Secrets of the Cameron Crazies

RALEIGH, NC–I don't like Duke. As a West Coast basketball fan, I am sick of ESPN force feeding me the greatness that is Duke. I know they are good. I know Coach K is among the best coaches of all time. I know Cameron is a great place to watch a basketball game. I just don't want to hear about it when watching a Michigan State/Indiana game that has nothing to do with the ACC or Durham. Although I don't like Duke, I have to admit a newfound appreciation for the Cameron Crazies.

I have been to many college basketball venues. I have also attended a number of NCAA Tournament games. The best place I have ever been to see a basketball game is Phog Allen Fieldhouse. McKale Center is not bad. Pauley Pavilion is a pretty good crowd when the Bruins are winning. I have never been to Cameron Indoor Arena, but I can now see why the famed Cameron Crazies are so revered.

I have seen Stanford's Sixth Man, often compared to the Cameron Crazies. Sorry, I just don't see it. After my two trips to Maples Pavilion I have come away less than impressed. It's not that they are bad, they just aren't as special as I was led to believe. They cheer the whole game. They jump, they yell, they are enthusiastic. They aren't quite as clever as they probably think they are. None of their antics, save for a student dressed as a candy machine after the Kansas candy incident, were any funnier or smarter than other student sections.

Frankly, the Cal students were just as good. Their organized chants were a tad bit funnier and they were a little more wild, with crazy costumes and some good yell leaders.

As enthusiastic as the Stanford's students are, they aren't that much better than UCLA's students. ASU's crew may be vulgar, but they do get loud. Even the McKale students, though spread out, are capable of making some noise.

The Stanford students tend to be the most organized and maybe the most loyal, but they aren't that spectacular.

As I mentioned, I have not been to Cameron for a game, but did witness the Crazies first hand at the NCAA Tournament. From a brief two game experience I can now start to see what the big deal is.

By nature, NCAA Tournament venues, especially pro arenas, are very sterile. There just aren't enough fans for any one team to generate a lot of noise. Seeing games at Kemper Arena, the Staples Center and now the RBC Center makes you appreciate the on-campus venues of a regular season game. Save for an anti-Arizona crowd at the Pit in Albuquerque, most first round games are fairly quiet.

With both in-state Wake Forest and Duke playing in Raleigh I anticipated a good crowd. Unfortunately the shear size of the building, and a less than packed arena, led to a lack of overall crowd noise.

Select pockets of fans made noise. The Alabama State fans like to run their fair share of smack. Seton Hall's small group of students made some noise. Wake's fans relished in taunting foul-plagued opponents and of course the Wildcats had their share of loud fans.

While most of the Duke fans were surprisingly silent, a small group of students made noise throughout. Halfway up the Duke section, several hundred Cameron Crazies stood for two entire basketball games. They were all clad in blue and white, no other colors to be seen.

They were organized. On cue they began chanting in unison. They had a number of hand gestures and choreographed jumps and hand gestures.

I am not sure who led the cheers. There were no student yell leaders that I could see. I couldn't spot anyone designated to lead the cheers. I'm sure they had their cues, but from across the building I couldn't tell.

Maybe they take a course during their freshman year, an elective like Crazies 101. Or do the upperclassmen teach the freshmen as they wait in Tent City for tickets?

"Get me a pizza and I'll teach you a cheer!"

At Cameron they are close to the floor, either courtside or behind the basket. Here they were behind the Duke bench, but 25 rows up. I am sure some of their antics work and look a lot better when right in front of the opponents. Some of the hand motions looked a little silly. They do a typewriter like thing with their arms that sort of resemble the zombie dance from Michael Jackson's Thriller video. It looked sort of dorky when performed that high up, but would probably make a difficult shooting background when several thousand students did it in unison behind a basket.

It was sort of like going to the zoo. You can see how stunning an animal is, but you get the impression that they are that much better in their native environment.

They were on cue with the music. The band started to play and they were ready with chants, songs and dances. Each song had a different act.

For the most part they were positive. Most of their cheers were for their team. Whenever a player would take a breather, the Crazies chanted his name.

That is not to say that the Crazies aren't a little annoying. Their organization almost takes some of the passion away. They seem a little too proud of their antics. That and the fact that 95% of them scored higher in their SAT's than I did and most will make more money after graduation than I do right now.

I am not going to root for Duke. I will still cringe when Dick Vitale goes into one of his un-prompted pro-Duke diatribes. I will still root for everyone else in the ACC when I tune into that Fox Sunday game that invariably will feature the Blue Devils. But now, when I watch the game and my wife screams at the TV every time Duke scores, I'll notice the Blue Devil fans just a bit more. It's hard to believe they can top the kids at Kansas, but I can certainly see what all the hype is about.

Now, can someone get me a ticket to a Duke game? I want to see the Crazies in full force, while rooting against them of course.

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