Editor's note: The following introduction is from March 2007. The subsequent entry is a passage from the book.
"You must be so happy," the waitress at my local breakfast joint said to me a week or so ago.
I could feel no joie de vivre rising off me. I looked like a man who'd been imprisoned in a bottle all winter. Coffee seemed like a logical place to start a life's worth of rehabilitation.
"Why's that?" I asked.
"Duke lost, you dummy," she said, as if she were telling me the punch-line to my own oft-told joke. Had I told her I hated Duke? Damn. When?
It hadn't been my ambition to be known as a man who hates Duke. But a hunger in the culture coincided with an obsession of mine, and voila: a sweet waitress placed before me a Duke loss like a plate of pancakes. Just as America had once attempted to make the world safe for democracy (this was many years ago), I had been doing my small part to establish a world hospitable to Duke hatred.
And yet, now at the moment of triumph, with North Carolina alive and Duke dead and the country exulting (waitresses singing, bloggers rhapsodizing), why did I feel so melancholy? I might as well have been a spy at the end of the Cold War, submarined in the gloom that comes with the cessation of hostilities. Who was there to fight now? What was I going to do with rest of my life, not to mention the NCAA Tournament?
Then I remembered that there were holdouts -- Dick Vitale, for instance, already exonerating Coach K, saying this season may have been one of his greatest coaching jobs, and that just wait until next year, you Duke haters, when Kyle Singler, the best Caucasian player since Larry Bird in the words of recruiting analyst Brick Ottinger, arrives in Durham.
And then there was my former girlfriend. I cant say that her lascivious affection for Coach K directly led to the end of our turbulent love affair.
But it might have been, well, an omen.
-- Will Blythe
Duke versus Virginia Tech
February 17, 2005
In the midst of my sojourn among the Dukies, I sat down to watch a game with my girlfriend, who was visiting. Playing against Virginia Tech, Duke's Daniel Ewing made a nifty behind-the-back dribble to free himself for a layup and I involuntarily exclaimed, "Beautiful move!" My girlfriend, next to me on the sofa, observed: "You never would have said that two years ago!" She was gazing intently at the side of my face. I could feel it. She might as well have been accusing me of infidelity.
I stared straight ahead. Duke looked beatable tonight. The score was 54 to 49 in favor of the Blue Devils with 9:55 left in the game. "Who do you want?" my gal asked. Ordinarily she wouldn't even have asked this question. This indicated that she was on to something.
"Virginia Tech. Of course."
I tried to sound convincing. She was clearly worried that I had altered overnight in some revolutionary way that might portend changes all around. Like IRS agents auditing returns, couples scrutinize each other's little moments, able to read vast amounts into an offhand remark, a choice in clothing, a liking for a new food. What could it have meant for me to compliment Daniel Ewing? What had I given away with my unguarded remark?
The camera lit on Krzyzewski stalking the sideline. "Umm umm umm," my girlfriend said, a low moan in her throat. And so it began. If I was going to insinuate uncertainty into her world, she was going to strike back in time-honored fashion. We had debated the issue of K's attractiveness in the past. I could certainly see his resemblance to a rat. Hence his nickname, "The Rat." And even though I like animals and often find them handsome in their animalness, it was hard -- downright incomprehensible -- to see how a man that so easily summoned up the image of a rat could be considered attractive. To share a sofa with someone whose
worldview was so different from my own was troubling.
"You don't really think he's good-looking," I said. "Even you aren't that crazy."
"What do you mean?" she said. "I'm sure I'm not the only girl who feels this way. He's got something going. Maybe it's a little nasty thing. He should stop dying his hair. And that comb-over has to go. But ..."
"If that guy sat down next to you on a bar stool, you wouldn't give him the time of day," I said.
"Sure I would. He's cute."
"He may be a lot of things," I said, "like the spawn of Satan. And if that's the kind of look you're after, all right. There's no shame in that. But he ain't cute, my dear."
"Okay. Maybe not cute. But he has something. I would sleep with him in the same way I would sleep with William Buckley."
As for the other game, the Hokies, playing on their home floor, were bouncing the Blue Devils around as if they were a bunch of sissies. Virginia Tech even sent a football player into the game, the tight end Jeff King. He blocked, hip-checked, elbowed, backsided, and dominated the Duke players at the line of scrimmage. Tech's inside game was primitive and piggish, a mud-wallow lacking all elegance, but it had given the Hokies a chance to win. For the final nine minutes of the game, the teams traded the lead back and forth. Then, with 14.6 seconds left, Virginia Tech's Zabian Dowdell answered a JJ Redick three with one of his own to put the Hokies up for good at 67 to 65. On the other end, Daniel Ewing missed two potentially game-winning threes in succession, the latter as time expired. Duke had now lost its second straight game, and four out of its last seven.
My girlfriend eyed me. "You don't seem that happy."
"I'm fine," I said.
"Fine?" she said. "Just fine?"
"Yes, fine. All right? Fine."
The camera showed a bowed Krzyzewski leaving the court. "Even in defeat he's got it," my girlfriend said. "Ummmmm ..."
If you were to believe my girlfriend, Krzyzewski wasn't ugly at all. Or, he was charismatically ugly in a peculiarly handsome way. Why did I have to hear this? I'll tell you why. Because the balance of uncertainty in a relationship must be preserved at all cost. If one member of a couple becomes suddenly too mysterious, if he or she betrays signs of a deepseated shift in allegiance or taste, then strong measures must be taken to restore the status quo.
"This Krzyzewski thing could be a problem for us," I told her. "And we have enough problems."
She just smiled.
"To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever: A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry," by Will Blythe, is available in bookstores nationwide. Click here to purchase it on Amazon.com.