Duke Versus UNC – Life or Death?
By Ruth Leopold
When my husband and I moved to North Carolina from the wilds of New Jersey, we had no idea that a war was being waged here. One army favored sky blue for its uniforms while the other favored navy. I refer, of course, to the rivalry between the UNC Rams and the Duke Blue Devils.
Exactly one day after we moved, a neighbor appeared and wanted to know who we would root for. When we replied, “We don’t care,” he looked at us with horror. “You have to choose!” he declared; “You have to pick!” We realized he was serious, but attributed his vehemence to eccentricity.
It soon became apparent that thousands and thousands of folks in North Carolina shared this eccentricity. Yards of newspaper columns analyzed the rival players in minute detail, making predictions about who would triumph, and then the writers analyzed the reasons for the failure of those predictions. Cars sprouted flags in team colors and processed to stadiums hours before the start of the games. Bars filled with fans waving team flags, screaming at the top of their lungs for the entire length of the games.
We got to witness the madness first hand when we were invited to attend a basketball game at Cameron stadium. (Spoiler: my brother is on the faculty at Duke.) Every seat was filled; every inch of Cameron was packed. The students, most of whom had faces painted deep blue and white, were standing in their bleacher section and jumping up and down. They chanted and gestured in perfect unison. There were jeers like, “Air ball!” when an opposing missed the basket and backboard, or “We beg to differ!” when the referee made a judgment against Duke. Their precision would be the envy of any choreographer or choir director. We emerged from Cameron with the conviction that the students were certifiably crazy and that we would never regain our hearing again.
We.ve now lived through almost two decades of Duke-UNC wars. We find that the rivalry between fans is just as intense at Carolina Meadows as it is in other parts of the Triangle. I remain a neutral party. My husband, however, tapes all the televised Duke Basketball games. It seems as though he has become a regular “Dukee”. But what a fickle fan! He only watches the games he taped if he knows Duke has won.