I awoke this morning to the general despair of the internet world. The whole world is morose, upset that the Duke Blue Devils have won another National Championship in basketball. Evil has triumphed once again.
I have been a casual fan of Duke since my childhood. I fell in love with Bobby Hurley and his scrappy way of pulling his team along in the early 90’s. Duke is not the kind of team that I’ll go go the mat for, like my home teams, but I generally like them and pull for them. There, I said it. I feel the same way about the Tarheels. It’s kind of nice rising above the rivalry and being able to say, “Hey, good job, everyone. You’re all quite good at this sport you love.”
I live in North Carolina, in a part of the state where you’d better be an alumnus to root for “that team.” The people I know here who are Duke fans wear it as a badge of honor, flaunting it and not caring about the Tarheels’ general disgust at them. Coach K is dirty, the Tarheels say. Duke is the snotty rich kids’ school. They pay the refs. They buy victories.
Over the weekend, I watched the ESPN 30 for 30 about Christian Laettner. It is called, unapologetically, “I Hate Christian Laettner,” because so many people did, and still do. You can even buy a t-shirt with the words on it. They showed “The Stomp” before “The Shot,” which I think my husband has cited approximately 35,000 times since I’ve met him as the reason Laettner never should have been in the game to make The Shot. (I agree, yes. I was never a Laettner fan.)
Laettner, for his part, is a good sport about the hate, and frequently takes pictures with fans or haters stomping on his chest. It’s part of his identity now, and he owns it with good humor.
Towards the end of the film, the narrators make the familiar point: Duke as a whole team is hated a great deal because they are successful. Like the Yankees, said the narrator. And…like the Patriots. Yup. That was the first time I heard a professional sports organization link the two. There it was. We are them. They are us.
We are Duke, too, in case you were wondering.
As a high school student, I went to the school that people loved to hate because of its success. It was the snotty rich kids’ school — not because we were rich, but because it was a private school — so people hated us. Then we won state titles, and people hated us more.
It’s no fun being on that side of things — being cast as the villain because you’ve had success. I find myself sympathizing with the Blue Devils more than ever now that the Patriots are in the same place. People hate Tom Brady because he’s good looking, married a supermodel, and is good at what he does. When other quarterbacks erupt on the field, they’re being “fiery” or “competitive.” When Brady does it, he’s being a jerk.
So Tarheels, and the rest of the world, lick your wounds and look towards next season. If your team has won enough, one day they will be the villains too.