The Last Great Battle?: A Primer on the Duke-UNC Rivalry

Welcome to the best rivalry in all of sports! And yes Yankees/Red Sox fans, this is true. For if you’ve ever spent time in Tar Heel Territory (because there is no Duke territory or if there is it’s in New Jersey somewhere) you know the bad blood that flows along Tobacco Road. And yes it’s done respectfully, mostly, because we’re still Southern after all, y’all.
Even with all those classic matchups, we have never had one this big. In fact, it surprises me to learn that the two teams hadn’t even met in the NCAA Tournament before. I guess either one or the other would go far in their days of greatness. And what do you know, in Coach K’s last season and Hubert Davis’s very first we finally get the epic matchup that will serve as his perfect career sendoff, because there’s no way they’re winning that game. Ok ok, I’d better not talk too much noise or I might end up eating my words on Saturday, but ah well. In any event, the week leading up to the game is going to be fun, as my wife and I stand on different sides of that line. We’ll both wear our shirts on the day of and try to cheer our teams on to victory.
I vaguely remember when I was introduced to this rivalry, sometime in the late 80s. I barely understood sports then. But my dad had me in his room, which was a den sort of area in the back of the house that he had equipped with a minifridge, a leather couch and a recliner. I rarely entered this room uninvited, but on occasion he would allow me to accompany him to listen to music or have some long conversation out of everyone else’s ear. Anyway, he turned on the game and told me, in his thick unusual accent, that “Naw-Calana” was playing.
“Naw-calana?” I asked.
“Yeah! The school in Chapel Hill,” he replied. Not that I even knew what that meant at the time. I thought maybe he was referring to some other state and just settled in as he tried to explain to me the vagaries of basketball.
In this area you tend to take on the fandom of your family, unless daring enough to march to your own beat. So, I did this once more able to comprehend what this all meant, watching Carolina games with a fervor starting in 1993. The games they play with Duke are something like a holiday: whether in Duke’s old and small Cameron Indoor Stadium or in UNC’s (relatively) newer Smith Center you can count on the intensity. And records don’t matter either, as both teams leave everything they have on the floor once that game gets going.
So to have this game set during the Final Four in the part of March Madness that actually occurs in April is going to be something special. I know the other two teams, the University of Kansas and Villanova University, are probably champing at the bit to get whomever is left though, as the Duke UNC winner is going to have a task getting up for the National Championship. We shall see what happens, but here’s hoping the right, CAROLINA blue will reign supreme by Saturday night’s end. Go Heels!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.