To learn the method behind the madness of Krzyzewskiville, SIOC infiltrated America's most notorious hoops village for a weekend. Here's what our mole turned up
By Chris Ballard
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Three a.m. Saturday morning in Krzyzewskiville. There are 10 hours until game time, it's 12° below freezing, and the Crazies are hibernating. A maze of tents stretches down the grassy quad away from Cameron Indoor Stadium; big tents and small tents and domed tents and superexpensive, fit-for-K2 tents. Further down, students are cocooned on top of air mattresses and inside lean-to tarps and recumbent in lawn chairs and, in many cases, just curled up on the sidewalk in sleeping bags, bodies hunched up like larvae. All told, there are more than 400 Dukies in this peculiar little city-within-a-university that is part Outward Bound expedition, part tailgate party and part endurance test. At this late hour the hardiest souls are still awake, clutching beer cans as if they were mugs of hot chocolate, playing drinking games or launching footballs into wobbly, corkscrew arcs. But most sleep, conserving energy for the upcoming battle against fourth-ranked Wake Forest.
Come daybreak, it will all be worth it. The campers will stumble out of their tents at 6:45 a.m., as dawn backlights pink-cotton-candy clouds, and prepare to register their place in line. They will make coffee runs and stamp their feet to stay warm and sneak into the nearby gymnasium bathroom, punching in an access code that's (secretly) given to them every year by athletes, and all the while the line will grow, stretching back 200, 300, 400 yards, out of the quad and past the Intramural Building and into the auxiliary parking lot.
At 11:24 a line monitor will stand in front of the queue of face-painted, blue-bodied students, raise his voice and, as if readying the drivers at the Indianapolis 500, proclaim, "It's time to goooooooo!" And the kids will start bouncing, popping up and down like a thousand-plus Whack-a-Moles, and then they will charge forward in groups of a dozen or so. And it is somewhere during those next 60 feet, before they reach the double doors to the arena, that they will stop being Duke students -- young men and women who have double majors and gaudy SAT scores and a proclivity toward studying on weekend nights -- and morph into Cameron Crazies, that most infamous breed of collegiate fan. En masse, they will attempt to squeeze 1,600 or 1,700 bodies into a student section that can seat 1,400 tops, but since they are forever standing, seating capacity is never an issue. They will yell and chant themselves hoarse for the next hour and a half. And that's before the game even starts.
And to think: This is all for Wake Forest. Just wait, one is told repeatedly and emphatically, until North Carolina comes to town. At that point, the first tenters will have been in line for nearly three months (for a basketball game!), having spent a good third of the school year living out of a nylon shell, no doubt just as their parents had hoped they would when investing $28,000-plus in tuition for a Duke education. Krzyzewskiville's population will have swollen to 1,200, and the place will be, says one veteran tenter, "utter and ab-so-lute f---ing mayhem."
Duke sophomore forward Shavlik Randolph may put it best when he says of K-Ville, "It's almost impossible to understand it until you see it for yourself. I'd heard about it in high school, but then you get here and it's like a little civilization, and these tents are these people's homes." He shakes his head slowly, as if pondering a philosophical question of great import. "It's flattering, but it's also sort of weird. I mean, it's the middle of winter. It's freezing out there!"
According to Duke lore, Krzyzewskiville was founded in 1986 when 15 or so students, juiced from a night of quarters, decided to rent a tent from U-Haul and pitch it on the quad on a Thursday night in anticipation of that Saturday's North Carolina game. Other students followed suit, someone scrawled KRZYEWSKIVILLE on a cardboard box, and one of sport's most storied traditions was born.
