Yesterday afternoon I was out walking the dog when I encountered one of our neighbors doing the same. We stopped to chat as we often do. He noticed I was wearing my Carolina (let's start offending people right now- there is only one Carolina. NORTH CAROLINA!) hat and asked if I had watched the national championship game and if I was sad that Duke won. He seemed surprised when informed that while we did watch the game, we were cheering for the Blue Devils. In fact. the reason I had on my UNC hat was cheering for Duke always makes me feel a little bit dirty. But I always pull for original ACC teams in the tourny unless they are playing my Heels. Sorry, Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse and others- you haven't earned that respect from me yet. We then talked for a few minutes about the Duke/Carolina rivalry.
I have lived in Florida for most of the past 20 years now, and from day one people have said things like this to me- "Yeah we get that rivalry. It's like Florida/Florida State in football." My neighbor said this yesterday. I generally just nod and smile while thinking, "You have NO idea." Bur for reasons I cannot explain, yesterday my disagreement with that statement came pouring out. As I said to him, in one sense yes- it is a traditional rivalry between two quality programs. But here's the difference. UNC and Duke are in the same conference. The games always matter and are usually (see graphics on this page) ridiculously close. But what matters even more is geography. Here's how I explained it: "You know Tampa is home to both the U. of South Florida and The U. of Tampa. They are about 10 miles apart. Imagine if those 2 schools were Florida and FSU, with students from both schools living in the same apartment complexes, eating at the same restaurants and drinking at the same bars. ALL THE TIME! In two small NC towns,not a metroplex like Tampa Bay. And they were both in the SEC. And they had both won 5 national championships. That is Duke/Carolina." He was both surprised and a little take aback. He had no idea they were that close together. I continued: "And there's more. That rivalry is not like North vs. South, it's personal like the Hatfields and McCoys. They are not just competitors like Ohio State/Michigan, they are neighbors on the same way East and West Berlin used to be. Blue is not a color in NC- it is a line of demarcation. Duke Blue or Carolina Blue. Choose one. But you do have to choose. And it's not just local, it's national. Ratings spike when they play, and every game in on TV. If they ever play each other for the national championship it will be the most watched college basketball game in history. This rivalry MATTERS. "
He then asked given all of that how I could possibly bring myself to cheer for Duke on Monday night. It's like family, I told him. It's ok for me to beat up my little brother, but I'll always have his back with the bullies come calling. The ACC is like family for many of us. We love our teams, but we rejoice with our brothers as well.
There are many great rivalries in sports, but it is the intimacy of the schools as well as the unmatched quality of the basketball programs that set UNC/Duke apart in my mind. The Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears have one of the great longtime rivalries in all of sports, with decades of history, great animosity and multiple championships between them. But imagine how the intensity of those games would increase if they were both great most every year, if they often had to play 3 times a year, and if BOTH teams called the little town of Green Bay home. That's Duke/Carolina. It's just unmatched.
So congrats to Duke on a job well done. But now it's back to business as usual. The Tar Heels look loaded for next year. DOOK is going down!