Embracing our rivalry

Feb. 10, 2014 @ 06:06 PM

In “Duke-Carolina: The Blue Blood Rivalry,” a documentary out last year, one of the speakers offers this comment about Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“It’s not just the greatest rivalry in college basketball. It’s the greatest rivalry in all of sports!”

We know fans of many teams would beg to differ.

But, allowing for hyperbole, we’re willing to bet that tens of thousands of ardent fans of the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels would take that comment as merely a firm grasp of the obvious.

We’ll see that celebrated rivalry in full swing this week, like no other. Well, like no other except in three weeks – and, then, maybe again once or twice later in March.

Monday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Duke and UNC women’s teams met in the first of their two regular-season games this season. Wednesday night, the men have at each other in the Dean Smith Center.

That means that for at least four hours this week, most regular activity will, if not come to a halt, be starkly overshadowed as television sets in bars, restaurants, and homes across the region lock into basketball games. 

In many ways, the rivalry has become ritualistic.  Duke fans already are camped out in their famous Krzyzewskiville, angling for seats at UNC’s visit to Cameron March 8. Duke’s Office of News and Communications blandly issued its routine media advisory about plans for a potential bonfire after Monday night’s game. We’ll see the same preparations for the men’s game March 8 and, should it come to that, the national championship game in April.

Yes, we take basketball seriously here.  We suspect a forecast of possibly very wintry weather Wednesday evening won’t daunt fans at all.  Ten-foot drifts probably wouldn’t keep Cameron from being filled for this game.

We could look at this frenzy a couple of ways. True, it seems like a great deal of emotion and energy channeled into what is, after all, a spectator event for all but a handful of players, coaches and officials.  The rest of the country probably sees the two prestigious research universities nine miles apart as bitter rivals – not academic partners whose faculty, students and administrators collaborate on countless projects up to and including groundbreaking, life-saving research.

But a passion for a favorite sports team is not just a national phenomenon – it’s worldwide. Just ask anybody in almost any other country on the planet during football’s (okay, soccer’s) quadrennial World Cup. Add to that the attachment many feel even decades later for their dear old alma mater and you have the cacophony that surrounds basketball rivalries – and none more so than the one here on Tobacco Road.

Seven years ago, author Will Blythe captured the spirit perfectly in the title of his account of the rivalry: “To hate like this is to be happy forever.”

We couldn’t say it any better.