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Animal House
Austin Murphy
November 19, 1986
When the students at Duke turn out for home games, the idea is to have fun. At least they think it's fun
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November 19, 1986

Animal House

When the students at Duke turn out for home games, the idea is to have fun. At least they think it's fun

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Calling the enemy "scum" to its face is a pretty effective way of serving up an insult. Students at Duke, however, think that it leaves too much to chance. Consider their epithet of choice for Blue Devil basketball foes last season: "Die, pond scum!" More so than plain old, generic scum, "Die, pond scum" assigns visiting players a specific, lowly niche in the food chain. It likens them to rank, green film floating on fetid marshes and bogs. It bends over backward to offend.

So do its authors, when it comes to this sort of thing. Even in the ACC, notorious for its hoops-addled, boisterous boosters, Duke reigns as bull goose loony. Such an image is in stark contrast to its serene, wooded campus, teeming with overachievers of all makes and models: high school valedictorians, National Merit scholars, Eagle Scouts, Youths of the Year. They work hard, play hard and, once inside Cameron Indoor Stadium, rag hard. Using the low-ceilinged, 8,600-seat Cameron as their caldron, the Dukies whip up world-class abuse.

Duke played four times at home on national TV last season. While perhaps the most visible, Duke fans (known as the Student Animals) aren't the only caustic agents in captivity. From Fairfield's Stag-maniacs to Missouri's Antlers, from SUNY-Binghamton's Psycho Squad to Oklahoma's BLOB (they Be Lovin' Oklahoma Basketball), unruliness rules. As a species, the Great American Wiseass has never been less endangered. But nowhere does it thrive as at Duke. Nowhere else are visitors liable to be accosted in such a variety of languages (including Latin). At a tense moment during the Duke-Washington game in 1985, the Huskies' Detlef Schrempf, a native of West Germany, stepped to the line to take free throws. "Fehlwurf!" chanted the Dukies. That's almost German for air ball. A placard at the North Carolina game last March read ERUDI-TIA ET BASKETBALLIA, roughly Latin for erudition and hoops.

Absent was any mention of cruditas, in which the Dukies also dabble. It has cost them friends. Dean Smith, for one, could not appreciate their work less. Others have thicker hides. N.C. State coach Jim Valvano feels right at home among the Animals. "They're all from Jersey, so they sound like me. If I went to Duke, I'd probably be one of them." Billy Tubbs, whose Oklahoma Sooners bowed in Durham last February, says, "Some of what they do may be a little naughty, but they're just poking fun. There's nothing so awful about that."

Although Smith might doubt it, the Dukies do abide by rough ground rules: There's nothing wrong with a little filth, as long as it's clever filth. To help make sure cleverness prevails, coach Mike Krzyzewski speaks at dorms and fraternities before each season, asking the students to please keep it tasteful.

Dukies take great pride in their spontaneity, but much of their poison is premeditated. They prepare assiduously, especially for visitors whose names have appeared on police blotters. The reputation of N.C. State's Chris Washburn as a failed stereo thief preceded him upon his visit to Cameron last January. Washburn was greeted with a shower of headphones, album covers and LPs. The year before, Wolfpack forward Lorenzo Charles had been caught filching two pizzas. His bombardment consisted of pizza boxes.

The Cameron kangaroo court reached a cruel and unusual nadir in 1984 when Maryland cocaptain Herman Veal was pelted with panties. Veal had been disciplined in 1988 for allegedly forcing his sexual attentions on a female student. Though Veal was never charged with a crime, his pregame introduction at Duke triggered the shower of more than 1,000 frilly unmentionables. A sign asked HEY HERM, DID YOU SEND HER FLOWERS?

Detailed news accounts followed, and the incident proved mightily embarrassing for Duke. Coach K, athletic director Tom Butters and Terry Sanford, then the university president, wrote letters to the students, beseeching them to behave. It seemed to work. For the Blue Devils' next home game, against North Carolina, the Animals were angels. Literally. Many wore halos fashioned from foil and clothes hangers. One carried a sign that read A HEARTY WELCOME TO DEAN SMITH. Questionable calls were challenged thusly: "We beg to differ, we beg to differ."

Smith failed to be won over. "Complimenting them for behaving that way would be like patting a teenager on the head who has misbehaved all his life and then acts nicely for one day," he told The Washington Post. Understand that the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, separated by 12 miles of Route 15-501, mix like Hatfields and McCoys.

"I think a lot of their humor is a little juvenile," sniffs Daily Tar Heel sports editor Scott Fowler. UNC students steadfastly refuse to admit their Durham counterparts are wittier. "Eighty-five percent of them are from out of state," explains a 1981 UNC grad now working in New York City. "They aren't under the same pressure from their alumni or their home folks to keep it clean. It's like eight months of summer camp for them."

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