After the United States' 77-71 victory over Greece in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, reporters asked Stephon Marbury if he'd ever played in a more hostile environment. "Clemson," responded the former Georgia Tech point guard. We investigated Starbury's assertion. He was right. Sort of.
Rumors of my grandparents' generation's demise have been greatly exaggerated -- at least with regard to basketball in the South. The South Carolina blue hairs are out in force for Sunday's Clemson-Maryland game. And they're mad.
Did Congress block the ability to import affordable prescription drugs from Canada? Did IHOP discontinue the Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity? Nope, the refs blew a call. And Team AARP is letting 'em know they're not happy about it.
"The old people go crazy," says Clemson freshman Mark Bowman. "They're so irrational and they love to get pissed at the refs." It's true, while the seniors on the baseline cycle through classics like Tiger Rag and the Cadence Call, the senior citizens, like canines conditioned to bark at the sound of a whistle, won't quit assailing the officials.
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"Ridiculous!" hollers one. "You guys can't get anything right today," growls another. "This is the worst refereed game I've seen in 85 years," adds another old yeller.
We first noticed this trend of hostile geriatrics at the Georgia-Auburn game yesterday. And it's not just the men. Ladies who resembled Texas senator Ann Richards, dressed in conservative red sweaters, continually spew venom at the referees. At halftime, with their team 14 points ahead of Auburn, I watched some elderly folks stand up and boo the refs as they ducked into the tunnel. Since when do old people boo? (Since when do old people stand up?) They saved their biggest ovation for when a ref, on a fast break, got trampled by a Georgia player.
The only difference at Clemson was the color of the sweaters. The old people at Littlejohn Coliseum seem to have dedicated their third act to making sure that the ref was aware that "For Christ's sake, Maryland's power forward has been shuffling his feet on the high screen for the entire game!"
Ever wonder what a male dance team would look like? It wasn't pretty.
"I think the ACC refs are as bad as they come," says Jim Roberts, 73. "Number 21 is consistently pushing off up and down the court," adds his wife, Vernie. What happened to Southern hospitality? "As far as I'm concerned," she says, demonstrating #21's infraction, "that's a myth."
"We're sophisticated ref yellers," clarifies former South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Bob Peeler. "When we're mad at them, we call them by their last names."
One Clemson elder statesman got so proficient at his ref baiting that the school gave him an award for it. After Maryland's decisive 82-66 win, we caravanned down College Avenue to the office of Dr. Bill Dukes. On his wall, alongside his 1957 Clemson diploma, his med school diploma and numerous other framed achievements, is the Meathead Award.
In 1971, Head Coach Tates Locke presented Dukes with this award given to the "member of the over thirty generation that still has the loyal and unique ability to spot opposing infractions from a distance of 50 yards or more. And who in his own special way, lets the officials know, 'What's wrong Meathead? I saw the foul. Are you blind?'" At the bottom of the plaque it reads: "Bill Dukes, who has given penetrating depthness and new dimensions to four-letter words."
"To me," said Dr. Dukes the plaque resting in his lap, "I'm as proud of this one as any of these others on the wall." At what age does the assault on the referees begin to tire? "If I can still get to the stadium when I'm 100," replies Duke, "I'll still be yelling."
Notes on a Scorecard
*The last time Maryland and Clemson met was on Jan. 12, when the Terps beat the 17-0 Tigers. Clemson was the last of 325 schools to lose a game this season.
*As Penn State is known as "Linebacker U," Clemson should be called "Power Forward U." The Tigers have sent Dale Davis, Larry Nance, Horace Grant, Elden Campbell, and Tree Rollins to the NBA and not much else.
* An anonymous NBA scout's take on one of our favorite players from this trip, Maryland's 6-5 freshman point guard Greivis Vasquez who hails from Venezuela: "He's tall, makes crisp passes, he can score but prefers to get teammates involved. He reminds me of Shaun Livingston." He's not flashy at all but like Denver guard Steve Blake, I predict he'll make a really nice pro.
* A story that deserves more than a blip in a notes package: Former Clemson guard Clarke Bynum was on a hijacked British Airways flight to Nairobi in 2000. A crazed passenger burst into the cockpit and wrestled the pilot from the controls, sending the plane into a 19,000 foot nosedive. Bynum and a buddy from Clemson ended up tackling the hijacker allowing the pilot to resume control, thus saving the lives of almost 400 people. (A more detailed report of the heroics here.)