“Cra-zy towel guy! Cra-zy towel guy!”
During every Duke men's basketball home game at some point in the second half—though the timing and frequency have changed over the years—the students begin chanting.
“Cra-zy towel guy! Cra-zy towel guy!”
They’re yelling toward the man sitting in Section 7, Row G, Seat 8, directly across from the Cameron Crazies. He pumps up his arms as the Crazies’ chants get louder and louder, and then he waves his towel above his head. The stadium erupts, he sits down and he does it all again a few days later.
His name? Herb Neubauer. He’s also known as—you guessed it—“Crazy Towel Guy.”
It’s one of the staples of Cameron Indoor Stadium, alongside “Everytime We Touch” and “Dear Old Duke.” But not a lot of people know the man behind the towel, and how he got here.
It’s currently March 3, two days until Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final game at Cameron, and Neubauer walks up the stairs of his Durham home toward what seems like a memorabilia room—at least what’s left of his memorabilia after a 1994 fire ravaged almost everything he owned. Hanging on the door is the shirt he plans to wear to Saturday’s historic game. It reads “I witnessed the Krzyzewski era,” and as Neubauer points out, he’s witnessed it better than almost anyone else.
He first bought Duke men’s basketball season tickets in 1980—coincidentally Krzyzewski’s first season in Durham—when his job with Food Lion brought him back to the Triangle Area. He’s missed only one home game since 1984, when a snowstorm stranded him at his home in 1998. During the Blue Devils’ first two championship runs in 1991 and 1992, he went to every single game—both home and away.
Inside his memorabilia room, he flips through a binder containing pictures with just about every former Duke player and coach you can imagine, reminiscing on all his years as one of the Blue Devils’ premier superfans, and eventually “Crazy Towel Guy.”
“He's just one of those great fans,” said Johnny Moore, who’s worked for or with Duke Athletics in various capacities since 1977 and is currently an assisting visiting professor at the University. “He's one of the unique things about Cameron Indoor Stadium. He's one of those unique things that’s different—there are cowbells at Mississippi State, we got the towel guy. And he's really been a great supporter of Duke over the years.”
Right place, right time
Neubauer says he’s been a “sports junkie” since he was six years old, a journey that started in New Jersey when his step-father had season tickets to both the Giants (the baseball team, who at the time played their games in Manhattan) and Yankees. In fact, Neubauer—who will turn 81 this year—says he was in the stands when Bobby Thomson hit his “Shot heard 'round the world,” perhaps the most famous home run in baseball history.
It was the earliest example of what he says became a theme throughout his life: being in the right place at the right time.
He spent the principal years of his childhood in Rockingham, N.C., where he played point guard for the basketball team, before it was time to head off to college. Neubauer says he nearly went to Vanderbilt, becoming a finalist for the prestigious Fred Russell-Grantland Rice Sportswriting Scholarship, but placed second for the award. He then attended Duke on a separate scholarship, saying he could never have gone without one.
Despite not following the sportswriting path during his time in Durham, Neubauer still became heavily involved in Duke Athletics. He collected stats for the men’s basketball team under then-head coach Vic Bubas and also served as a student manager for the 1961 baseball team—the last Duke baseball team to make the College World Series. Right place, right time.
The theme continued after Neubauer graduated from Duke in 1963.
At first, he jumped around various jobs across the country. During a brief unemployment stint, he unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Charlotte.
“I couldn’t beat John Belk—everybody knew him and everything,” Neubauer said. “But I don’t know; I had time on my hands to do something.”
Then in 1977, he joined Food Lion when the grocery chain had only 26 stores. Over the next 10 years the company grew to 680 stores, and in 1987 Neubauer retired with enough Food Lion stock to turn his full attention toward Duke sports.
Right place, right time.
The rise of “Crazy Towel Guy”
Neubauer first started bringing a towel in 1984.
The tradition actually began with a blue leather hat that Neubauer bought during a brief trip to Tijuana, Mexico while he was in Los Angeles for a Duke game. He became known for wearing the hat to every Blue Devil home game, but he naturally started to get hot in the humid confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium, so he brought along a towel as well.
He lost the hat in the 1994 fire, but he still brought a towel to help mitigate the Cameron Indoor Stadium heat. And two years later, what used to be Neubauer’s accompanying attire became his main act.
One game during the 1995-96 season—Neubauer doesn’t remember which specific contest—the student section began chanting. At first, Neubauer didn’t realize the chants were for him, but a friend quickly got his attention.
“‘Herb, that’s you! Get up and wave that damn towel!’” Neubauer remembers his friend yelling. “So I did, and then it just started going.“
Ever since then, the Crazies chant for him every game, and he’s earned the mantra “Crazy Towel Guy.”
“To me, it's no coincidence that he's Crazy Towel Guy, and we're the Cameron Crazies,” said Matt Long, a former student and Cameron Crazie who graduated from Duke in 1996. “He’s more crazy, he's additional crazy in that building and it just works so well together.”
