By Andrew Porter
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – “Am I dreaming?”
That was my first thought as I walked into the historic Cameron Indoor Stadium wearing my friend’s Duke t-shirt, with royal blue paint under my eyes.
There I was, with hundreds of Cameron Crazies, as I crammed in, shoulder-to-shoulder, two rows off the court, ready to watch the 4th ranked Duke Blue Devils take on the 14th ranked North Carolina Tar Heels.
I didn’t really care who won, but I played the part, quickly learning the notable chant, “Let’s GO Duke!”
I pinched myself. Nope, I wasn’t dreaming.
“We’re not guaranteed tickets,” he said. “We may have to camp out to wait in line, but it will be fun. If we don’t get in, we’ll go to a bar to watch the game.”
I’m a roll-the-dice kind of guy, so I said, “I’m in.”
We got there late Friday night, right before midnight, after an eight-and-a-half hour, traffic filled, anxious excursion down to Durham.
Upon arrival we checked out the line to get into the stadium. See, Duke basketball student tickets are free. So for this game, students aka “tenters,” camp out for days to get into the stadium. We had student IDs from Will’s fiancee, so for the day, we were “students.”
There were about 170 students in the “walk-up” line already. Not an intimidating number. We were told anywhere from 200-400 students in the “walk-up” usually get in. It was cold, muddy, and we didn’t have a tent. Again, we rolled the dice. We decided sleep at the apartment and wake up at 4:00am, getting in line around 4:30am. Well, that was plan.
We finally got in line at about 6am on Saturday, after a late start. The line wasn’t as bad as we expected, and we were given number 176.
Around 9:00am we got wristbands with our numbers (the IDs worked) and we went into Cameron Indoor for ESPN’s College Game Day.
Just walking into the arena gives you chills. The ambiance, the history, the tradition—for a college basketball junkie like myself, I was in awe.
It was 65 and sunny outside. The students were tailgating, playing games, blasting music, drinking, getting ready for the biggest game of the season. However, at 1:00pm, the line monitors rewarded students for camping out by allowing them to go home until 6:00pm and rejuvenate. Shockingly, in this magical weather before the ultimate sports rivalry game, nearly everyone in line took up the offer and went home.
I thought: ’65 degrees and sunny, where is everyone going? This would never happen for a, say, Penn State football game.’
We weren’t leaving.
We stayed and hung out on campus, continuing our day of perfection, which included shaking the hand of Jabari Parker’s father and catching three innings of the Virginia v. Duke baseball game.
They started calling numbers to go into the game around 7:00pm, an hour later our number still wasn’t called. My optimism was dwindling as the game got closer and closer, but after a long day of uncertainty and nervousness looming over our heads, number 176 was finally called about 15 minutes prior to tip-off. Sheer jubilation ran through my veins as I heard my number called. I couldn’t stop smiling.
There were no seat numbers. They jam-crammed the students into the student section, to the point where you had to stand on the bench sideways to watch the game, pushed up against the person next to you, until you couldn’t fit anymore people. I was arm-to-arm, like the worst cramped airplane seat you can imagine, on both sides, but I didn’t care. I was standing two rows off the court the most venerated rivalry in all of sports. I didn’t care who was next to me, or how close they were.
Tony Romo and Jason Garrett were standing behind the Duke bench. Dick Vitale was reporting court side. The student section was going nuts. I couldn’t hear my own voice. I was taking pictures, videos, and texting my friends and family. I was about to stand court-side with the Cameron Crazies for a North Carolina v. Duke game.
I couldn’t get over how crowded it seemed. Everyone was on top of one another, giving it the high-school gym feel to it. Lights were flashing and cameras were abundant. This was it—I made it to the Mecca of college basketball. Moments, players, traditions, and highlights of Duke/UNC flashed in my head as I stood there in shock.
That’s when I pinched myself. This must be a dream.
The game was spectacular, exactly the way basketball and sports for that matter, should be played. The score was irrelevant until it was final. Every play was life-and-death and each point was earned. Nothing came easy.
Coach K whined about every call and really got on my nerves. Jabari Parker was sensational, tallying a season-high 30 points to go along with 11 rebounds in probably his best game of his short collegiate career. Marcus Paige twisted and turned his way to an entertaining 24 points in a losing effort, a guy who seems like a sure-fire future successful NBA point guard. And the guy who I think will be the best value in the NBA draft in May, Rodney Hood, drained three of seven three’s en route 24 points of his own, including one late in the game which catapulted the song, “Shots” by LMFAO to be played on the loud speakers. It was deafening.
At half-time the kid standing directly in front of me was selected to shoot the half court shot for a chance to win $10,000.
He missed. I wouldn’t have missed, not on that day.
During a TV timeout with about 3:30 left in the game and Duke holding a 12-point lead, Tony Romo was shown on the big screen. Inevitably, the Tar Heels forced back-to-back Blue Devil turnovers right around that time and cut the lead to eight. In my dream, Romo threw a pick six, Carolina went for two and got it, and then won in overtime on a buzzer beater.
Back in reality, Duke beat North Carolina 93-81 and there’s no pick sixes in basketball. I guess it wasn’t a dream.
Andrew Porter is the Audio Roadshow Coordinator for SportsRadio WIP, editor and writer for The School Philly, and a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly. You can follow him on Twitter @And_Porter.