It always bothered my parents that I didn’t go to Duke. Much more than it did me.
I grew up in Fairview Methodist Church. Although the last two times I have set foot in the place were for my Mother’s funeral and that of a really neat cousin of my maternal grandmother and I have no desire whatsoever to return, I do have fond recollections of Fairview. Chief among them was a preacher who held a Master’s of Divinity from Duke and took much more of an interest in the church’s youth MYF group than did his predecessor or successor. Louis Carson also had a strong interest in the Duke basketball program.
He would often translate that interest into Duke tickets that required much less of an Iron Dukes contribution than they do these days. He would take Fairview youth to those games, which, quite often, was me. In my impressionable early to mid-teens, I saw a lot of Duke basketball. It took.
This was during the glory days of Vic Bubas. Everett Case’s former assistant at NC State had been hired by Duke to replicate the old master’s success and did. Under Bubas, Duke was every bit the dominant program they are these days, with the exception of Final Four games against a UCLA team that was pretty good under a guy named Wooden. Players like Art Heyman, Jeff Mullins and Bob Verga were my teen-aged heroes.
I was aware at the time of what was going on with Howie Shannon’s darn good Virginia Tech teams of the 60′s. I couldn’t help but know about Glen Combs, Lloyd King and Danville’s Ken Talley; after all, Tech was the family school on all sides of mine. I anguished with all Hokies over the 1967 Final Four near-miss. But, Duke was Duke.
As the eldest grandson of Mary Jane Moorefield’s five, she determined, shortly after I made my 1952 debut, that I would become the family preacher. Descended herself from those who founded Fairview on the ground upon which my house now sits, she was strongly in favor of one day supplying her church with a preacher from her lineage. Her own son had developed, as a youth, the reputation of being quite the hell-raiser and by the time he became seriously religious as a young adult [the Tech BC program has different effects on different people] she had already set her sights on the next generation. Since Methodist doctrine at the time forbade my two older ‘girl’ cousins from the job, that left me.
The hard sell began at an early age. It was decided by my grandmother and Mother that I would attend Duke and become the ‘family preacher.’ There was, however, a problem. Despite the heavy indoctrination, or perhaps because of it, the notion of my becoming a preacher had, by the mid-Sixties, become quite laughable. I’m guessing that the Methodist church required at the time, and likely still does, that the distributors of the faith actually believe in it. That then, as now, I possessed not the first religious bone in my body probably disqualified me from service.
Over the years I have discussed my utter lack of religious conviction with experts in the field. They include the Rev. Carson from my youth, the preacher from Fairview who became a close friend during long conversations between us during my father’s illness and death over twenty years ago and remains that to the point of his subscribing to these missives and occasionally giving me a call from the church in Portsmouth Linwood Cook currently shepherds, to Fairview’s preacher during my mother’s illness and subsequent death who found my Buddhist tendencies quite interesting, or did until he was ‘relocated’ to a church in Hooville following interesting disclosures that those running Fairview did not find amusing. I haven’t heard from him since he left town in quite the hurry. None could come up with a solution to my lack of faith, other than faith.
The final nail was driven into the ‘my attending Duke’ coffin during my senior year of high school when it was brought to my attention the cost differential between the state-supported Virginia Tech and the private Duke. It was a hell of a lot cheaper to spend a year drinking and engaging in illegal drug activity before flunking out [with a #13 lottery number, mind you, at a very bad time to be in possession of such] at Tech than it would have been at Duke. While my parents said they would cover the cost of my Duke acceptance letter, a week’s worth of pay checks from John W. Daniel & Co. and Crane Tire Company paid for an entire year at Tech. I went to Virginia Tech, while my parents blew the ‘Duke money’ they had been saving since my birth on the Cadillac Coupe DeVille my father had lusted for since his 1930′s adulthood. The Old Man and I had numerous conversations before his death, one pertaining to the piece of junk the product of what is now known as Government Motors turned out to be. He drove a Honda from the Cadillac on, as does his oldest son.
While Dad never quite made peace with GM, he had with the Germans he fought at Mount Belvedere and across the Po Valley in Italy while a member of the 10th Mountain Division. On my 16th birthday in 1968, I was given a brand new Volkswagen Bug. The ‘people’s car’ developed under Hitler was a marvelous example of Teutonic engineering and might still be running had not my younger brother crashed it into the side of a school bus during the early 1970′s. That was the last hand-me-down Tom ever got from me.
While the Bug was most notable for the sexual exploits I managed in its cramped quarters during my high school years and lasting for my entire career[s] at Virginia Tech, it also served as transport to the last Duke-Carolina game I saw in high school. While I don’t recall the specifics, I do remember that the Devils won on a last-second shot.
My years at Virginia Tech saw the interesting juxtaposition of Tech winning the NIT in 1973, a really big deal at the time, and Duke slipping into the Bucky Waters mediocrity. Bucky had the unfortunate task of replacing Bubas when Vic decided that Carolina lowering its academic standards to allow admittance to Charlie Scott while Duke would not meant the basketball jig was up. By the time Duke came to its senses and hired first Bill Foster, then AD Tom Butters surprised all by hiring a losing coach from Army with the strange last name of Krzyzewski because Bobby Knight told him to Tech had a fairly-decent program going under first Don Devoe, then Charlie Moir. Going with the winners, I was paying more attention to the Tech program. That, however, was about to change.
After three horrendous years at Duke, Coach K [ much easier to type than Mike Krzyzewski] finally struck gold, making the Final Four in 1986. That also constituted Moir’s high water at Tech. Duke rocketed to the top of the basketball world, while Tech endured first the Dooley-induced department-wide probation, then the basketball conference-bouncing 90′s. By the time Tech hit the A-10 nadir of playing Fordham and St. Bonaventure, Duke was ruling the basketball roost. With my Duke background, guess which team I was following the most.
It didn’t hurt one bit that I became involved with first the attractive young lady I have referred to as the Duke Nurse [met when my father became sick; the Old Man never quite saw the humor] then, after a biological clock gonging like Big Ben caused her to set her sights upon the DUMC faculty, a fellow Hokie who also happened to hold an MD from Duke and found himself once treating a guy with whom he became friends, and just happened to know somebody on the Duke faculty with Cameron season tickets that was willing to often hand out. As a result, I have seen a bunch of Duke games over the years.
Those trips have become less frequent over the years since 2003. Both of us are Hokies, and discussions of Tech football and Duke basketball during the drives down Rte. 86 began to take on different tones. Tech being a conference opponent of the Devils did cause us to view the True Blue in a bit different light. Still, tickets are tickets, and that we are now conference rivals mattered little to the guy handing them out. There have been occasions over the years when there were Hokies [me] seated in Cameron’s Section Four. That was again the case Saturday night.
I have been fortunate enough over the years to see a number of Duke-Carolina games. I have seen them in Cameron as well as, thanks to friends who received their degrees while wearing light blue, Carmichael and Dean’s Dome. I have seen both the Devils and Tar Heels win by few and more than a few. I have seen stirring comebacks by both sides and games that came down to the wire, decided by a last shot. Duke-Carolina is an amazing rivalry and I consider myself fortunate to have seen as many of the games that I have.
There had, however, been one result in the fifteen or so Duke-Carolina games I have attended that I have never seen. That would be one team winning by thirty-two points. Suck it, Heels.