Archive for the ‘Fanhood’ Category


The picture above was taken a few minutes after the Duke football team beat arch-rival UNC last night. It’s a bit blurry, but the best I could do from my perch in the press box.

“Press box?” You may wonder. “You must have some great connections, MaryNell.”

Well, not exactly.

I have been attending Duke football games since 1994, but somewhere around ’97 or ’98, my friends bailed on me. For those of you who don’t know, Duke football has been an exercise in futility for decades now, and it takes a special kind of crazy to keep going back for more.

Fearing the thought of attending games alone (yes, I am that special kind of crazy) I managed to land a volunteer gig helping keep stats. I write down the back-up play-by-play, only needed when there’s a computer malfunction. The perks of this job include premier parking, free food (which I don’t normally eat as it’s very meat-centric), and being inside during inclement weather.

The downside is having to stay to the bitter end and witness both blow-outs and heartbreaking losses. Being a fan has definitely taken its toll on me. There is only so much heartache I can take, not to mention the fact that games take up a lot of time.

Before the season started, I wondered if I would sign up for another year. Like so much in my life, I was feeling its time to let this go. Eventually, I decided I would give it one more year. A swan song, of sorts. And who knows, maybe the team could finally reverse their fortunes.

Turns out I made a pretty good choice. Duke has now won six games and is bowl eligible for the first time in 18 years. And, after many a heart-vreaking game, they finally beat UNC!!!

It was a game snatched from the TV show, “Friday Night Lights.” Good guys lead most of the game, then lose the lead with about three minutes left. Good guys march down the field and, with four seconds remaining and fourth down, score a TD to win the game.

The crowd went wild. Students stormed the field. I about cried. I couldn’t believe it! For years, I’ve seen similar situations with different results. I just want to relive and savor that moment.

I will have to wait until tomorrow to watch a rebroadcast. Yes, I am a special kind of crazy, but after last week’s beat-down, I had no hopes for victory and thus thought there would be no need to record the game.

Anyway, this whole reliving the victory thing has me thinking about how much time I spent going over past events. I had to really stop myself from doing this after some sad events last week.

Maybe now is a good time to practice letting go of good events, too. Live in this moment, not yesterday or tomorrow. Enjoy, and yes, watch again, but don’t put so much of my energy in the past or future.

Plus, there are some tough games coming up, so I will need to practice letting go…


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Tuesday night, Coach K set the record for most wins by a coach in men’s college basketball. Yesterday, I was going to post some of my memories of being a fan during his tenure at Duke. However I was just too tired, thanks to my sweet dog Bailey, who hasn’t been sleeping at nights for the past 10 months. And when Bailey doesn’t sleep, no one sleeps.

You see, Bailey has canine cognitive disorder, otherwise known as dementia. The most serious side effect for her is the “sundowners” issue.  She gets very nervous and confused at night. She’s pacing and panting loudly.  And because she’s just as tall as my mattress, it’s easy for her to walk up to my bed and demand attention, either by hitting the mattress with her paw or by breathing heavily into my face.   And if you’ve never been awoken by the smell of dog breath heavily accented with fish oil, then you have been missing out on quite the experience!

Bailey’s normal modus operandi is to sleep while I’m at work, walk when I get home, eat dinner, then sleep some more.  About 3 a.m., her nervous alarm goes off and she’s up until after her morning walk and breakfast.  Then she sleeps for the rest of the day while I’m at work… and the cycle continues.

Getting up at 3 has been hard, but if I go to bed early enough (9 p.m.), I can sneak in enough sleep to make it through the day without too much harm.

But, for some unknown reason over the past week, Bailey’s clock was all off.  She started getting up at 1:30 a.m., 1 a.m., then 12 midnight.    Tuesday night, she woke up at 11:30 p.m. and was up for the duration.

That night, I had watched the record-setting Duke-Michigan State game, then took her for another short walk.  I also gave her some herbs for insomnia that were recommended by my acupuncturist.  Somehow the combination of those two things set her off.

She would settle for 20 minutes at the most, then be back up, pacing and panting and wanting me to fix whatever it was that was wrong.  We went out, we came back in; I lay on the floor holding her, she would wrestle away.   Nothing I did could soothe her.

So yesterday I just didn’t have the energy to reflect on Coach K’s accomplishments.  Instead I spent the day thinking about when it might be time to let Bailey go.   With my other dogs, it was quite obvious.  They were good about telling me.  But they also  had distinct physical things wrong with them, and their bodies just gave out.   Bailey’s body, though wracked with arthritis, is still going.  It’s her mind that’s causing the most problems.

I tell myself that when her nervous condition spills over to the daytime, then it will be time.  After all, what quality of life would she have if she were in a constant state of agitated confusion?   There is a flaw in this plan, however: five days a week, I’m at work.  So she could currently be suffering in the daytime more than I realize.

So last night, I had a reiki conversation with Bailey and asked her to let me know when she was ready to go.  Maybe she’ll go on her own, but I don’t want her to suffer. So if she needs help, I will certainly call one of her vets.

