There are certain venues in college sports where opposing teams hate to play. The disdain can stem from the design of the arena, calls the home teams may receive, but, most importantly, it's because of the hounding fans that live and die for their team.
College basketball especially caters to these environments. Allen Fieldhouse, home of the Kansas Jayhawks, never has a quiet moment. Kentucky's Rupp Arena is filled with fans who show no remorse towards opponents. In Durham, North Carolina, Cameron Indoor Stadium doesn't only host Duke home games, it also houses the most rambunctious fans in the sport: The Cameron Crazies.
The Effect of Duke's Cameron Crazies
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The Crazies are the student section of the Duke Blue Devils. Inside the arena, they live on the side of the court and behind the basket. Outside, they live in Krzyzewskiville, a community where students camp before games to reserve a spot. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski didn't incorporate the Crazies into his game plan when he was coaching, but I'm sure he appreciated when they cause rivals to make mistakes in crunch time.
Their influence on opponents derives from organized chants aimed at players and coaches. Before each game, members of the section, which can hold about 1,200 students, are issued "dirt sheets" containing embarrassing details about players and potential chants. These details can range from mishaps with the law to academic infringements or even injuries and stature.
ESPN.com's Page 2 (I can hear the dial-up ringing through this page) ranked the Crazies' best moments in 2002. My personal favorite is the "In-Hale, Ex-Hale" chant directed at North Carolina's Steve Hale, who was out with a punctured lung during a matchup in 1985. They also originated the "air ball" chant in 1979.
Opposing coaches have even joined in on the fun. When NC State was in the middle of an NCAA investigation involving sneakers, Duke students threw shoes on the court before the Wolfpack took the floor and chanted "Down with Valvano!" to harass head coach Jim Valvano. Valvano hopped in the middle of the student section and led a "Down with Packer!" chant in reference to TV analyst Billy Packer.
While the Crazies bring plenty of energy to the Duke basketball team, Coach K has stepped in a few times to address the students.
During a Tuesday night ACC game against the Pittsburgh Panthers, Pitt coach Jeff Capel was issued a technical foul after complaining about officiating in the first half. The Crazies did what they do and directed a "Come sit with us, Jeff" chant at Capel, who played at Duke and was a long-time assistant coach under Krzyzewski.
After Cameron Crazies started yelling "Jeff Capel, sit with us," Coach K could be seen yelling "Shut up" and "He's one of us."
Capel played at Duke and coached there for 7 seasons. pic.twitter.com/OdKeJ62MMv
— ESPN (@espn) January 29, 2020
Coach K took the mic before halftime and told the students to "shut up" because of Capel's ties to the program. Later, he issued an apology in the postgame press conference.
That mutual respect between coach and crowd was on full display on the eve of Coach Krzyzewski's final regular-season home game. Tickets to the game were being sold at outrageous prices on the secondary market, and the Crazies knew they had to make the most out of every chance they had to get in. This led to multiple Duke fans setting up tents and camping outside of Cameron, in the off-chance they'll get a ticket to give Coach K one more fantastic atmosphere before he heads into retirement.
The Cameron Crazies may get out of hand at times, but if they didn't, the wouldn't live up to their namesake. They are the most valuable sixth man in college basketball.
This article was originally published February 24, 2020. It was updated to reflect editorial corrections on the birth of the "air ball" chant, which came in 1979, as well as to note events that preceded Coach K's final regular-season home game.
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