The One Thing That Blue Devils and Tar Heels Can Agree On


I’m still not over it, and I won’t be for a long, long time. And I thought the 33 point loss to FSU was going to be the low point of the season. Even if we end up cutting down the nets in April, I won’t look back at Wednesday night and laugh or even smile. I have never been more upset, angry and thoroughly disappointed after a Tar Heel basketball game in my entire life. Twenty years ago as a child, I would have cried. Now, as an adult, I was livid and fit to be tied. My three-year old Maltese, Captain Rhett Butler, usually takes refuge upstairs with my mother when my dad and I watch Carolina games. He doesn’t understand that all the screaming and clapping isn’t directed at him. However, after the last shot went in on Wednesday night, and I landed two, very loud open-palm slaps on the wall, Rhett was found cowering under the bed.

The only way it could have been worse is if it had ended our season. Roy Williams helped put things into perspective when he said, “They didn’t hand out any trophies Wednesday night.” No. No, they didn’t. As I sat on the couch after the Duke game, I tried desperately to find a silver lining, something along the lines of , “well, at least . . .” And the only thing I could come up with was that though the Tar Heels came out on the losing end, I had witnessed yet another classic UNC/Duke contest that makes it the best rivalry in all of sports.

When I posted this postulation that UNC/Duke was sports’ greatest rivalry on facebook, immediately my social media friends claimed that I was biased. I agree with them, but that doesn’t mean my statement isn’t true. First of all, let me first say that there are, in my opinion, only two other rivalries that can even be in the same conversation with Duke/UNC: Auburn/Alabama and Red Sox/Yankees. For all of you Lakers and Celtics fans, it isn’t the 1980s any more. Frazier/Ali was an individual rivalry, and short-lived with a finite ending. Ohio State and Michigan? I’m sorry, but in order to have a true, collegiate rivalry your schools have to be in the same state. If fans don’t have the same drivers’ licenses, forget it.

The Red Sox and Yankees rivalry is certainly the most-celebrated and nationally recognized. They play baseball, America’s pastime, and represent two of the oldest and most popular ball clubs in the nation. When I lived in Charleston, I worked at a Red Sox bar, and I am fully aware of the rivalry’s bitterness especially when alcohol is a factor. It is a rivalry that I fully respect and appreciate. However, I do not think it will ever be the greatest rivalry in sports for two reasons. Number one, not only are the BoSox and Yankees in the same league, they are in the same division. This means they play each other several times a year. A rivalry becomes less intense with the frequency of play. This is why tickets were going for $500 plus for the Duke/UNC game in Chapel Hill. But more importantly, Boston and New York will never play each other for the whole she-bang, i.e. the World Series. Don’t get me wrong the Red Sox 2004 ALCS comeback and subsequent World Series championship was one for the ages. I heard all the stories of Boston fans visiting graves and whatnot, but it wasn’t the Yankees that the Red Sox beat for all the marbles.

Secondly, I don’t think any professional rivalry can surpass a collegiate one in animosity, bitterness and loyalty. Now right now I am speaking as a UNC alum. UNC is not just a team to me. It is my school. It is the place I spent four years of my life. It is where my father spent his hard earned money so I could get an education. My brother is a Duke fan, and when he tries to talk smack, I tell him, “When you earn your degree from Duke, you can talk. Until then, shut your (insert your favorite expletive) mouth.” There’s  not that sense of loyalty in professional sports primarily because of money. Exhibit A: Johnny Damon. Can you imagine if the next time Duke and UNC played in Durham, Tyler Zeller was wearing the other shade of blue? Until there is a University of Yankee Stadium or Boston Red Sox College at Fenway, college rivalries will reign supreme.

So that brings me to the other collegiate rivalry worthy of the conversation, Auburn and Alabama. I’ve mentioned before that I love college football, and I have watched the Iron Bowl the past couple of years. Auburn’s comeback in 2010 with Cam Newton was something to behold and similar to Duke’s comeback Wednesday night. Auburn and Alabama also have the intrastate aspect covered. Though, unlike Duke and UNC, their campuses are almost three hours apart. And while Alabama leads the series by a pretty slim margin 41-34, historically the Crimson Tide have been the superior program. Alabama has 14 National Titles, most of which were with Bear Bryant, while Auburn only has 2, 1957 and 2010. When you compare that with the fact that UNC and Duke have 8 National Championships between them in the past 30 years, their teams are year in and year out ranked in the top 10.  Just like Boston and New York can never meet in the World Series, Auburn and Alabama currently cannot face each other in the SEC Championship since they are in the same SEC division. However, they could play each other for the BCS Championship in a scenario similar to the one in which Alabama played against LSU this season. As could UNC and Duke. I don’t know about you, but I have nightmares about UNC and Duke meeting in the National Championship game. I would need a powerful sedative. I really would.

Finally, I do not think Auburn/Alabama reaches national proportions and audiences like UNC and Duke. You go into a bar in Chicago or New York and there is blue everywhere when Duke and Carolina play. Even in the South, when I was in Charleston, I knew a couple of Alabama fans, but I don’t think I ever met an Auburn fan or alum. I think outside of Alabama, a lot of people are like me. When I watch the Iron Bowl, I watch it to see a good game. I don’t dislike either team or really favor one over the other. They are both state schools and have produced equally talented professional players. Duke, on the other hand, is the team that even non-North Carolina fans love to hate. Duke is the New York Yankees, the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Lakers all rolled into one. Look it up. They rank up there with the aforementioned in most-hated team surveys. And while I hate Duke basketball and everything that it stands for, I think the Blue Devils and Tar Heels will both agree that it just doesn’t get any better than Duke/Carolina.