I also changed a few things: no more herbs for insomnia, no walks later at night.  And since Bailey seems to snooze away just fine in the living room, I decided to sleep on the couch.

I got to sleep about 10 p.m., and lo and behold, Bailey slept until about 3 a.m.  Yay!

Though I feel much more rested than I have all week, I still don’t have the energy to gather my thoughts about Duke basketball.  I will say this, though:

I was a casual fan since the 1980s, basically watching some games on TV and rooting for Duke come NCAA tournament time.  But, after my grandmother got sick in 1991, I became an avid fan.  I had to watch or listen to every game.  Life was changing, death was imminent, and basketball was my escape.   They had to win for things to be okay!  Luckily, during that time, Duke did win a lot.

Twenty years late, I’m finding that life is once again changing,  and death is imminent.  But Duke doesn’t have to win in order for things to be okay.  Of course it’s more fun when they do win, but a basketball team doesn’t have to rescue me from life’s hardships.

So I can say this:  Congratulations, Coach K, and thanks for the memories. Here’s to many more years of coaching!

And thanks, also, to Bailey for being such a great companion these past 10 years.   May you, Bailey, be at peace, may you be free of suffering. May you be filled with loving kindness, may you be at ease.  May you know the everlasting joy of your one true nature.   And may I be able to do right by you.

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So we are close to halfway through the football season, and things are looking up. Duke has actually won a few games. And in surprising fashion.

In one game, the opponent Boston College actually “pulled a Duke.” Down 2, BC was on about the 2-yard line and couldn’t punch it in. Then they missed a chippy field goal as time expired.

In another game (against FIU), Duke was down 10 points at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Somehow Duke made consecutive great plays to score two touchdowns. Then their defense, which had been run on all night, actually held.

Last week was a bye week. This week, it’s Florida State at home. That same Florida State that is reeling from consecutive losses to Oklahoma, Clemson and Wake Forest.

This will be a real test for the Blue Devils. Can they stay competitive against a top-25 team? (Wait, is FSU still ranked?) And can they show up and play confidently against a team that simply cannot lose to Duke.

Losing to Duke spells disaster to many programs; it’s just too embarrassing to lose to a constant cellar-dweller. That motivation seems enough for teams to beat Duke. Of course, Duke “pulling Dukes” doesn’t help either.

So I approach Saturday in cautious interest. Can’t say I’m optimistic, but I’m open to the possibility of a program-changing win.

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Hope is Dashed

It didn’t take long for my hopes for this football season to be dashed. In fact, it happened during the first offensive series of the first game. Sigh.

So here’s what I think:

1. If this were the TV show Friday Night Lights, Will Snyderwine would have hit that 61-yard field goal for the win as time expired.

2. There’s some kind of karmic thing going on with Duke football. They consistently snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It has happened too many times to recall. It’s one thing we as Duke football fans know will happen. We fans hope that things will turn out differently, but deep down, we secretly know that if something can go wrong, it will. Maybe all our negative energy contributes to the karmic curse on this team? I try to remain positive and send positive energy to the team, but to no avail.

So it’s going to be a long season. And I find myself wondering why I keep signing up for a volunteer job that means I have to attend all home games. I guess the reason is that one day, somehow, someway, the team might just beat the curse it has upon it, and win a few games. And wouldn’t it be a shame to miss those victories when about all I’ve seen over the past 15-20 years is defeat?

Meeanwhile, I planted some fall seeds this weekend, and after torrential rain the past few days, some of the seeds have sprouted. So there’s one thing to look forward to – fresh greens when I come home from a long football game.

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Hope Springs Eternal

I remember way back yonder, in the old days when I was in college, I would loyally attend the first football pep rally of the year. The cheerleaders would pump up the crowd with many chants, including one that went something like, “hey, hey; ho, ho, Rebels to the Sugar Bowl!”

At that time, the SEC champion was automatically invited to the Sugar Bowl. Also at that time, Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson were running all over teams much better than my alma mater. And my alma mater, Ole Miss, was lucky to win about five or six games a year. No way we were going to the Sugar Bowl. However, the whole crowd suspended disbelief, and would go along with this cheer. The football coach would then affirm that the Rebels would “go…all…the…way.” We were frenzied! We were excited! We believed!

That belief might have lasted two or three games. At least until SEC play started and the aforementioned Hershel and Bo ran all over us. But the hope was fun while it lasted.

Now, years later, I’m in a different state (NC), working at a different university (Duke), but some things never change. Every fall, a few weeks before football season starts, that hope meter starts up again. No matter how badly the team did last year, this could be the year to turn it all around!

So, football gods, if you are listening, I bow before you. I ask that my hope for a winning season is granted this year. Can we win our opener this weekend? What about beating our rivals Wake and UNC, who have beaten us way too many times to talk about? And upsetting Stanford would be amazing! But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Just a win this Saturday, please. Keep my hope alive!!!

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