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Road Trip: Duke

Posted: Tuesday June 5, 2007 5:44PM; Updated: Wednesday June 6, 2007 12:56PM
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By Greg Beaton

Here's a state secret that college basketball telecasts would never reveal: most Duke fans don't really like Dick Vitale. But that doesn't mean they don't agree with some of what the loud-mouthed announcer has to say about their school, especially when he asks viewers, "What's not to like?"

He may be the school's biggest cheerleader, but deep down  most Duke students don't like Dike Vitale.
He may be the school's biggest cheerleader, but deep down most Duke students don't like Dike Vitale.
Bob Rosato/SI
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Ivy League it may not be, but Duke is the finest academic institution south of the Mason-Dixon Line, with a top-notch athletic program and a lively social scene. Duke's success in all facets of college life has caused it to be somewhat of a polarizing institution, as fans from opposing schools have increased the volume of their constant complaints that the Blue Devils get special treatment by the media and referees.

Best place to see a game:

In 1999, SI ranked Cameron Indoor Stadium the fourth best sporting venue of the 20th Century, placing it ahead of the likes of Fenway Park and Lambeau Field. Built in 1940 for $400,000 (which was financed in large part by the success of Duke's football -- yes, football -- team), Cameron has stood the test of time, despite the influx of modern venues at rival schools that feature luxury boxes and club seating for major boosters. In fact, it's Cameron's old-school construction that continues to make it the toughest place for an opponent to play in college basketball, if not all of sports. Of the 9,314 fans, the rowdiest surround the court, with 10 rows of student bleachers inching so close to the playing surface that heckling fans can, almost literally, reach out and touch opposing players.

Best place to see a game other than Cameron:

Across a small parking lot from Cameron is Koskinen Stadium, home to Duke's highly-ranked soccer and lacrosse programs. Students don't jump up and down like they do on Cameron's bleachers, but Koskinen's stands provide an excellent vantage point to watch Duke dominate when basketball is out of season or tickets are impossible to score.

Best team on campus:

If you guessed men's basketball here, you would be wrong. The most successful varsity team at Duke is women's golf, which has won three consecutive national titles and owns five of Duke's nine total NCAA championships. In creating a dynasty in this often-overlooked collegiate sport, Duke's women's golf team has been dominant. The Blue Devils won by five, 10 and 15 strokes, respectively, in each of the past three NCAA championships.

Best rivalry:

No, Maryland fans, it's not with the Terps. The Duke-UNC basketball games each year are some of the most intense played in all of sports, and the rivalry has finally become competitive again with the Tar Heels' hiring of Roy Williams. The rivalry stems from many real feelings people have about the differences between the two schools, as UNC is a source of enormous local pride while Duke is seen as an institution where outsiders spend a few years before leaving in search of success elsewhere. In part because of these feelings, students and alumni fiercely compete for scarce tickets to the games, which have come down to the wire many times over the years. Recently, a Carolina alum recently wrote a book on the rivalry entitled To Hate Like This is to be Happy Forever -- a perfect encapsulation of the meaning of the rivalry.

Best student perk:

A stone's throw across Cameron Boulevard (like the stadium, named after the former men's basketball coach and athletic director) from the rest of Duke's main campus is the Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club. The Robert Trent Jones-designed golf course is one of the finest owned by any college, and it can be played by students for as little as $25. After a round (or without any golf at all), students can use "food points" left over from their meal plan at either of the two restaurants at the "Wa." Parents beware: anything from a filet mignon to a $175 glass of Remy Martin Louis XIII cognac can be purchased here on your dime.

One redeeming quality to Duke Football:

Duke students tailgating before football games set themselves apart from most of their counterparts at BCS schools in one distinct way: most of them never intend to see a minute of the game. Still, the party gets going well before kickoff, despite recent attempts by the administration to curtail excessive drinking and encourage students to file into the stadium at game time. Students wear outlandish outfits that are usually created from some combination of spandex and leftover Halloween costumes. A note to Duke administrators: students will start going to the game once the team proves it can beat more than one Division I-A opponent in a season, which it has not done in four years.

