Understanding North Carolina’s tribal rivalries
Have we gotten used to all the national attention on North Carolina and our tribal rivalries?
Do we mind the reports of the mean-spiritedness, the rudeness, the shouts and ranting, the unsupported ugly comments about the opposition and its motives, and the hateful remarks about the leaders of the other group?
Am I thinking about Republicans denouncing the Rev. William Barber and the Moral Monday marchers? Or the angry marchers condemning Gov. Pat McCrory, Art Pope, and the state legislature?
It could be in some other week.
But this week the reports about our tribal rivalries focus on UNC-Duke basketball and this Saturday night’s final game of the regular season.
Why do we sometimes go crazy in our support of our favorite athletic teams and unleash meanness towards the other side?
The question was nicely answered in the title of Will Blythe’s 2006 book, “To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever: A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry.”
Blythe, former literary editor of “Esquire” and a highly respected writer of serious prose, is a Chapel Hill native and UNC graduate who confesses without apology his strong negative feelings about Duke as he tries to explain the intensity of the bitter rivalry. “I am a sick, sick man,” he writes. “Not only am I consumed by hatred, I am delighted by it.”
In a compelling explanation of the sources of this hatred that delights him, Blythe charts a pathway for his readers to deal with their own unreasonable passions about basketball and the teams they love—and love to hate.
But where did this rivalry come from?
The answer veteran sportswriter Art Chansky gives in “Blue Blood: Inside the Most Storied Rivalry in College Hoops,” (2005) may surprise you.
That book, which is the basis of a new documentary film, “Duke-Carolina, The Blue Blood Rivalry,” is comprehensive and full of details about hiring and firing coaches, arguments and fights, and the strategy and tactics of important games. In some ways it is an encyclopedic history of college basketball from the 1940s until 2005. Although it centers on Duke and Carolina, their stories overlap with those of the other teams both schools played regularly.
One of the best stories is Chansky’s version of how N.C. State was responsible for the UNC-Duke basketball rivalry. State’s great success under Coach Everett Case forced UNC and Duke to respond. Having lost 15 in a row to State, UNC hired Frank McGuire. His team beat the eighth-ranked State “on his very first try (January 24, 1953).”
Meanwhile, Duke, after almost making Red Auerbach its coach, brought on Hal Bradley and then, in 1959 former Case assistant Vic Bubas, who immediately lured Art Heyman away from UNC and McGuire. Heyman became the centerpiece of Duke’s challenge to UNC.
Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams built their competitive programs on the foundations created in response to what Case did at State.
In promoting Blythe’s book, its publisher wrote, “The basketball rivalry between Duke and North Carolina is the fiercest blood feud in college athletics. To legions of otherwise reasonable adults, it is a conflict that surpasses sports; it is locals against outsiders, elitists against populists, even good against evil. It is thousands of grown men and women with jobs and families screaming themselves hoarse at eighteen-year-old basketball geniuses, trading conspiracy theories in online chat rooms, and weeping like babies when their teams -- when they -- lose.”
But, when the game is over, these legions of fans get up the next day, put aside their tribalism, and work beside, live with, and sometimes fall in love with fans of the other side.
Maybe there is a lesson there for those of us on opposite sides of the political divide.
D.G. Martin hosts "North Carolina Bookwatch," which airs Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. Thursday’s guest will be William Chafe, author of “Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal. The normal Sunday noon airing is preempted for Festival’s special fundraising programming. Preview the upcoming program on UNC-MX digital channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4) on Fridays at 9 p.m. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch.