The game had been played, the trip completed and still the song looped in my head. The more I tried to think about something else, the louder it roared, bringing pressure from the top of head down on my eyes, slightly blurring my vision.
“Out in the West Texas town of El Paso,” blared Marty Robbins over and over and over. It completely drowned out everything else up there: The bitter memories of strokes wasted on the golf course, the vast expanses of air, the gutter, Neil Young guitar licks from “Words,” the sound of North Carolina’s Four Corners offense in the 1977 title game backfiring through the decades. Everything.
Just as I was on the verge of being driven — some might contend it’s a short walk — to the brink of madness, it vanished. Inner peace at last? Not quite. It has been replaced by an even more annoying sound, a distinctly nasal one, accompanied by the blue face of the devil himself.
“I don't look at myself as a basketball coach,” the condescending voice loops. “I look at myself as a leader who happens to coach basketball.”
Mere mention of the word Duke, or even a glimpse of it on a Kansas University football pocket schedule, triggers the nasally sound of Mike Krzyzewski pitching for American Express, seemingly apologizing for carrying the label basketball coach, as if it’s beneath someone who has so much of great import to offer the world.
Strangely, or maybe understandably, Coach K is the figure who makes this more than just another nonconference game in which the main trick is for the players from the home team to get up for the opponent or risk having to pick eggshells out of their eyebrows for the rest of autumn.
Outside of the Duke fan base, Krzyzewski isn’t so much a love-or-hate-him figure as he is a dislike-him-intensely-or-hate him sports celebrity.
Roy Williams, since fleeing Lawrence for Chapel Hill, has so dominated Tobacco Road he has relegated Coach K to relative unimportance, but the guess here is that echoes of the American Express commercial still resonate to the extent the Kansas students, who infuse so much energy into Memorial Stadium throughout the first half of games, will stay seated for the entire game to boo Krzyzewski by booing the football players.
They also can boo two quarterbacks for the price of one. Duke coach David Cutcliffe announced that Thaddeus Lewis will start against KU, but it was Sean Renfree (7 of 8, 106 yards, two touchdowns), who came off the bench midway through the third quarter and led Duke to a 21-point fourth quarter in a 35-19 victory against Army. Reading about Renfree elevating the Blue Devils for a quarter begs the question of where Todd Reesing, offered a scholarship by Duke, would have taken that school’s football program had he gone there.
Would Coach K have enjoyed that as much as Bill Self has enjoyed watching Reesing juice KU football? Self, a native of Edmond, Okla., grew up rooting for and against teams with a Billy Bob at quarterback. He loves KU football and Mangino loves what KU basketball does for his recruiting. One day, maybe they could do an American Express commercial together.