We are quite honored today to welcome Will Blythe, the former literary editor of Esquire and author of the great book "To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever", to the warm embrace of Deadspin. (We interviewed Blythe about the book when it came out in hardcover. The paperback is out now.
Blythe's book tracks the history of the North Carolina-Duke rivalry and looks at why Duke is evil and North Carolina is all that is pure about this planet earth. The season he writes about in the book ended with the Tar Heels beating our Illini in the national championship game, but he's so freaking good that we only slightly begrudge him this.
After the jump, he previews tonight's Duke-North Carolina game. He'll have a game wrapup tomorrow.
I've got a bad feeling about this one. So does my mother, but then, as the Oswald Spengler of North Carolina basketball, she always has a bad feeling. We could be playing Iona, and my mother would have a bad feeling. If only Donald Rumsfeld shared her capacity for divining disaster
Me, I'm different. I don't usually have a bad feeling and when I do, it's usually a ruse to mislead the gods, to go humbly into the victory store and like a neatly-dressed shoplifter, sneak out with a win stuffed under my parka. Why the gods care that much about placating my bad feeling, I don't know. But sometimes they do. At other times my bad feeling functions as a prophylactic — an attempt to protect my fragile psyche from suffering the worst (Carolina loss to Duke) by rehearsing that defeat for hours ahead of time. But not this time. This time I've got a real bad feeling.
The bad feeling started when Duke lost 68-67 to Florida State at Cameron on Sunday, the first time the Criminoles had won there in fifteen years. After the game, Al Thornton stood on Krzyzewski Floor facing the Crazies, nodding his head and clapping, shouting "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" Nearby, his teammates popped their jerseys. Harmless enough in our demonstrative age — these guys didn't show enough attitude to be also-rans on American Idol, but the students booed just the same. At least the Crazies didn't run out onto the court to protect the jump circle by surrounding it and making tiny little fists, as they have done in the past, embarrassing us all in the process.
I find myself in the heretical position of wondering whether it might not have been better for North Carolina if the Blue Devils had beaten FSU. I worry that Duke, coming off two ACC losses in a row and playing at Cameron, will be a cornered beast. The Blue Devils will be slapping the floor, they'll be thumping chests and screaming in each other's faces. Testosterone will be spraying all over the court like Gatorade. I can't stand the thought of Josh McRoberts snarling and grimacing anymore than he already does. Every time a call goes against the Duke center, you can read his lips shouting "Fuck!" (Watch tonight on ESPN's special "fuck cam," and you'll see what I mean.) You can also read his coach's lips, only they are saying something more like "Fuck you!" And that could be to either his own players or the refs — either will do.
Unless my friend Doug comes through with two tickets to Cameron — he has more juice than I do — we'll all be watching the game in Chapel Hill with my mother in the family room just off the kitchen. I'm down south from New York to do a few readings and radio appearances to promote the paperback version of my book, To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever. My main sport these days is self-promotion (thank you, Deadspin!). And as an entrepreneurial man of schemes, I was prepared to take a laissez-faire attitude towards tonight's first regular season match-up. Basketball is one thing, but racking up paperback sales — sweet Jesus! What can compare? And I'm competing, too, baby, signing that stock as fast as legibility allows. "You're pretty good," the manager of one Barnes & Noble said, "but you're no Jimmy Carter."
"How many can he do?" I asked, popping my blue oxford just like the Criminoles.
"16 every 60 seconds," she said. "But he won't personalize."
"Yeah, but I personalize," I said. Jimmy Carter won't personalize. Wasn't that the reason he failed to be re-elected? When will the man ever learn?
Maybe self-promotion would have been enough for me, a way out of the obsessive fandom that for decades has retarded my growth as a moral being. But then something terrible happened. North Carolina also lost last weekend — to former arch-rival NC State. Roy Williams was thoroughly out-coached by rookie Sidney Lowe, whose undermanned squad spread the floor on offense and worked the shot clock, in the process inscribing a classic blue print for how to beat the more talented racehorses of UNC. On defense, the Wolfpack clogged the middle and mugged Tyler Hansbrough, as do most teams. The Tar Heels appeared at a loss as to how they might combat this.
The defeat sent many Carolina partisans to a consideration of the previously unthinkable — is Roy Williams a good game coach? Without question, he's a great recruiter, a terrific motivator, and he says "friggin'" more than any man in the world. But how about mid-game adjustments? One of my favorite posters on the Inside Carolina web site, the often gloomy Brownie (gloomy, I suspect, because he's such an obsessed fan that he must anticipate and acknowledge imperfection; would that our foreign policy experts displayed such realism) put the issue aeronautically.
"Roy is not a 'game coach,' he wrote. "He doesn't fly the plane. He gasses it up, loads on the captain, the crew, the passengers, shows them how to fly, and then puts the plane on automatic pilot. Sometimes, halfway through the trip, he yells at everybody and throws some chair, and then puts the plane back on automatic pilot again."
I fear that the Blue Devils are in a much better position than NC State to execute the Wolfpack's winning strategy and exploit North Carolina's impatience to gambol up and down in a full-court game. I fear that with Duke at risk of going .500 in conference for the first time since the beautiful tenure of Pete Gaudet, the Blue Devils will play like a team of thugs on speed. I fear that at Cameron, where the refs lose track of time (poor Clemson) and fouls, thuggishness will win. I fear that DeMarcus Nelson or Jon Scheyer will have big offensive games for the Devils. I fear that the North Carolina freshmen — in particular, the starting trio of Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson, and Brandan Wright (who spurned Duke in a major recruiting reversal) — will betray impatience and play too fast. I fear that Roy won't call any time-outs until it is too late. I fear the Tar Heels will close too slowly on the three-point shot.
I fear that Duke will win and my mother's abiding sense that the universe is brimming over with doom will be confirmed (such is the effect of a Duke victory in our household).
I've got a bad feeling, yes I do. But maybe if I say all these things, none of them will come true.