Fowler

Fowler: No rivalry in any sport tops UNC-Duke

Staff WriterFebruary 8, 2012 

Watch Scott Fowler's video on the UNC-Duke rivalry at the bottom of this story.

The North Carolina-Duke college basketball rivalry is:

The best rivalry in all of sports. Yes, I said it. Better than Yankees-Red Sox or Ohio State-Michigan or Clemson-South Carolina or any other one you care to name.

The closest contender is Alabama-Auburn in college football, but even that doesn't quite get to the level of these gorgeous, brutal, frenzied, neighborly bloodbaths that occur two or three times every year.

These games are in our backyard, and sometimes we take them for granted because we get them like clockwork every February and March, but we shouldn't. We should celebrate them.

Great Duke moments. Chris Duhon's reverse layup. Jeff Capel's 35-footer to force another overtime. Christian Laettner's turnaround jumpers. Fred Lind's one great game. Elton Brand's bullishness. Bobby Hurley's emotional register. Coach Mike Krzyzewski's full-body hugs. Grant Hill's drives. J.J. Redick's 3-pointers.

Great North Carolina moments . Marvin Williams' old-fashioned three-point play in 2005. I was at the Smith Center covering that one, and it's never been as loud before or since. James Worthy's dunks. Antawn Jamison's quick release. Michael Jordan's tongue. Roy Williams' crouch. Walter Davis' jumpers. Bobby Jones' steal.

Bloody. Several of the most notable of the teams' 232 meetings have featured it, including Eric Montross bleeding from the head in 1992 and Gerald Henderson breaking Tyler Hansbrough's nose in 2007.

Eight points in 17 seconds. Given there was no 3-point shot at the time, that 1974 game the Tar Heels won after being down eight with 17 seconds to go remains the best comeback of this series.

The Cameron Crazies. They invented the chant "Air-Ball!" to describe a couple of errant North Carolina shots on that weird, pre-shot-clock day in 1979 when Duke led by a touchdown - 7-0 - at halftime.

Amazingly consistent. The last time neither team was ranked nationally entering this game was 1955. Usually, as in tonight's game, both are.

Either North Carolina or Duke has made the Final Four 22 times in the past 31 seasons. That's ridiculously good.

The Larry Brown-Art Heyman fight 50 years ago. It ramped up the series forever.

Geographic perfection. That the schools are 8 miles apart as the crow flies - or 11 miles apart if you take N.C. 15-501 from Durham to Chapel Hill - leads to fans bumping into each other constantly.

I once went into a restaurant where they divided the seating into Duke and North Carolina fans during rivalry weeks. Coach K and Dean Smith used to send their daughters to the same piano teacher.

The players often play pick-up games against each other in the summer. They sometimes get their hair cut at the same barbershops.

Hall of Fame coaches occasionally sniping. Coach K said early in his career that there was a "double standard" in the ACC - one for North Carolina and one for the rest of the league.

Smith once compared the combined SAT scores of Danny Ferry and Laettner to the combined scores of J.R. Reid and Scott Williams (since the comparison was favorable to his players).

Missing one thing. What is it? A matchup in the NCAA tournament - the schools have never had one. I'd love to see them play in the Final Four, preferably in an NCAA final. Wouldn't that be something?

Then again, our state might spontaneously combust.

Fowler: 704-358-5140; sfowler@charlotteobserver.com

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