How Do You Define a Rivalry?

Wednesday, February 7th will mark the 222nd meeting between the Tar Heels of North Carolina and the Duke University Blue Devils. These two schools nine miles apart rank number two (UNC-2,003) and four (Duke-1,816) on the all-time victories list for NCAA Division I Men’s basketball. For the 122nd consecutive meeting at least one of these schools has ranked in the AP’s top twenty-five. Currently, UNC sits at number three, and the Blue Devils hold the number sixteen spot. This meeting will be the sixty-first time that both teams have earned a Top 25 spot.

These two schools have combined for seven national chan’ships, and one of them has appeared in the final four eighteen of the last twenty-five years. Duke (thirteen) and UNC (twelve) rank second and third with the number of alums playing in the NBA.

One game that stands out for me in this series happened in 1979. Facing a Blue Devil team that did not graduate any starters from its 1978 National Finalist squad (Jim Spanarkel, Mike Gminski, Gene Banks, Kenny Dennard, and Johnny Harrell), Dean Smith employed his famous four-corner offense. The result: a 7-0 halftime score and 47-40 final both in favor of Duke. Soon after the NCAA decided to use the shot clock.

A few years ago I had several of my former players in class. They loved to run a line of smack about the Tar Heel/ Blue Devil rivalry, and how UNC held the advantage in the number of former players in the NBA. On this day, the first meeting of the season, their gibes reached a fever pitch. Many wanted to know my prediction for the game that night. My response: “Class, your homework for tonight is this simple- a Duke victory equals a 100% homework grade.” A hush came over the group as I watched their minds work. Suddenly, a student called out: “I don’t know much about sports, and I have no idea what you are talking about, but I am cheering for Duke.” The Blue Devils beat the Tar Heels three times that year. Needless to say the student grades improved a little during the third marking period.

Now let’s hear from you. What is your favorite rivalry in all of sports?

4 Responses to "How Do You Define a Rivalry?"

  1. Wally   February 6, 2007 at 6:54 pm

    Paul, my records show that UNC and Duke have combined for 8 NCAA titles, with UNC winning 5 of them (2005, 1993, 1982, 1974, 1957). Am I off, or have you erred? Or maybe a couple of those were in the “NIT era” when that was the championship tournament? I show Carolina and Indiana tied with 5 titles each, only Kentucky (7) and UCLA (11) have more.

    Anyway, to answer your question (a great thought-provoking question), my favorite rivalry is probably college football’s greatest cross-sectional rivalry started back in the 20’s: Notre Dame vs USC. Second on my list is Bears vs Packers … essentially the two teams that started pro football have been slugging it out twice a year since the 20’s. And I meant to say “slugging”. There’s something about football being a brutally physical game that makes a rivalry even more intense than it can be in other sports. Contributing to Chicago-Green Bay is the short geographical distance between the two franchises enabling fans of the two teams to travel to the road games (often at great risk). Third on my personal list is again football … this time Notre Dame vs Michigan. The fans of each school typically despise their counterparts, and again geography enhances the ill will.

    I also enjoy Yanks vs Red Sox, Cubs vs Cardinals, Ohio St vs Michigan, UNC vs Duke, Texas vs Tex A&M. Ali-Frazier was pretty good for 6-8 years.

  2. Casey   February 6, 2007 at 7:17 pm

    You are right about ’57(thanks for catching that mistake). Carolina St. won it in ’74- David Thompson.

  3. Wally   February 6, 2007 at 7:45 pm

    Ah … good catch by you, too. So UNC has 4 titles and NC State has 2? Thanks.

  4. Aaron   February 6, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    What makes a good rivalry? For starters to games have to be magical.. Impossible endings, heartbreaking loses… And the fans.. well they have to be loyal and rabid..

    So when the Yankees win.. even if they beat the Devil Rays in April, Red Sox fans groan in disgust. When fans cheer in Game 6 of a World Series that their favorite team ISN’T in, but because the Yankees are being beat.. That is a rivalry.

    That people who are friends 363 days out of the year.. But the two times that Duke and Carolina play – they don’t even talk to each other.. That is a rivalry..

    That relationships have been ended because families can’t take the fact that your girlfriend/boyfriend roots for Michigan.. No way in an Ohio State household.. That is a rivalry..

    That friendships are lost because you decide to go to UCLA instead of USC.. That is a rivalry…

    That even when a QB finally gets his due and wins a Super Bowl.. No less knocks your Pats out of the playoffs…because of Pats mistakes of course.. That is a rivalry.

    That two teams duke it out, to the point that you still can’t like Alonzo Mourning or Patrick this day..But Derrick Coleman was the greatest ever.. That is a rivalry.

    When you can’t like a coach because he coached the Giants..even when he has become the coach of your ex-favorite team the Cowboys.. That is a rivalry…

    I love rivalries.

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