I paid $45,000 for this?:

Paper tickets to guarantee admission to Duke basketball games don't exist for students unless you're a well-heeled donor who can fork over upwards of $5,000 per year to the athletics department just to get on the waiting list for season tickets. For students, only your physical presence in line gets you in, as spots in the bleachers are doled out on a first-come, first-served basis. For the annual North Carolina game, that line begins to form months in advance, with groups of students sleeping in tents and rotating shifts in line during the day to ensure a small piece of bleacher on which to stand for the best rivalry in college sports. And while parents complain that expensive dorm rooms are left empty for weeks at a time in favor of the spartan living conditions of the tenting city, it's not as bad as it seems: the lawn outside Cameron Indoor Stadium known as Krzyzewskiville has been equipped with wi-fi to ensure students keep up with their schoolwork.

Best bar scene:

Dukies often bemoan the lack of options near campus in Durham, but the truth is there are plenty of good places where students can go to let loose after, or during, a hard week of classes. Charlie's Bar & Grill is the hotspot on Tuesday nights, and Satisfaction's serves cheap suds in 32 ounce plastic cups on Thursday nights, which can make for an excellent pregame or destination, depending on your taste. The western-themed Shooters -- equipped with a mechanical bull, dance floor and go-go cage -- is the place where the wildest parties are thrown on weekends, but Duke students usually aren't caught dead there during the week, when the joint is favored by locals. Still, some Duke students who do not fear the blasphemy of praising anything to do with rival UNC will say that the best bar scene in Durham is, well, not in Durham at all. A 15-minute drive from Duke's campus, Chapel Hill's Franklin Street is home to a livelier and more diverse bar scene, ranging from the fratty atmosphere at He's Not Here to the more upscale feel at La Rez and Top of the Hill.

Best late-night food:

For late-night grub, Cosmic Cantina on Durham's Ninth Street is the choice. Although few Duke students would admit to eating there while it's light out, Cosmic is the perfect place to end a night out with nachos, a burrito, or a pitcher of their quality margaritas. The line for food can get long because there are few other options open past midnight, but smart customers store the call-ahead number in their cell and use it from the back of the line.

Best non-Duke sporting event:

Bull Durham lives on. Susan Sarandon won't be sitting in the stands and Crash Davis is nowhere to be found, but the Durham Bulls are the best show in town for baseball fans. Students can get into the stadium (which has been replaced since the movie's 1988 release) for as little as $4, and there's a comfortable lawn in centerfield where fans can relax while taking in the Triple-A Devils Rays on balmy summer evenings. For fans of the Kevin Costner movie, the "Hit Bull, Win Steak" sign from the old ballpark has been replicated in the new Durham Bulls Athletic Park, even though the bull's head fell casualty to high winds from a recent storm. Quick tip: the old American Tobacco campus, which has recently been revitalized from tobacco warehouses into a series of upscale shops and restaurants, is across the street from the ballpark and a great place to stop for a snack or drink before or after the game.

Best tradition:

Gigantic bonfires on the main quad are a Duke tradition to celebrate significant basketball victories, namely when the men's basketball team beats UNC at home or wins a national championship. The tradition has been amended over the last couple years, as the men's team hasn't won a title since 2001 and hasn't beaten the Heels at home since 2005.

A piece of football history:

College football aficionados might be interested to know that Duke's Wallace Wade Stadium is the only stadium other than the Rose Bowl to ever host a Rose Bowl game. Held on New Year's Day of 1942, Duke lost 20-16 to an Oregon State squad that was forced to travel 3,000 miles east of the traditional site in Pasadena because of the attack on Pearl Harbor less than a month earlier. Twenty-thousand extra seats were borrowed from nearby UNC and N.C. State to increase the stadium's capacity to 55,000, still far less than the 90,000-plus that usually fill the stadium in Pasadena. The glory days are long gone for Duke football, however, as the stadium that was once among the fanciest in the nation is now one of the most outdated, with the paucity of fans on game days exposing the uncomfortable metal benches and drab exterior.

Sir, I believe I have this court reserved:

Play racquetball at the main campus gym at the right time of day and you might have to relinquish your court to a 60-year old who has won three men's basketball national championships and is a coaching legend. Running into Coach K at the gym is just one of the places where you are bound to bump into sports celebrities during your time at Duke.

Greg Beaton will be a senior next year at Duke and is currently an SI.com intern.

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