Sung to the tune of Gene Chandler's "Duke of Earl"
Duke, Duke, we beat Duke,
Duke, Duke, we beat Duke,
Duke, Duke, we beat Duke
Months of building up to February 15th paid off big time. All the dull games against the likes of South Carolina Upstate, Central Connecticut, Bryant, and that deflating loss to Harvard were mere prelude to this contest. Duke vs. Boston College.
Walking up to the Conte Forum, two and a half hours before tipoff, and a few Duke fans were already outside, eagerly gazing toward Beacon Street for their team’s bus. Loyal, yes, if a bit ridiculous. But just in case anyone didn’t realize how rare a game like this truly is, that sight would give them a hint.
I work on the floor for the basketball games at BC. I check tickets and credentials, stamp the students’ hands (there’s only 190 student seats on the floor, so we stamp hands and count them as they come in). It’s a sweet gig. Most of the time I’m sitting in a chair, watching the game.
With the Blue Devils in town, the floor was packed. We filled up the student section 30 minutes before tipoff. We had an additional section of seats in the corner that’s only there when Duke or UNC comes up. And in a delightfully surprising mixup, BC sold tickets to a row of floor seating that did not exist. But that was all sorted out, and the pre-tipoff insanity of the floor settled into its normal groove.
A great many BC students showed up after we shut the floor off to them. They all had bland, generic arguments in a vein effort to get by me. “Someone is saving seats for us.” “I saw plenty of empty seats.” And so on. More people claimed friends had saved them seats than there were seats.
One girl was my favorite. As I mentioned above, we stamp their hands, but we also stamp their tickets. This is to make sure people don’t pass their student tickets to someone else who doesn’t have one. And we use a UV stamp and blacklight. So this girl has a stamped ticket with her. I ask if she’s already been down on the floor. She hesitated. Dead give away.
So I take out my blacklight and scan her hand. No stamp, not even a hint of one.
“Where’s your stamp?”
“Um, I wasn’t stamped.”
“Yeah, because you haven’t been down here. The student section is full.”
She must have thought I was an idiot, or just really trusting. She finally admitted that she hadn’t been down yet, but continued to beg for me to let her in. “My friends saved a seat for me.”
“Why should I believe that? You already lied to me once.”
What followed was a 5 minute exchange of “Can I come down?” then “No, you can’t.” Back and forth we went, like a boring game of tennis. Finally, she broke the pattern…
“Do you enjoy being an A-hole?”
Then she left. Later she tried sitting in the regular seats a few rows up from the floor. These aren’t student seats, so I pointed at her, then pointed to the exit. She begrudgingly walked out of the section, and out of my life.
Duke looked the far superior team for the first 17 minutes of play. They pulled out to a 9 point lead and steadily maintained it, extending it to 11, then 13 as the half wound to a close. But the Blue Devils went into the locker room early, or so it seemed. BC ended the 1st with an 8-0 run, cutting the lead to 5 points, and earning some momentum.
Halftime was another cluster-fuck, just like pregame. All the season ticket holders from the stands wanted to hobnob with their buddies on the floor. But there was barely enough room for the people who were already down there. It’s an acquired skill to tell spoiled people that they can’t have what they want, yet leave them smiling.
I should mention that before the game, I was told by my boss, along with others, to report to the lobby outside the visiting team locker room with 4 minutes left in the 2nd. In case BC won, we were going to have to get Duke off the court, securing them from the inevitable charging of the court.
I had mixed emotions about that assignment. I wanted BC to win, of course, and escorting the Duke Blue Devils through a horde of people would be exhilarating to say the least. At the same time, I didn’t want to hit someone and become a YouTube phenom.
BC and Duke both fell into similar grooves, with Duke hanging on to a lead that lightly fluctuated from 4 to 5 to 6. But down the stretch, BC simply made the big plays, on both ends of the court. They forced bad shots, then started hitting EVERYTHING at the offensive end.
There was a celebrity on the floor seats in front of me. BC alum and Phoenix Sun Jared Dudley. During the first half, they put him on the jumbotron and he received a nice ovation. When BC was challenging Duke for the lead in the 2nd half, Dudley may have been the most intense and ferocious fan in the building. He was on his feet, screaming, practically on the court, turning to the crowd and imploring more noise. It was kind of cool to see a pro athlete acting like a crazy diehard fan.
