The Best of the Worst of Duke-UNC

The days surrounding the first Duke-Carolina basketball game are always the strangest time of the sports year for me.

Before turning 18, I was a rabid Duke fan. So rabid I took a copy of The Kinston Free Press sports page to school on Feb. 4, 1993 and use it to taunt my Tar Heel fan friends. So rabid that, during my most recent move, I finally purged a Duke 1991/92 national championship hat with signatures from Bobby Hurley (!), Thomas Hill and Antonio Lang. So rabid that a Cherokee Parks jersey survived that purge and still hangs in my closet.

But I left all that behind when I went to college at NC State. Rather than support a college I didn’t attend, I discarded childish things (like triumphant fandom) in favor of more grownup fare (grimly low expectations). The old feelings still stirred occasionally, most notably during Duke’s 2001 national title run. But in 2010, I could barely rouse any feelings as Brian Zoubek wrecked charming Butler. The rare re-emergence of the old Duke feelings usually occurs around the first Heels-Devils matchup of the year.

Now, I’m part of the mass of sports fans with no real link to Duke-Carolina, THE GREATEST RIVALRY IN ALL OF SPORTS. While not actively hostile to the game or its surrounding hype, I do find it all a little tiresome. So, while the rest of the sporting world previews its brains out, we offer those on the outside looking into this rivalry a list of the Best Moments in Duke-UNC History For People Who Hate Duke and UNC.

The Blood of the Rams

Ask Jeremy for his preferred Duke-UNC outcome, and he’ll tell you he hopes the earth opens up, sucks both teams into hell’s fieriest pits and belches up the soul of Shavlik Randolph. That hasn’t happened yet, but there have been a couple of noteworthy instances of Duke-Carolina bloodshed.

In 1992, Christian Laettner bloodied the craggy skull of artless Tar Heel behemoth Eric Montross. Montross was one of the great villains of my youth; seeing his precious blood spilled was ecstasy. That 12-year-old Jimmy’s idol, Laettner, was responsible, only heightened the effect.

For most Tar Heel haters, though, true nirvana didn’t appear for 15 more years. In 2007, Duke’s Gerald Henderson reshaped doe-eyed scrapper Tyler Hansbrough’s nose. Aesthetically, this is probably the superior mauling: the Montross injury is hard to see, but there’s no missing Henderson’s mighty blow. And Psycho-T really bled like a stuck pig. Maybe Hemo-T would be more appropriate?

The Doherty Stall

"Stop!" Matt Doherty said every time one of his players touched the ball on March 7, 2002.

For many ambivalent basketball fans, the mountain of surrounding hype makes Duke-UNC hard to enjoy. For a brief, shining moment in 2002, UNC coach Matt Doherty’s on-court strategy made it actively unwatchable.

Surely you remember the 2001-2002 Tar Heels. Their 8-20 disaster was perhaps the greatest gift of all for ABC (Anybody But Carolina) fans. After losing two regular-season games to Duke by a combined 54 points, Doherty faced an ACC Tournament rematch with his best defense: a mind-numbing offense. UNC stalled on every possession, taking only 29 shots for the game. The strategy, a 21st century take on Dean Smith’s old “Four Corners,” kept Carolina close. The Heels trailed 28-22 at halftime before losing 60-48.

It was a sound strategy but contributed to perhaps the least watchable Duke-Carolina game since 1979. In that contest, Smith’s impatience to get into his victory formation (those same “Four Corners”) yielded a first-half shutout by the Devils. After leading 7-0 at halftime, Duke held on for a 47-40 win.

Prehysteric times

You remember the Feb. 25, 1955, Duke-Carolina matchup. Don’t you? You don’t recall the emotional E:60 interview with Tar Heel senior Tony Radovich about his struggles with urges? Or the Twitter war between Duke coach Harold Bradley and Carolina legend Frank McGuire? The pregame controversy over the besmirched virtue of a Tar Heel co-ed at the hands of (I can’t name a Duke player because Wikipedia doesn’t acknowledge the existence of pre-Bill Foster Duke coaches)?

Of course you don’t remember any of that. It hardly matters who won or how they played, but this game is still significant. It’s the last Duke-Carolina game in which neither team was ranked in the top 25. That was 57 58 years and 128 130 Duke-Carolina games ago.

2 Responses to The Best of the Worst of Duke-UNC

  1. The biggest game in sports isn’t the World Cup, the Super Bowl, the NBA Championships or the World Series. It’s UNC vs Duke- Nicholas Sparks

  2. Matt says:

    The fact that a former duke fan goes to state is no big deal, (in fact, most duke fans are not even bothered at state because of their shared hatred towards Carolina), since the duke and Carolina rivalry is so huge. Because at NC State there most hated rival is Carolina, so the transition is not noteworthy, the only difference being that you attend a public school and not a private school. That being said, I do applaud you on being able to relinquish your duke fan urges, that must have been difficult.

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