To Hate Like This is to be Happy Forever

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Duke fans believe spending 196 hours in a tent indicates passion and devotion. Carolina fans believe 196 hours in a tent indicates a telling lack of other social engagements."

-Adam Lucas, Tar Heel Blue columnist

"You may remember that moment on the first day of class," I said by way of opening to my students this morning, "when I asked you to have patience with me, since I was enduring the emotional roller-coaster of basketball season this term. Well, as you can see," and here I stepped from behind the lectern to reveal a Prof. Sycorax dressed not in her normally academivamp attire, but rather in jeans and a North Carolina sweatshirt, "today is the most wonderful time of the year, and I need your indulgence.  It's the day of the Dook game."
Best Trophy Ever:
The Beatified Dean Smith's
Sportsman of the Year Award

"I was asked to speak here tonight," Charles Kuralt said at the golden wedding anniversary of Julia and Hugh Morton lo those many years ago, "because during the bicentennial I was the guy who stood there in front of the President of the United States and said that I was there to speak for all of us who could not afford to go to Duke . . . and would not have gone there even if we could have. We have great affection for Duke University. All of us in this room know how important it is to our state, and know how important the rivalry is. And if there had never been a Duke (which of course there was not, during most of the distinguished history of the University of North Carolina); if there had never been a Duke, we would have had to invent it. We would have made it a place with severe gothic arches and ivy growing on the walls, to persuade the more naive undergraduates that they had been admitted to Yale after all. And we would have given it a towering national reputation (in some odd things, like parapsychology and the rice diet), but a national reputation. We would have sent Richard Nixon there to study constitutional law. Best of all, we would have sent one of our own, the beloved Terry Sanford, over there to keep an eye on things. And finally, we would have built the campus close to our own, so that those over-serious people, heads of great utilities, and rich people, could come here for parties. And I say that Julia and Hugh have shown true Carolina spirit in inviting them to this one. We should all thank them for this, for bringing us together. There aren't many things that bring us together, but Julia and Hugh can do it. But I can not help adding that this is the same Julia Morton and Hugh Morton who had a dog named Dutchess. Dutchess would roll over on her back, and stare blank eyes at the ceiling, and raise her four paws stiffly into the air, when asked, 'would you rather be a dead dog or go to Duke.'"

Preach it, Kuralt.  Earth hath not anything to show more fervent than the Duke-Carolina rivalry.  My Dookie friend wrote me to tell me that he thinks that the Earl of Grantham would be rooting for his team.  Well, obviously.  That argument defeats itself.

What I love about the rivalry is undoubtedly what everyone outside of it hates about it: that the derision, the disdain, the furious antagonism, brings with it a sense of exceptionalism, of the closeness and respect that comes from being locked in a battle of wills for decades.

The feelings run deep, and are etched with the scars of post-Civil War history: in the agon between the patrician Duke and Carolina ("it was, as it was meant to be, the University of the people," Kuralt said on another occasion) we find the whole self-shaped narrative of Reconstruction, of migration, of Big Tobacco, of Southern populism, of public-private schism.  My students sometimes make the mistake of thinking that basketball is a game to me.  They tease me about the team's failures, thinking that there must be hipster irony in my love of college sports.  I'm sorry, Oscar, but college basketball is the one area of life in which I am painfully, searingly earnest.  Irony-free.

Today, one of my students looked at my Carolina sweatshirt and said, "We can't be friends."

"If you are a Dook fan, don't tell me," I replied, "I grade you; there are some things I shouldn't know."

[They also thought that they could sidetrack me from a discussion of Wilde and aestheticism by bringing up Facebook, but I responded with a lengthy analysis of Facadebook as a crisis of Bunburying, in which one finds that all of the fractured identities one performs to employers vs. ex-girlfriends vs. grandparents vs. sorority sisters have to be subsumed in one tortured master-performance, lest one's grandmother be privy to the photos of drunken debauchery from last weekend.

"I don't know," my student said, "My grandmother really enjoys those pictures."

"My grandmother basically *is* Lady Bracknell," I replied.]

There's no part of Dook Game Day that's not steeped in quasi-religious observance for me.  I have a strictly observed costume I don for the occasion, all the more vital if I'll actually be going to work and teaching on game day. I have special foods that I eat, including, on one occasion, Blue Velvet Cupcakes in the form of wee Tar Heels, looking as if they'd just stepped in a vat of chocolate chips as gooey as pitch. I hold fast to the belief that I have the magical ability to turn the tide of luck in Carolinas favor at a crucially low point in the game, if only someone turns to me and spontaneously offers me a single dollar to make Duke lose.  I've done it several times.  And yes, I consider myself a rational human being in every other aspect of my life.

Here's how the day ends today: 

I'm picking up my ritual barbecue from a place in Halifax where the walls read "You'll Eat It and Like It" and "A Butt Rub Makes Everything Better." There's a man-sized, double-wide, stainless steel fridge on my right with "My name is Charmless" scrawled in giant letters across its face. Its brother to my left proclaims, "My name is Without Couth."

I'm ready to go home, where the moon is a searchlight over desert Farfara, to continue the endless struggle of good against evil.

And then, God willin' and the creek don't rise, there will be a Dook loss, may their names live in infamy.

One Response so far.

  1. Two things I'm telling myself this morning, before I head off to meditative yogic reallignment:

    First, one of the reasons we have sport is to inoculate us against the slings and arrows of wrenching loss. Grief is an acceptable and necessary part of the fan's existence.

    Secondly, the Dookies may have the win, but when they wake up this morning, they'll still have gone to Duke.

Leave a Reply