To me, North Carolina-Duke will forever remain the greatest sports rivalry on earth—amateur and professional sports included—no if’s, and’s, or but’s attached.
Now, I know and understand one could arguably make a legitimate case for a handful of rivalries across the sports spectrum: FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees, Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal, Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics, Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines.
However, there is something about the two teams clad in different shades of blue that puts this clash above the rest.
The two programs have competed against one another for 90 years, since Jan. 24, 1920. North Carolina leads the all-time series 130-98, but Duke surely has its fair share of significant wins. The Blue Devils dominated the first half of the 2000s until the Tar Heels came back in the latter.
The tug-and-pull of their history just goes to show a decade contains enough tempestuous, memorable moments to appear like an epic.
Two schools—one public, the other private—separated by an eight-mile road with entirely different locales on each side. Duke’s smaller, enclosed, mainly Gothic-style campus evokes Old Europe as opposed to North Carolina’s larger, open, traditionally simpler Southern architecture.
The two schools portray distinctly different images, and the contrasting descriptions offer a dueling narrative—locals vs. outsiders, populists vs. elitists.
As the nation’s first public university, North Carolina presents itself school of the people, especially those of the state, as expressed by famous alumnus Charles Kuralt. Duke carries itself in the mold of the Ivy Leagues, which has led some, especially fans of North Carolina, to equate the school with elitism.
Duke will not hesitate to argue that the Blue Devils have been the more successful program since the arrival of their beloved Coach K. They boast of more wins, more ACC regular-season and tournament titles, more final No. 1 rankings, more consensus first-team All-Americans and NBA lottery picks. Plus, the Blue Devils can say that their team has won more games, 291, than any other in a 10-year span.
Duke revels in the fact they play in Cameron Indoor, where the students enjoy the prime seats. They belittle North Carolina’s mascot—is it a foot or a ram? Even the school’s colors are the object of scorn, described as too childish or feminine. By the way, we can read, they say.
Not to be outdone, North Carolina has some choice words for the “University of New Jersey,” Dook’s preferred name in Tar Heel circles. UNC states that their recruits join a program with a legitimate shot at an NBA career while at Duke, players seem to enjoy sporting a suit and joining their coach on the bench. We have two national titles in five years, three Final Four appearances, and four straight wins at your high school gymnasium despite the unoriginal antics of the Cameron Crazies, who are a bunch of insufferable snobs, full of faux mojo and deranged from having suffered too much time in their tent city, also known as K-ville.
On the other hand, Tar Heels profess having class and a dose of proper Southern chivalry. Oh, and Carolina girls are, well, best in the world (and hot, period).
Both schools delight in not only defeating the other but when their archrival loses to a third party. The unofficial philosophy is to be your school’s best fan then the fan of whoever is playing Duke or North Carolina.
Clearly, North Carolina vs. Duke encompasses so much more than simply sports. North Carolina-Duke is an eternal feud that requires choosing a team in life for life. It is ultimately a way of life, forever mired in blue blood and hate that constantly yields happiness.