There was some discussion on the local sports talk radio station today about why Duke has been cast as the "villain" in this year's Final Four. The Christian Laettner foot-stomp incident was brought up and laughed off, and various and sundry other thoughts, but really, I think they missed the point.
You see, by all rights I should be a Duke fan. Until Boston College joined the ACC (and for all of you locals bitching about how BC doesn't belong in the conference, it's actually closer to, you know, the Atlantic Coast than Duke. Or NC State. Or Wake Forest. Or Georgia Tech. Or Virginia. Or...you get the idea.) it was the most "northern" school in the conference, a plucky little bastion of higher learning with a tiny enrollment who somehow managed to beat the big boys at their own game. And that's exactly the sort of thing that should make Duke endearing.
Only they're not. I find I loathe Duke in a way I loathe few other schools, but it took until today to figure out why.
It's not that Duke's the "villains" of the piece. The Blue Devils aren't bullies, not in the way Tark the Shark's UNLV teams were. They're not openly flouting rules or being brutes or aggressively trying to intimidate anyone, Coach K's dark suits be damned.
No, the thing is precisely that they're not bullies. They're the spoiled rich kids. They're Draco Malfoy, the weasels who get everyone else in trouble and then turn into angels the second the grownups turn around. Watch a Duke player, any Duke player, when they get a foul called on them. It's always the same - the histrionics, the hands to the side of the head, the mouth wide open in Macaulay-Culkin-ese fake shock, the "Aww, you're kidding me!" that blind lipreaders beyond the orbit of Mimas could read. When the ref's not looking, they elbow and hook and shove with the worst of 'em. When the ref is looking, they flop and overact and do their best to get the other guy - the Harry Potters of the hardwood, as it were - in trouble. Seriously. I've seen video games with ragdoll physics less impressive than what J.J. Reddick used to do when someone got within five feet of him.
That's why Duke is so hateable. Because all of us, in school, knew a Duke. We all knew a kid who tormented and teased and bullied when the teacher wasn't looking, and who used their parents or their older brother or their willingness to clean erasers to magically avoid the trouble the rest of us caught double. We'll probably never see those kids again. But we will see their likenesses, their avatars, their nationally televised equivalents. We will see them in blue and white, and we will boo them heartily.
It won't change a thing. It certainly won't retroactively balance the scales of schoolyard injustice. But man, it'll feel good.