Once upon a time, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke were not rivals. Fans did not hate each other, students did not camp outside for weeks just to get tickets, and people’s psychological well-being did not hang in the balance of 40 minutes of basketball. Now, nearly 100 years after the very first meeting of these two teams (UNC won by eleven,) the rivalry is the best in the NCAA.
This leads to the question, which team is better? The answer is obviously the UNC Tar Heels. Not only do the Heels have more National Championships (7-5), more Final Four visits (20-16) and more ACC Regular Season titles (30-19), but they also lead the all-time series 136-110. And oh yeah, the Heels won the most recent meeting between the two teams 82-78. After being down four at the half, UNC dominated the last 20 mintues commiting only two turnovers and grabbing nearly 70 percent of total offensive rebounds. Senior Theo Pinson closed out the game by dunking the ball in front of the electric student section which led one of the best crowds the Smith Center has ever seen.
Duke also has a long history of recruiting aggressive players. Walk into Kentucky’s Rupp arena on any given night, and you’ll find numerous fans wearing “I still hate Laettner” t-shirts. Who doesn’t love making fun of Grayson Allen’s joke-of-a-suspension after tripping three different players. And let’s not forget the time Gerald Henderson broke Tyler Hansbrough’s nose.
Speaking of Henderson, he and Hansbrough now run a podcast called the Tobacco Road Pod in which they discuss all things Carolina and Duke. The very first episode is called “The Incident” where the two explain their own side of that bloody moment. Henderson does his best to defend his actions but ends up inadvertently admitting to punching Hansbrough on purpose.
“If you look at the replay, my eyes are closed,” said Henderson during the podcast. “I just wildly took a swipe down… it wasn’t my intent to hit your face but I was hitting anything that came in that direction.”
Since when do you get to punch someone and then claim that it wasn’t your fault because their face got in the way of your fist? Even the coaching legend Coach K refuses to discipline Henderson, claiming that the game was already over and that Hansbrough shouldn’t have been playing.
Unlike the usual tactics of Duke staff, Carolina is creating a family atmosphere that even toddlers can enjoy. Ian Williams, author of the iconic “Why I Hate Dook” column that runs in the Daily Tar Heel, illustrates that point through his daughter.
“When [Hansbrough] would shoot foul shots, and the TV would show that he was sweating, [my daughter] would take one of her little tissues and wipe his face on the TV screen,” said Williams in an interview via email.
You don’t see too many three-year-olds running around in a Henderson jersey pretending to punch people so that they can feel closer to their idol.
Despite their intense history, Henderson and Hansbrough seem to have a genuine respect for one another, or at least a respect for each other’s accomplishments. After all, their days of playing college basketball are over.
Isabel Simmons, CHS sophomore, is a self-confessed fan of the Tobacco Road podcast.
“I think that it promotes a sense of unity, [because] it shows that even two people involved in one of the most contentious events in the UNC vs. Duke rivalry can come together. And if that can happen, then it really gives me hope for the rest of the world,” Simmons said.
One of the greatest games of the rivalry came on March 2, 1974 in Carmichael arena. The Heels trailed the Blue Devils by eight with seventeen seconds remaining, making it a four possession game as this was before the three point line. At this point, most coaches would have given up, but not Dean Smith. It started with Bobby Jones sinking a pair of free throws, followed by two Duke turnovers resulting in Carolina baskets.
After Duke missed the front end of a one-and-one, the Heels managed to get the ball to Walter Davis who sunk an NBA-range three at the buzzer to send the game to overtime, where the Heels won by four. Moments like these are only produced by a rivalry as great as theirs.
Throughout the long history of the Tobacco Road Rivalry there have only been two things that both teams can agree on: NC State sucks, and people who say they “don’t care” about basketball are crazy. As long as the game continues, the Battle of the Blues will too. Students will build bonfires, fans will sit in their lucky seat, and friends will become enemies for one night of basketball glory. No matter what happens on the court, the rivalry will always be among the most intense in all of sports.