ATLANTA — The firsts were everywhere in the hours and minutes before fifth-ranked Duke hit Georgia Tech's sparkling McCamish Pavilion basketball court.
The first sellout of Georgia Tech's basketball season.
The biggest media contingent of the year.
The most NBA scouts all winter, despite the fact they now have to purchase tickets.
"It's a little bit different," said Mike Stamus, Tech's longtime associate director of sports information. "Back in the old days [when both Duke and Tech were in the Top 10], it would have been overwhelming."
If there is a modern-day New York Yankees of college hoops -- the team most everyone else's fans love to hate -- it just might be Duke's Blue Devils.
And it isn't just that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has won four NCAA championships, which is at least twice as many as any other active coach. Or that he entered Tuesday night with 977 total wins. Or that the Dookies seem to get all the calls, as in last Saturday's 69-67 win over Maryland, when the possession arrow conveniently forgot to shift to the Terrapins, which gave the ball back to Duke with 6:39 to go when it should have gone to Maryland.
Down 56-54 at the time, the Blue Devils tied the score on an Amile Jefferson layup. Duke went on to win 69-67 inside its cozy Cameron Indoor Stadium after Maryland forward Charles Mitchell's shot in the final seconds fell off the rim.
Was the possession arrow an honest error? Probably. But don't try telling that to all those who see red every time Duke Blue appears before their eyes.
"It's always scary playing Duke," Tech fan Beth Monfort said as she exited the rain and entered McCamish. "We've won a few, but we've lost a lost more. But I respect Duke. They have a great coach and they usually have better players than Tech."
Jamal Halley wore a Georgia Tech T-shirt to the game. He and his father, Moose, drove the 20 or so miles on from Conyers for this one, despite a 9 p.m. tip that might leave 14-year-old Jamal a bit sleepy eyed for his classes today at Rockdale Magnet School.
"I actually like Duke when they're not playing us or Syracuse," Halley said. "But I'm definitely for Tech tonight."
The Halleys were using tickets provided by Moose's boss, who was in San Diego for a business meeting.
"Too bad for him," Moose said with a grin. "But good for us."
Good came to 27-year-old Duke fan and Gadsden, Ala., resident Heath Goodwin in December, when he found tickets for the game online for $125 each.
"Four or five years ago I tried, but they were $500 each," he said. "These were a little more reasonable."
Goodwin first fell for the Dookies when he was in high school and J.J. Redick was swishing 3-pointers as far away as Venus and Mars.
"I've also got a bunch of stuff signed by Grant Hill," he said.
But with both he and friend Don Rueger clad in Duke Blue for this one, he also got a few unapproving stares from the Tech portion of the crowd.
"We got a bunch of evil eyes," Rueger said with a smile. "A lot of people looked at us like we were dirt."
Were Rueger and Goodwin fortunate enough to find tickets for Thursday night's game at North Carolina against the Tar Heels, those evil eyes might grow by at least 15,000 pairs. Forever how much the Dookies are disliked in the Big Peach, it's but a smidgeon compared to the hatred for them along Tobacco Road.
Yet there are also those who say the opposite of love isn't hate, but rather apathy. And almost no one's apathetic about Duke.
"When we came in to the arena tonight," Goodwin explained, "the Tech cheerleaders were handing out water bottles. We walked toward them like we might like one, but they just turned the other way. I guess Duke fans don't get free water jugs."
When you can get free possession arrows, who needs a water jug?
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...