Hating Duke Is Hard

On Thursday night I was watching the Duke-Virginia Commonwealth game in a bar with a mild-mannered documentary filmmaker. Suddenly, with a peculiar mixture of glee and rage, he shouted, “That’s the second time Duke knocked somebody out with a bloody face.” His eyes gleamed with Duke-hate. At that moment I realized something: I hated Duke too.

My relationship with the Blue Devils is complicated. When I arrived there as a graduate student in 1995, I disliked the basketball team. I once saw Steve Wojciechowski in Whole Foods, and I had a distinct and overpowering vision of myself punching him in the face — right there by the asiago. But it’s not cool to be the guy who hates the team of his own school, so I tried to change. When Elton Brand arrived, I became a fan. I went to games. I talked to my students about missed free throws and last-second victories. I never punched Wojo.

Eventually, though, I left Durham. I finally recovered from that long, near-fatal case of graduate school. I thought things would return to normal. I’d forget everything Foucault ever wrote, and I’d go back to hating Duke. But it wasn’t so easy. I’d watch the team, telling myself I was rooting for Carolina or Maryland, but deep inside I couldn’t shake it. I was a Duke fan. That’s why the VCU game was so gratifying. When the filmmaker foamed at the mouth, I was right there with him. No pangs of guilt. No divided, postmodern consciousness. Duke sucks, straight up.

It was with a new, more centered sense of self that I rooted for Gonzaga, who I had picked in the following game. There are a few things I like about the Zags: For one, they always have a guy who looks like a burner. He’s got long, unruly hair, maybe a peach fuzz mustache. This year, they also had that Danny Bonaduce-looking guy David Pendergraft. Plus, I like to say, “Gonzaga.” If you’re from the East Coast you don’t get to say it too often. March is your time.

The Zags lost to Indiana, and I left the bar with mixed emotions. The next day I looked at my bracket, though, and realized I had picked Indiana. I was pleasantly confused. I knew I hated Duke, but apparently I didn’t know much else about myself. I am a secret Hoosiers fan.

Goodbye graduate school. Goodbye Gonzaga.

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