As the years passed, K-Ville went from spontaneous and anarchic to increasingly, and exceedingly, official. So now there is a metal KRZYEWSKIVILLE placard, like the kind used for highway exits. Students must provide their social security number to register a tent, check in via e-mail and abide by the whims of the head line monitor, an elected student who governs K-Ville, mediates disputes and makes the rules. This year's eight-page Statute of the Duke Student Government: Undergraduate Admissions Policy for the 2003-2004 Men's Basketball Season is 5,192 words and full of sentences that read as if straight out of a legal contract (see sidebar, right). Accommodations have changed as well. There are now Ethernet ports in the base of all the quad lights, and the whole place is set up for wireless Internet access. Local pizza delivery joints respond to requests for large pepperonis "to K-Ville," and students watch DVDs on laptops and use extension cords to plug in TVs and Nintendos to nearby outdoor wall outlets.
This season the first tenters arrived the day after Christmas. By doing so, the dozen denizens of Tent 1 earned the right to be first to enter the two "official tenting games" -- against archrivals Maryland on Feb. 22 and UNC on March 6 -- provided they survive the numerous unannounced tent checks. While most of those in K-Ville are freshmen, this year's Tent 1 consists of primarily junior and sophomore men. (K-Ville's population skews male by about a 60/40 ratio.) Their de facto leader is Pasha Majdi, a burly, bearded junior from Vienna, Va., who wears a referee's shirt, blue cape and blue cowboy hat to games.
Though they occupy the first tent, Majdi and friends still have to line up separately for all "nonofficial" games. "It's sort of bulls--- but it's for our own benefit," says Tent 1's Garver Moore, a sophomore. "You have to protect people from making bad decisions." Majdi, who stands nearby smoking a cigarette, chimes in as if to prove Moore's point: "If we could start tenting in October and be first in line for every game, I'd do it. That'd be awesome."
On this particular mid-January week, there are two games: Thursday against N.C. State followed by Saturday against Wake. Students are not allowed to start camping out for the latter until 30 minutes after the first game ends. Regardless, four students are already out on the sidewalk an hour before the tipoff of the N.C. State game, sitting in lawn chairs strategically positioned a few inches off the sidewalk. "You see," explains Avery Harrison, a tall, lanky freshman wearing a backward baseball hat, "technically we're not on the sidewalk. We just happen to have put our chairs here, right next to where the line will start."
Despite a reprimand from the line monitor, Harrison and his friends secure the first spot for Wake Forest, but they miss a 76-57 Blue Devils' victory over the Wolfpack and a classic performance by the Crazies. Led by Majdi, who stands in the front row, practically draping himself over the media members on press row, the fans go after N.C. State junior Julius Hodge. They repeatedly chant, "Ju-lee-us," and once Hodge is rattled -- at one point he looks at Majdi and irritatedly mouths, What!?! -- Majdi proceeds to point at the lanky swingman for the rest of the game as the crowd exhorts him to "Pass. Pass. Pass." Hodge is held to seven points and turns the ball over seven times. Afterward the ACC's leading scorer says, "There's no way I could let a guy with a 4.5 GPA, acne and bad breath decide the way I'm going to play on the court."
Hodge is not alone in his animosity toward the Crazies. On many campuses, particularly those in North Carolina, there is a visceral hatred for the Dukies. As former UNC coach Matt Doherty once said, "I think Duke fans are a bunch of Northeasterners who study too much and don't show a lot of class....They're not that clever." Owen Good, a 1995 N.C. State grad, had this to say before the Wolfpack-Blue Devils game: "I hope K spends the entire evening snarling from behind that crinkled-up nose that looks like someone farted into a bicycle seat and shoved it into his face. Probably won't happen, but one can dream."
The Crazies earned their reputation in the '80s, when overweight opponents were pelted with Twinkies and those accused of sexual misconduct were showered with panties or condoms. Taunts such as "Safety school!" (toward Wake Forest) and "We're smart! You're dumb!" (at UNC) that play off Duke's academic standards continue to anger not only opponents but also many among the 4,000-plus students who don't attend games. Explains Mike Corey, sports editor of the student paper, The Chronicle, "Lots of students don't like the implicit condescension."
