t lose your enthusiasm. I’m asking for us to work on adding back the witty, coordinated aspect that has made the Cameron Crazies a nationwide benchmark for basketball fandom, but no amount of snark can replace simply jumping up and down and yelling away your voice.

Let’s finish bringing the Crazies back. Players graduate every four years (and often leave sooner than that), and even Coach K will eventually depart from the Duke bench. But if we do it right, passing down our wisdom along with our passion, the Cameron Crazies are forever.

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