With 4 minutes left, BC had a 1 point lead. The building was shaking, the crowd was louder than the substitution buzzer, and I had goosebumps, for more than one reason.
It was hard to believe it was happening. I fully expected BC to fall apart, or Duke to shift into a higher gear, force some turnovers, hit a few 3 pointers, and the game wouldn’t even get 30 seconds on SportsCenter.
With 4 minutes left, I went into the lobby outside of Duke’s locker room.
Here’s the thing. The Conte Forum is a hockey-first facility. The building is designed around the needs of a hockey rink. And then there’s the football stadium, literally attached to the arena. On football game days, the Forum is technically a part of Alumni Stadium, with concession stands, restrooms, the ticket office, and two gates.
It’s actually a smart way of saving space on what is already a cramped campus. Neighborhoods and the Chestnut Hill Reservoir prevent expansion. The locker room Duke was using will be used by UNH’s hockey team on Saturday, and will hold Florida State’s football team in the fall.
Although this multipurposeness saves space, it makes some things problematic. The visiting team’s locker room is across the court from their bench. 99% of the time, that’s not a difficulty. But when the visiting team is ranked 5th in the nation, and BC hasn’t beaten them in 24 years, it can be a problem.
Inside the visiting team lobby, we had about 10 staff. Five were assigned to stay there, pick a Duke player on the court, and when the game ended, essentially grab them and escort them off the floor. I didn’t envy them much.
We were sent to the tunnel by Duke’s bench, which is ironically the home team’s tunnel. There was about 2 minutes left, and Duke was up 72-71. Then Tyrese Rice hit a 3 pointer and the place went fucking mad.
The number on the clock kept getting smaller, stopping occasionally for timeouts. And BC’s lead slowly grew larger. Duke began fouling, but BC didn’t choke. Rice made his two. Joe Trapani made his two. 80-74, 12 seconds left, this is happening.
I tend to overthink things, especially things I have to wait for. BC called timeout with 0:12 left, and my mind started to race. “So what the hell are we going to do?”
We were kneeling, about 10 of us, in between Duke’s bench and the scorer’s table. On TV, we looked like a wedge of bright orange cheese, jammed between Coach K and the timekeepers. We were supposed to grab bench players and coaches. BC Police would handle Coach K, then we’d have to clear a lane for the Blue Devils to escape.
But how? That question raced across my mind about 30,000 times during BC’s 30 second timeout. Finally, I just relaxed, said to myself “Just do whatever feels smart, stay close to the black and blue jerseys, nobody’s going to mess with them or with us.”
12... 11... 10... 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4... Foul. All 10 of us false-started, leaning forward for our 10 foot sprint. Rice missed two free throws. Even 2,000 point scorers have nerves I guess (He got his 2,000th earlier in the game).
3... 2... 1...
The 9 staff in front of me turned left at the bench, assuming Duke players would want to get off the rapidly filling court ASAP. I went right, following Elliot Williams as he and the other Duke players congratulated the BC players. Coach K was standing in front of me with his BC cop. Both with a puzzled “How do we get through this?” Expression.
I turned around, got the attention of the other staff. We were waiting for Duke to leave before moving. Duke was waiting for us to move before leaving. I turned back around to Coach K and the cop, said “Let’s go” (no way in hell they heard me), and we went.
The hesitation actually worked out. All the students swarmed onto the floor, and would have been in our path had we gone right away. We didn’t have to cut through them, just circumnavigate around them as their orgy of joy played out at center court. We didn’t have any problems.
We got Duke off the floor, then established two lines by the media tunnel, directing those that rushed the court to go around. That’s when it hit me. We beat Duke! PISSAH!
When it was finally cleared of humanity, the floor was a mess. Popcorn everywhere, overturned and trampled folding chairs, some girl lost her shoe in the stampede.
I didn’t realize until I was driving home, that this was the biggest upset I’ve ever attended. Harvard women’s hockey at #6 Dartmouth was up there, but certainly not the same thing in terms of stakes and stage. The Bruins thrashed the Penguins last season, and I was there, but that’s also different.
I had a floor seat to an upset of Duke. I (and others) brought the Duke Blue Devils off the court, around a throng of jubilant fans. Pretty cool.
Quite possibly the best event I’ve worked.
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer