DURHAM, N.C. -- They had been here for a while, some for nearly two months. They had turned the grounds around Cameron Indoor Stadium into a yuppified tent city, an L.L. Bean catalog come to life.
Camping out in line for basketball tickets has been in vogue at Duke for several years now. But nothing compares to what had happened here this season. And, as a result, the tradition might be brought to an end with last night's final home game against Maryland.
"We appreciate their support, but I think we have to do something about them waiting so long," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said earlier this season. "I don't want to ruin a good thing. Being out there too long might not be the right approach. I want it to be a good experience."
During one two-week stretch before last month's game against hated arch-rival North Carolina, it was mostly a cold experience. Things got so icy two nights before the game that university officials opened up Cameron Indoor Stadium and Carr Gymnasium next door for the students to come in from the cold.
What happened? Only a hundred or so less-than-hearty souls opted to spend the night inside. Doug Thackney, who along with some friends pitched a tent back on Jan. 6, spent 20 of 22 nights before the North Carolina game outside.
But has the long siege been worth it?
"It hasn't been the same as the past few years," said Thackney, a junior from Falls Church, Va. "People on the line have gotten a little tired, and people who aren't on the line got a little intimidated by the idea of waiting so long."
The rules, set forth by the student government, are simple: you get a number for your tent, there are a maximum of 10 people assigned to each tent, and someone has to be at the tent at all times.
Two nights before the North Carolina game, there were five random tent checks -- random tent checks? -- during which at least three people had to be present.
The tents, which are numbered, come in all shapes, sizes and political persuasions. One proclaimed "Quayle, Krzyzewski, 96." Another had a box with the number of hours left until the Carolina game. The common denominator was that they were mostly top-of-the-line. No pup-tents here.
Thackney estimates that he spent all but a couple of nights -- "I was in the infirmary," he said -- on the line before the Carolina game and, depending on the opposition, a handful thereafter. A university spokesman said yesterday that there were only a couple of tents left for last Sunday's game against UCLA, and none for the Terps.
That is down from as many as 150 tents at the height of this waiting game. Then again, if some in the administration get their way, things could change drastically by the time next season rolls around. If Dr. Sue Wasiolek has any say, the students can keep their tents tucked away in the closet.
"I certainly don't remember them camping out this far in advance month prior to the Carolina game]," said Dr. Wasiolek, the dean for student life at Duke. "I'm also not sure it's out of necessity. It's become a social event. It's an excuse. I don't know if there will be any official administrative response in the future, but I know there are administrators who are questioning the practice."
Fellow students think those who have waited for so long have carried this tradition a little too far. Those at the back of the line usually don't arrive until 2 1/2 hours, not 2 1/2 weeks, before the doors open to the free, unticketed student seats.
"If I get into this game, I'm going to laugh at all those people who waited 25 days," Bill Carter, a sophomore from Statesboro, Ga., said the night of the North Carolina game. He didn't get in.
Senior point guard Bobby Hurley, who passes his fellow students on the way to practice, said last month, "I don't know if I'd do that to watch us play, but you appreciate what they're doing. I'm sure they're going to be ready to explode by the time the game begins."
Some parents have complained, long before the wait for last night's game began. Wasiolek said that she got a few telephone calls from concerned parents of first-year students after their kids had camped out for a week before the Michigan game Dec. 5.
Keith Hassan, a junior from Atlanta who was in the first tent for the Carolina game -- is that like being valedictorian? -- said, "My father is somewhat concerned that I'm ignoring my studies. But my father went to Duke and he's the one that turned me onto Duke basketball."
In past years, students would start camping out from a week to 10 days before the Carolina game, and maybe a day or two before other big games.
Part of the problem is that Cameron Indoor Stadium is the second smallest arena in the ACC, with a seating capacity of 9,314. Only Virginia's University Hall is smaller.
Standing at the back of the line, a Duke student offered this perspective.
"If we get in, we get in," said Will Beamer, a senior from San Diego. "If we don't, we'll get drunk."