So, by design, the Crazies have become a shinier, happier bunch. The main impetus for the transformation is K-Ville's patron saint himself, Mike Krzyzewski, who has been known to chastise fans during games. Each fall he heads to East Campus, where the freshmen live, and encourages the Crazies to be as "positive" as possible. On the eve of the North Carolina game he buys 150 pizzas and holds a pep rally inside Cameron in which he lauds the student support and, to draw a laugh, swears at least once or twice. "Coach does a really good job of letting the kids know they're the Sixth Man," says Scott Yakola, Duke's director of sports promotions. As for the coach's effect on the students, Yakola says, "He could take a dump on a plate and serve it to them, and they'd love it."
By Friday afternoon Krzyzewskiville is in full swing in anticipation of the Wake Forest game. Harrison emerges from his tent with a giant plastic cup in hand, which he identifies as "Hawaiian Punch -- and Cruzan." On the grass, some students try to study while others nap. Outside Tent 1 Majdi discusses Coach K. "It's not like he's a deity," says Majdi. "But sometimes when he's up there" -- he points to Krzyzewski's fourth-floor office overlooking the quad -- "he does look like Saruman gazing down from the tower in Lord of the Rings." Nearby, Moore works on game strategy, puzzling over a suitable welcome for Duke freshman Luol Deng. "I thought maybe we could all bring in little bowls," he says. "Because Deng was tutored by Manute Bol. So we'd be carrying 'minute bowls.' Get it?"
By midnight K-Ville has grown to nearly 70 tents. Junior Sameer Syed evaluates the surroundings. "This is real quiet," he says while yanking on his wool hat. "Before the UNC game, this is a totally different world."
It is in that period -- which the student newspaper tracks on a daily "Days until Dirty Feet" meter -- that K-Ville really expands. One hundred or more tents crowd the quad, which becomes the center of the school's social life. Giant screens are wheeled in to show classic UNC-Duke games, portable basketball hoops are erected, linesman chairs are pilfered from the neighboring tennis courts, and people play Beirut, a form of beer pong. By this point in the winter, the long-time tenters are sleep deprived, behind in their classes and constantly sick, but they don't let that stop them. (Incidentally, last season students braved the cold for the UConn showdown, camping out for a women's game for the first time. In honor of coach Gail Goestenkors, the new city was dubbed The G-Spot.)
Lose to the Heels, and the Dukies suffer from a collective emotional hangover. Win, and they burn stuff. Desks, wooden benches, anything flammable in the vicinity of the main West Quad, where the postgame bonfire is held. Faculty members, frat guys, Crazies and, eventually, players flock to the blaze to celebrate dominance within the tiny universe of the Research Triangle. Regardless of the outcome of the Carolina game, however, it usually takes four days to clean up K-Ville and nearly a year for the abused grass to recover. Says Corey, "It stinks, it's muddy, and there are old clothes everywhere. It looks like an abandoned city."
It is Saturday afternoon, and Cameron is rocking as the Blue Devils take on Wake Forest. Close to 1,700 Crazies are in attendance, some of whom have snuck in by posing as band members. (Other ploys include hiding in the women's bathroom and entering through second-story windows.) Once the game is under way, the fans follow all the usual traditions, chanting, heckling and hollering at Herb Neubauer, a 1963 Duke grad known as Crazy Towel Guy, who stands on cue and waves his towel in about the craziest fashion possible for a 62-year-old. After the game, an 84-72 Duke victory, sophomore guard J.J. Redick says, "The fans were huge today. That was one of the best, if not the best, atmospheres I've played in at Cameron."
The arena slowly drains, and by 4 p.m. only a handful of fans remain. Outside, the sky is overcast and the parking lot nearly empty. But life stirs, if ever so slowly, in Krzyzewskiville. Amid the detritus of the previous 24 hours, the yawning pizza boxes, empty Busch Light cans and red plastic cups, a group of students relive the game while a friend crashes nearby in a sleeping bag. Further down, a girl reads a textbook in a folding chair. And, from somewhere in the tent city, music can be heard.
Only 56 days 'til Carolina.
Issue date: January 29, 2004