Amongst the Cameron Crazies

Photo by Streeter Lecka

There’s the sacrificial lamb. And then there’s the sacrificial fan.

I planned on being the latter. I trekked down to Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina to see my beloved Vermont Catamounts play the Duke Blue Devils. With a record of 1–4, the senior-laden Cats were under performing, so no one expected much of a contest.

Days earlier, they were blown out by Bryant. Bryant is a good squad, but they’re not Duke. In short, I’m hoping for a moral victory, unfortunately – perhaps the Cats can keep it within single digits.

A victory in itself was getting to see a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. With its wood-paneled doors and chrome railings, Cameron is the Fenway of hoops to some degree. Arriving in Durham just hours before the game, I immediately head over to Cameron, hoping to get a glimpse of anything. When I get there, the door’s locked and a security guard tells me that the gates will open for students at 4:45 p.m. He suggests that I visit the Blue Devils Hall of Fame.

I’d rather get stuck overnight on a chairlift at Stowe with J.J. Reddick.

I was here to see the Cats, the sole team I root for. A few hours later at 4:30, I return to Cameron. A few fellow Catamount fans are just behind me in line. They’ve printed t-shirts that say “Catamount Crazies.” They tell me something about Tom Brennan I already know but enjoy hearing: His players would take a bullet for him.
Frankly I would take a bullet for TB too.

Why? He let the fans inside, allowed us to be a part of it.

Just after 5, a bus pulls up. I can vaguely make out green and gold, the Catamount colors, and I’m immediately overcome with emotion. Abandoning my place, I run towards the bus. I spot the Cats’ head coach who’s heading inside Cameron.

“Coach Becker! Let’s go Cats!”

I yell, as a security guard gets in front of me. I’m sitting in the nosebleeds of Cameron, so this will be my and only chance for the Cats to hear my encouragement.

“Let’s get this done!”

My words are meant to be ironic. I refer to Duke as just a mere chore that can be easily vanquished. In reality, this is how Duke perceives the Cats. I also want the Cats to know that their fans have made the journey. Perhaps this will serve as some inspiration.

Following my outburst, Coach Becker continues to walk – but he seems to smile. Just making this happen was worth the trip in itself. Coaches don’t smile enough. Like place kickers in football, everyone thinks they can do their job but few actually can.

As I head back to the line, I mull over the fact that security had to restrain me. It’s not too often that the Cats have to be protected from the public, their own public. Also, I’m amused at myself for becoming the fan that believes they can have an actual influence, however slight, on the game.

When I enter the arena, it’s empty except for the much-publicized Cameron Crazies, who are already at work, harassing the Cats as they do their exercises. As I head to my seat upstairs, I reiterate my dislike for the Crazies. Cameron is the smallest 9,000-seat arena anywhere. Not an inch is spared. Everything is practically right on top of the court. No, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

Now, the Crazies are chanting and gesturing with their arms. They particularly enjoy holding their arms straight while waving their fingers. When a few hundred of them do this, it creates a nice effect not to mention a great photo op.

After tip-off, I brace myself for a blow out.

It doesn’t happen.

The Cats are playing well, living up to the hype of being their conference’s preseason pick. They’re spreading the floor, passing well and milking the shot clock like they got a contract with the Department of Agriculture. Most importantly, they’re hitting shots. Well into the first half, Duke has a single digit lead, and a moral victory seems very possible. Every now and then, Duke will hit a three or get a thunderous dunk and the Crazies will rock! Jabari Parker, the Duke freshman phenomenon, keeps his team on top.

While Parker is already a household name, the Cats’ leader is relatively unknown. However, Brian Voelkel just might be the most interesting player in college basketball. First of all, Voelkel looks like an MMA fighter, and he does everything — except shoot, which he rarely does. When it comes to passing, Voelkel is so proficient at threading the needle he should consider knitting sweaters for a living if basketball doesn’t work out.

Former Catamount Brian Voelkel (Photo by Sam Perkins)

At the half, the Cats are down eight.

Just like many old-school venues, the rest room situation at Cameron is weak. If you can, hold it! Fortunately, college basketball games are about two hours, none of this four-hour football stuff. Cameron concessions are standard – no sushi here, just pretzels and popcorn. Pulled pork sandwiches are as high-end as it gets. When you come to Cameron, you’re here to watch hoops, not eat.

As the second half gets underway, I brace myself yet again. But Duke can’t put my Cats away. In fact, late in the second half, the Cats actually take the lead. They’re up three at one point. At this point, I become emotional — the protagonist in a bad beer commercial. I’m just euphoric that the Cats are playing so well. Actually, they’re putting together a masterpiece for the ages.

In my fragile state, my feelings towards the Crazies become less harsh. I rationalize that they’re just nerds with a good team. And I beat myself up for not bringing a sign that says: “I’m not crazy! I root for the Cats!” I’m just not a sign person, and I don’t really do team paraphernalia after an incident with several inebriated Albany Great Dane fans.

Nothing happened, but I had several bad thoughts.

Meanwhile, the Duke band, who I enjoy listening to, have resorted to drastic measures to distract the Catamount foul shooters. At one point, they pick up one of their fellow band members, a diminutive Asian woman, and hurl her back and forth as if they’re going to catapult her on to the court. This seems very wrong, but it’s also very amusing. She was smiling, so I guess there’s no harm, no foul or something like that. In another sequence, a band member pretends to act psychotic as band mates restrain him. Even the clarinet players get into it. They march down the baseline thrusting their instruments up and down.

While the Crazies and the band have been making a rumpus the entire game, the rest of Cameron, besides the healthy Catamount cheering section, is a relative morgue. At Cameron, the crowd is mostly mature and dignified. Translation: They don’t cheer much, or perhaps they save their vocal chords for North Carolina or NC State. Simply, these fans expect to win this game – and they should. Duke has won over a hundred straight non-conference games at Cameron.

But they just might be about to lose one.

With just under four minutes remaining and the lead see sawing, Cameron awakens. They’d come to witness a bludgeoning, a sacrifice. Instead, they’re in a nightmare. With under 30 seconds remaining, the Cats are down four. Again, miraculously, the Cats answer, hitting a three while getting fouled.

At this point, I heard a strange noise, angels perhaps?

Nah, the guy behind had a bad reaction to Duke’s popcorn. Despite the best efforts of Duke’s band, we – yes, it’s we at this point sue me! — hit the foul shot. It’s all tied with 15 ticks or so remaining. I can’t be quite certain. I’m delirious. We have to stop them on D – and we seemingly do. Duke drives to the hole and is stuffed, cleanly. However, the ref doesn’t see it my way, calling a foul. With no one making a peep in ole Cameron, Duke hits one of two. We have five seconds to run the length of the floor and score. We do indeed get the ball in the hole on a running lay up.

Alas, victory!

My footnote in college basketball history is secure. I rushed the Catamount team bus and had to be restrained before one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history! But something’s awry. No one’s celebrating, not the Cats nor Duke. Everyone is just stunned. As it turns out, time had run out before the ball went in. I didn’t hear the buzzer because Cameron can get really, really loud.

Duke wins. I’m numb, very bummed.

However, I’m no sacrificial fan. Yes, I got my moral victory, but I’m not satisfied. I stick around. I talk briefly to Catamount legend Evan Fjeld, who is very gracious and ‘stacheless. I also eavesdrop on Duke fans and listen to them grumble about the Catamounts. It’s a small victory.

Editors Note: This Article Originally Appeared on OneBidWonders