UNC-Duke: The Rivalry Continues

March 5th, 2009

On Sunday, two arch-rivals will play each other in their final regular season game. Both teams will be ranked in the Top 10, with nothing less than a possible #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament at stake. It promises not only to be a great game, but also to boast the single highest television ratings of the college basketball season.

Just another day in the UNC-Duke rivalry.

Year in and year out, message boards and talking heads debate endlessly over which rivalry in college sports tops them all. Every year, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils seemingly put an end to that debate, if only for a moment.

What makes it such a great rivalry? To start, you have two of the winningest programs in history. Only Kentucky (1,966 wins) has more victories than North Carolina (1,950), while Duke is right there with the fourth most victories ever (1,846), behind Kansas (1,943). The two programs have a combined 31 Final Fours and 7 national titles, behind only UCLA. Both current coaches are in the Hall of Fame, and each program has consistently produced great NBA players - some of the greatest in basketball history. There are thrilling, nail-biting games between the two that seems to happen every year. But there's one other reason that this rivalry towers above all others.

These guys really hate each other.

Who could forget Coach Dean Smith, responding to Cameron Crazies holding up signs proclaiming "J.R. can't Reid", by announcing the less-than stellar SAT scores of a couple of Duke players - something that was not thought to be public information.

My personal favorite moment came in 1984, when Coach Smith tried to sound the horn himself after not being allowed to make a substitution by the refs. Only he pushed the wrong button, giving North Carolina an extra twenty points on the scoreboard. Smith never received a technical for his new scoring strategy, and UNC went on to win - which led Coach K to make his infamous "double standard" remark after the game.

Over the years, Duke and Carolina fans would go at each other over everything from beer ads, the cleverness (or lack thereof) of the Cameron Crazies, Sam Cassell's "wine and cheese crowd" comment, academics, partying and everything in between.

And then there are the games themselves.

In 1974 North Carolina stunningly came back from eight points down with 17 seconds on the clock and eventually won the game in overtime, widely considered the greatest comeback in history. There were the classic battles of 1984, Michael Jordan's last season in Chapel Hill, where UNC won in double overtime at the end of the regular season to go undefeated in ACC play, only to be toppled by Duke in thrilling fashion in the ACC Tournament a week later.

There was the ultimate "throw-out-the-record books" game in 1995, when a Coach K-less Duke team (who was out due to back surgery) that was 0-7 in the ACC took the second-ranked Tar Heels to double-overtime in a 102-100 thriller. Ten years later, the two would split their regular season games by a combined three points, with both contests decided on the last play of the game.

There was a bloody Eric Montross carrying his team to victory in 1992. An even bloodier Tyler Hansbrough needing to be held back from charging Gerald Henderson two years ago, after Henderson broke his nose with less than 15 seconds on the clock and the Tar Heels up by double digits. The list goes on.

So, if history is any indication, Sunday's matchup will be yet another chapter in that storied rivalry.

Amazingly, as great as this rivalry is, the two schools have never once met in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, they haven't played each other in the ACC tourney since 2003, a game won by the Blue Devils 75-63. Just as a college basketball fan, here's hoping both of those streaks end this year.