It was the Macy's parade on acid. I passed Waldo and a pirate, walking together, on my way to the indoor stadium. Cookie Monster was a few rows behind Peyton Manning, along with THREE Mario Brothers.
It was the biggest game of the season and the end of my season-long "get to know you" relationship with the Cameron Crazies.
I don't mind confessing that I was afraid of the Crazies in the beginning. For the last 10 years, I've done most of my work in press boxes. The only fans I came into contact with were the ones headed to luxury suites on the same level. Even ringside for boxing, I was usually closer to the round-card girls than actual fans.
Now, suddenly, I was thrust in front of the rowdiest fans in the business. They seemed mean—occasionally they'd tell an opposing player, "Fix your shorts," when, in fact, nothing was wrong with his shorts. And they'd lie about the shot clock to try to get players to panic.
Then there was Cascada. I have daughters, so I was somewhat familiar with her music, to the extent that I knew "Every Time We Touch" wasn't sung by Fergie or Avril Lavigne.
Never did I suspect that it could be used to fuel a mosh pit behind press row. On Countdown to Craziness, I was battered with elbows to the head and knees to the kidneys as I wondered what they were doing and how I was going to make it to March.
Then there were the times they turned their creative energy toward me. During my year-long struggle with the press-row wireless, I heard taunts of "Searching for networks" and "Connecting to Gameday network…Connecting….Connecting."
I eventually got the hang of it, though. I learned where to put my head when the Blue Devil ran by. Too far back, and I'd get crushed by students leaning forward to high-five him, but too far forward, and my face was at hand level, and he'd smack me in the cheek.
I made sure to bring them extra copies of the box score after halftime, and they learned who I was. I had Twitter followers introduce themselves to me, and one sent me a message that would have been bone-chilling in any other context: "I'm looking forward to standing behind you all night." They would read over my shoulder and answer questions for me before Google had a chance to respond. "Yes, that's Mike D'Antoni sitting behind the Duke bench."
By the end of the year, we had gelled as a team, the Crazies and me. For the first time this season, I ventured into Krzyzewski to visit them before the game. It was equal parts tailgate, Halloween, and Grateful Dead show as they went through their preparations. Girls in sports bras and shorts painted each other with brushes, and I didn't have to clear my browser history. A group of blue people in wigs mimicked the team's pregame huddle as they got ready for the doors to open.
Back inside the Cameron media room a short time later, it was easy to tell when Carolina took the floor for pregame shooting. The walls shook as the Crazies hexed the Heels. I went out to watch as they unleashed what had become my favorite chant in the direction of Tyler Zeller: "You let the WHOLE! TEAM! DOWN! You let the WHOLE! TEAM! DOWN!"
90 minutes before the game, the crowd was already louder than they'd been for several early-season games, back when Coach K urged them to step up their effort.
The media usually waits until about 8 minutes before tip to take their seats, allowing us to avoid the pain of one playing of Cascada. However, with the countdown clock above the media room door still reading 20:00, they made an announcement to the media.
"If you're not working, you might want to start making your way to your seat on press row. It could take you a little extra time to get there today."
Indeed it did. The Crazies were on top of us. They've always been polite and respectful, giving us a lane to walk, which is the only way any of the writers can make it to their seats. It's just that the lane was a lot narrower than usual.
By the time I reached my seat, the desk in front of me was already covered with blue flakes and glitter. Within minutes, my back was covered with smears of blue and my hair was filled with feathers.
I pulled up the Decibel Sound Meter app on my phone—a trick I learned from ACC legend Barry Jacobs. It was already over 90, louder than it had been at the end of the Florida State game. By the time the game tipped, the needle was buried past 110, which was as loud as the meter went and the noise equivalent of a power saw.
Even as the team fell behind 22-5, and trailed by "more than double" near the half, the needle never fell. Two months camping out ended with a lopsided loss to a hated rival—THE hated rival—but the enthusiasm never waned.
After midnight, when I left Cameron, exhausted, I walked past the remains of Krzyzewskiville, past the couches piled with plywood—the makings of bonfires that would never be ignited, and past a group of disappointed Crazies, shooting on a wobbly hoop at the outskirts of the campground, their wigs and signs in a pile nearby.
Only 224 days until Countdown to Craziness, 2012.