It’s eighty minutes before tip-off and the 1,400-seat student section at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium is already full. The Concordia Stingers are warming up, and as far as the Cameron Crazies- Duke students by day, Blue Devil basketball fans by night- are concerned, they have a responsibility to fulfill.
“Welcome to Duke, eh?” says one fan, cleverly sporting a devil stick, a Duke basketball jersey, and an American flag. And so it begins. Starting with Concordia’s shoot around, the Duke faithful, many of whom are dripping of sweat and blue body paint, make it known just whose house the Stingers are visiting. “The fact that the fans show up an hour and a half before the game just to chant and watch the visitors stretch and warm up shows how passionate they are,” said Stinger forward, Andre Johnny.
“I had fans calling my name during the shoot around, asking for the ball, asking if they can take a shot from their seats. it was like they wanted to be even more involved.”
One of the more intimidating factors visiting teams must quickly adjust to at Cameron is the proximity of the fans to the court. The Crazies occupy the first ten rows, literally standing within earshot of the opposition
“They’re right on top of you all game, screaming and yelling. It’s like dealing with a sixth man,” Johnny said.
Combined with its cheerleading squad and 45-member band, Duke’s rowdy student section gives Cameron an atmosphere that ranks among the best in the country. Sports Illustrated seemed to think so in 1999 when it listed Duke’s home floor as one of the 20th century’s top five sports venues. The crowd noise and the fans’ involvement add a dimension when playing Duke that the Stingers had not yet seen.
“I’ve never been in a gym where the crowd is heckling you during warm up,” says point guard Chris Blackwood. The five-foot-seven senior dealt with chants all night of “oompa loompa,” a reference to the particularly short characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. “I thought Bishop’s was crazy, but they have nothing on Duke.”
Bleacher benches are provided in the student section, but there’s really no need. Anybody caught sitting down is given strange looks- far stranger than those given to the topless guy wearing nothing but a Scottish kilt and face paint.
“I’m dressed for battle,” said Cameron Crazy Alec MaCauly, a third year Religion major. “Playing Concordia is no different than playing (rival) North Carolina. Each game is a battle and we’re going to cheer at every game like we’re getting ready for war.”
At least if the game does in fact turn into such a combat, Duke can be assured it will have the necessary man power. One would have to go back to December 1990 for the last time the 9,314-seat gym was not sold out.
Someone who has not missed many of those games is in-house PA announcer Art Chandler. Chandler has worked Duke games for 36 years and says that it’s not necessarily the size of the crowds that makes it tough on the opposition, as much as it is the noise they are capable of producing.
“You may notice that I keep all of my announcements low key,” Chandler says. “This isn’t like at other gyms where the PA announcer has to rile up the crowd. They’re very creative here and they do a pretty good job of that on their own. They know how to get loud.”
The Cameron Crazies not only get loud, but more importantly, they stay loud the entire night. Whether Duke is trailing, as they were against Concordia for a total of 15 seconds, or leading by more than 50, as they were for the final five minutes, the fans remain on their feet refusing to quiet.
On this particular night, both the Blue Devils and their fans appear in mid-season form. Duke beats Concordia 123-66 and in typical Cameron Crazy fashion, the fans wish the opposition well.
“Ski home safely,” they chant as the clock winds down. The Stinger players on the bench can’t help but smile. They may not have won, but at least they can say that they played in one of college basketball’s most historic gyms, against the top-ranked team in the country, before the most dedicated of fans.