An attempt at fame on College GameDay

Saturday was a special day for Duke, with the Blue Devils reveling in the limelight of the college football universe as College GameDay came to the heart of campus for the first time. As a medical student who’d just taken a board exam and moved from an apartment to a house, I was eager to have a day devoid of responsibility. This is my College GameDay story:

3:34 p.m., the day before: I enter Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts in search of some posterboard to make a sign. Everyone else in the store seems to be combing through nice patterned material to craft something that actually requires talent, but I sheepishly ask the employees where I can find a big piece of paper. They point me to the right place. I purchase several poster boards for $7 apiece — this seems a bit expensive, but I suppose the fame accompanying a well-crafted sign comes at a cost.

7:45 p.m., the day before: I arrive at my friend’s apartment ready to craft a sign. It becomes apparent while brainstorming sign ideas that a good portion of them are recycled and repurposed for different games. For Notre Dame, there are the timeless classics of Manti Te’o’s girlfriend, puns revolving around luck or the Irish, or implications that Indiana is not a great place to live. As a College GameDay expert (I watched it a few times per season in high school), I’ve always thought the best signs meet at least one of several criteria. 

First, the sign invokes a joke or pun that’s specific to the matchup at hand. Whether it’s pro-Duke or anti-Notre Dame matters less than whether it references some germane, timely aspect of a team, player or coach. Second are punchy signs that have just two or three words. While these don’t require the most thought or time, there’s no denying that a simple “SAM FARTMAN” can capture minds and hearts nationwide with its simplicity. The last criterion — and the one I chose to embrace for my sign — involves a design that leans into irony. You might argue that sign-making is not that serious and that it’s really more about having fun than being a competition. Perhaps that’s true.

For years, I’ve had a screenshot saved on my phone from College GameDay in the early 2010s of a sign reading “You people are blocking the library.” I’d always told myself that if I ever attended College GameDay, I would recreate that sign, and I couldn’t pass up that chance now. It was clear fate was working in my favor when GameDay moved from its traditional basketball location of Krzyzewskiville — where a “blocking the library” sign would have been much less plausible — and right next to the West Campus bus stop.

7:28 a.m., gameday: I wake up and apply the finishing touches on my sign, which takes longer than it looks to make. Not counting the time spent brainstorming, it takes around 90 minutes to draw and color in the letters. I can only imagine the time investment needed to craft one that looks aesthetically pleasing. 

Perhaps in a different life, I would have been up at 6 a.m., clamoring to be at the front of the pack and get my sign front and center. But after surviving an exhausting week of moving and post-exam recovery, I was happy to play a supporting role in exchange for some extra hours of sleep. 

8:50 a.m., gameday: I drive to campus. Never have I seen Abele Quad in such a state — an ever-growing crowd of more than 1,000 people, goalposts in the grass abutting the Social Sciences Building, jury-rigged wires and camera equipment on buildings, a big old TV set in the middle of the West Campus bus stop. The extensive fencing and signs of Duke’s eternal construction work, unapologetically obtrusive just several days ago, are now mysteriously absent. Fans, old and young, bask in Duke’s very first gameday. ESPN makes several attempts to play “Everytime We Touch” to engage the crowd, but participation is minimal. There’s just something different about hearing that song blasted at deafening volume while uncomfortably sandwiched between people in Cameron Indoor Stadium that a breezy day on the quad just doesn’t capture.

I scan the signs to see what I’m up against. They hail from many different parts of the humor spectrum, but I don’t see any other “blocking the library” contenders. Since I’m too far back to have any realistic chance of ending up on TV while the analysts are talking, I’m resigned to waiting for the overhead camera shot to hold my poster board up. This ritual continues for the next few hours. While I never grace ESPN’s broadcast, a few folks to my right chuckle at my sign and even take a picture of it, which is a good enough ego boost for the day. As noon approaches, I look around at the crowd, which has grown considerably, and see not only current students but also recognized alumni, faculty and community members among the masses. It is a rally for Duke football like none I’d seen before.

5:35 p.m., gameday: After reserving the afternoon off for some semblance of productivity, I arrive at the campus tailgate. The medical school tailgates are taking place in the awkward patch of grass next to the tennis courts. I’m not sure if this placement is intentional to boost Duke’s reputation as a football school — tired medical students standing around drinking IPAs aren’t exactly good for that brand — but it was a nice way to observe the youth from afar. In my seventh year of paying tuition to this university, I reward myself by claiming a “free” Jersey Mike’s sub, courtesy of Student Affairs. It’s the little things in life that matter, after all. 

6:51 p.m., gameday: We fight our way through the crowd into the stadium and the game begins. Some sloppy play in the first half leads to a 10-0 Notre Dame lead at halftime, but Duke comes back to regain the lead in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the Fighting Irish manage to score in the last minutes of the game and steal a storybook moment in Durham. But in those last minutes, scanning the stadium, I can’t recall a time I’ve ever seen Wallace Wade Stadium packed to the brim with fans and consumed with passion this late in the game. Gone are the days, I think to myself, of students streaming out of the stadium after the first quarter. 

Even though the Blue Devils weren’t able to win and I did not rise to fame with my sign, it was impossible to attend Saturday night’s game and not feel that the tide of Duke football had indelibly shifted.

Nathan Luzum is a third-year medical student and a member of the DSPC Board of Directors. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. 


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