The nickname perfectly personifies Neubauer even when he’s not swinging the towel.
During Bobby Hurley’s Senior Day in 1993, Neubauer thought he had a heart attack and was carted out of Cameron Indoor. To his shock and frustration, though, the game wasn’t on at Duke Hospital, and so he made the staff set it up on a phone so he could listen in.
In 2006, he says he became the first person outside the Blue Devil mascot to ride the surfboard on top of the band, another Cameron Indoor staple for decades and a tradition that has since involved the likes of Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas and more. The only problem was Neubauer never signed an insurance waiver before doing so, and he remembers seeing then-athletic director Joe Alleva looking like “his heart was beating 1000 times” as he surfed across the floor.
“I’m one of those—I’m up for anything,” Neubauer said. “Let’s bring it on, I’ll do it.”
Not just basketball
“Crazy Towel Guy” may be best known for his tendency to rile up the crowd during Duke men’s basketball games, but calling him just a Blue Devil basketball fan would be misrepresenting his story.
From volleyball to tennis to soccer to wrestling, there's a good chance you’ll see Neubauer in the stands cheering his alma mater on. He says he missed less than a handful of Duke football games between 1959 and 2013, developing a close friendship with former head coach Steve Spurrier, and still remembers his bus trip to Tacoma, Wash., to watch Duke men’s soccer win the 1986 NCAA Championship—the first national title for any Blue Devil program.
“Everybody has to have them—every school you need those kinds of supporters,” Moore said. “And we’re very fortunate to have Herb, that cares about us. You hope you have that guy, that means so much to you.”
But perhaps the feat that best encompasses Neubauer came during the 2009-10 athletic season, when he finally accomplished a goal he’d set out to do since he retired: attend every home game for every Duke sport during an entire season.
All in all, Neubauer attended 186 home games during the year and 228 in total, writing down the score of every single one of those contests and filing it in a white binder he still has at home. He often had to balance multiple games going on at the same time, jumping from parts of one to another throughout the day, which is why he believes it’s a feat that nobody has or will ever replicate—including himself.
“My wife says, ‘One time—if you ever do it again you’ll be single,’” Neubauer laughs.
‘We were both lucky’
Neubauer met his wife, Judith, as a “pen friend” in 1995, when he found her contact and photo in an Asian magazine and sent a letter to her in the Philippines. She then came to America and the two have been married ever since. He says what stood out about her was her love of sports, a necessity for someone like Neubauer whose life revolves around them, and that they’ve traveled across the country attending various Duke athletic events together.
“We both were lucky to pick the right person,” Neubauer says.
Judith has 10 brothers and sisters back in the Philippines, and Neubauer is paying for at least one child from each of those families to attend college so they can graduate and support their own brothers and sisters. But that’s not the only example of Neubauer’s giving mindset.
In 1997, he co-signed and sold towels alongside Coach K to raise $25,000 for the North Carolina Food Bank. He gives out academic scholarships for students from North and South Carolina to attend Duke—just like the one that allowed him to come to Durham way back when—and later sponsored one for Duke Athletics as well. Up until a few years ago, he would auction off his towel to charity at the end of each season and bring a new one the next year, though he says right now he’s been using the same one for a few years running.
In terms of family outside Judith, both Neubauer’s sister and brother have passed away, and he says he never wanted any kids because he “was scared [he] might die,” and he saw how hard it was for his mother to raise three kids by herself after his step-father left the family.
“So I’m it,” Neubauer said. “When I go, it’s all over. That’s all she wrote.”
End of an era
Neubauer says he knows Mike Krzyzewski, but not too well, and that he mostly tries to “stay out of the way.” He was actually closer with Mike’s brother Bill before he passed away, getting to know him through all of the Duke basketball trips he’d taken over the years.
“He’s coaching, and that’s the most important thing…. He knows who I am, I know who he is,” Neubauer said of the legendary head coach, noting that he does send Coach K a birthday card every year.
Still, in December 2020, Neubauer said he would consider not going to any more games once Krzyzewski retired, saying he’d stop when “either he retires or physically I’m unable to go.”
Fast forward to now, though, and Neubauer says he’s all in on the Scheyer era, and plans to continue supporting the team from his seat in the upper deck of Cameron Indoor Stadium as long as he can make it there.
“Sometimes you have to wonder about how it’s gonna be handed down, but I have complete confidence in Jon being a great coach and a great recruiter…. So I figured, ‘Hey, why miss out on a good thing?’” Neubauer said. “I just think Duke’s gonna continue to roll.”
But Krzyzewski still has one more game to go in Cameron. It’ll be a game of many lasts—Coach K’s final regular-season game, his final game in Duke’s iconic home arena and potentially his final installment of the Duke-UNC rivalry—in what’ll surely be a special and emotional day on campus.
However, Neubauer did make sure to add one caveat to all of the pregame hype.
“People say how special it is—it’ll only be special if we beat the hell out of ‘em.”
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