Fanatic or nonchalant?: Student responses to UNC-Duke game day

By Jazmine Bunch

The darker specks of blue rejoiced throughout the arena. Tears exposed trails of skin as they rolled down Carolina blue-painted faces, and mouths dropped in horror. Duke players rushed the court and swarmed the Duke forward who transformed an air ball into a buzzer-beater shot to top the Tar Heels by two points in overtime.

Jamal Smith, a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill, stood in the nosebleeds with a dead phone and broken spirit. Suddenly, the gaping hunger from not eating all day began to gnaw its way through his Michael Jordan jersey.

And while an estimated 21,500  fans of one of the fiercest rivalries in college basketball stood in the Dean E. Smith Center—some on cloud nine with triumph while others were picking their jawlines off the ground— freshman Treasure Rouse didn’t even know or have the slightest care in the world that the Blue Devils had just won.

The typical Duke celebration consists of burning benches and bonfires, but post-win festivities were halted by Duke’s Dean of Students, who planted herself on top of one bench, because students didn’t have a permit to burn them. When Nneka Nwabueze, a junior at Duke University, heard that a student shouted, “Burn her too!” she was reminded of why she doesn’t participate in game day rituals.

Fueled by the rivalry

Not everyone’s fire is rooted in family feuds and divided houses like Smith’s.  Before attending UNC-CH, he was a Duke fan for 12 years. He and his mom rooted for Duke while his dad and sister loved Carolina. Every game day they’d watch the game from different rooms and come together in the last quarter.

But after his Carolina conversion, he has new game day rituals.

He hopped out of bed at 7 a.m. with no time to eat and threw on his UNC edition Air Jordan 11’s, Michael Jordan jersey and UNC jacket before barreling down the hill from his Horton dorm to the Dean Dome in preparation for ESPN’s College GameDay.

As a member of the sports administration team, he didn’t have to brave the cold for hours before the 11 a.m. entry time. Instead, he got to marvel at the behind-the-scenes magic inside the arena until the floodgates opened, and then he got to watch thousands of eager fans pour in.

He remained at the stadium until 1 p.m., took a nap in between the seats, grabbed a quick bite with the sports administration crew and hopped in line outside at 3 p.m. to wait for his Phase 3 entry time into the game.

His ticket confirmation from Carolina Athletics didn’t feel real. He was numb to the game day buzz throughout the week. Even his early morning alarm didn’t completely jolt him out of this dream. He’d been to plenty of UNC basketball games this season, but this was Carolina versus Duke. He couldn’t believe he’d gotten a coveted ticket his first year.

But when the horns from the “Jump Around” intro blared through the stadium, he felt that this was real, and this basketball game was about to be “real different.”

It’s an even bigger game when you’re rooting for both blues.

“It was exciting at home or watching it in my room,” Smith said. “But being in the Dean Dome and you’re a part of it, and being nervous because you don’t know if you’re about to rush Franklin Street or go back to your room and cry… it was better than anything.”

Smith cycled through all the normal game day emotions as Carolina led most of the game.

Even after the shot that narrowly snatched away the win from UNC, Smith said being in the stadium, experiencing those last seconds in slow motion and sharing pride and pain with thousands of other fans was surreal.

It’s hard to imagine how anyone wouldn’t want to be here.

Oblivious to the game

Rouse woke up at 11 a.m., hours after some fans had been waiting for hours just to gain admission into the Smith Center for ESPN’s College GameDay. She strolled through the thick of game day madness on her way to her boyfriend’s dorm, initially oblivious that there was a big basketball game.

“I didn’t even know we had a game… until I walked to go to Ehaus and there was a radical white man,” she said between laughs, “and he goes, ‘GO DUKE!’ He was like the Pit preacher, but it was just him cheering on Duke. And I was like ‘Woah, this is not what I signed up for.’”

She and her boyfriend, Jordan Roberts, would be confined to the four walls of Ehringhaus dorm. With butterfly lights illuminating the dim room, they cozied on the comforts of a 36 inch by 80 inch twin bed, and  judged couples on “House Hunters” at tipoff.

They’d just be fine with that.

“I knew there was a game, and I planned to catch some of it,” Roberts said. “I was at work early in the day, so game day was a no-go.”

It’s a part of the Carolina experience to anticipate rushing Franklin Street after a win over Duke. But the passion and immediacy of a Tar Heel-Devil rivalry didn’t exist in their dorm room. In this moment, it was just Rouse, Roberts and “House Hunters.”

A normal day

The nonchalance stretched 10 miles down Tobacco Road to Nneka Nwabueze, a junior at Duke. When the battle of the blues ensued at the 6:05 p.m. tipoff, she was eating pizza and preparing for step practice.

Her day started when her alarm woke her up at 10 a.m. She was going to be busy with laundry, lunch at IHOP, an event with her modeling organization, step practice at the Bryan Student Center until 9:30 p.m. and a party she planned to attend that night.

She’s only been to one basketball game since freshman year, and she tries to stay out of the way on game day. Her hate for Carolina goes as far as a solicited round of trash talk, but there’s no true hate for the Tar Heels in her heart, nor any major allegiance to the Blue Devils.

“For me, I didn’t grow up around the rivalry. I probably didn’t know what the rivalry was until I got to this school,” Nwabueze said. “I don’t think I could tell you the players that are on this team.”

In combination with a lack of passion, Nwabueze described the process of getting student tickets at Duke.

Tents will line K-Ville— also known as Krzyzewskiville, the line where Duke students camp for tickets—weeks before Duke basketball games, housing student groups who undergo freezing temperatures and unpredictable weather to gain access to conference games. Carolina games always guarantee that students will make themselves at home in these temporary dwellings for weeks at a time.

For Nwabueze, that just isn’t worth it.

Around 9 p.m., other students in the student center erupted into cheers at what Nwabueze realized was the end of the game. Even though she didn’t ride the game day wave, after she left step practice, she casually threw on a Duke jersey and—not really needing a reason either way— partied as planned.

Although the nation may stop for the Carolina-Duke game, some students on the 10-mile stretch of Tobacco Road aren’t even phased.

Edited by Rachel Crumpler