Duke, UNC, and hate: Seeing is believing

CorrespondentFebruary 16, 2013 

Mike Krzyzewski has been to 75 Duke-North Carolina games. Roy Williams has witnessed the battle of the blues approximately 50 times as a student, assistant coach and head coach.

Duke radio broadcaster Bob Harris has seen it 93 times. Dick Vitale believes that he has attended every Duke-Carolina game ever telecast by ESPN, which puts him at about 60. Former UNC media relations director Rick Brewer has actually witnessed 118 of the 235 games played.

Truth be told, one of the reasons I wanted to write this column is so that I could see it for the 31st time since my induction to the club back in 1982. Thinking back over all those years, all those games, started me reminiscing.

Part of me wishes I could start over. What would it be like to experience the Duke-Carolina rivalry in person for the first time?

‘Screaming in his ears’

Before Wednesday night, Joel James had been to zero Duke-Carolina games. Heck, UNC’s freshman center had only seen one in his life. One. He watched last year’s ACC regular season finale at Cameron Indoor Stadium on television from his home in West Palm Beach, Fla. James didn’t even start playing high school basketball until his sophomore season and rarely watched the sport as a kid. “Growing up I had no connection to the Duke-Carolina game,” James said Tuesday. “It never really kicked in until I signed with UNC my senior year. I didn’t even know the rivalry existed.”

What James remembers most about the one Duke-Carolina game he did see is watching Harrison Barnes inbound the ball on the sideline in front of the Duke student section. “The crowd is within inches of touching him and I can only imagine what they’re screaming in his ears,” James recalled. “I had never seen anything like that before and it was amazing to me.”

Since his arrival in Chapel Hill, James has endured a crash course in the rivalry. “I’ve been told that it’s a simple division,” he said. “We’re North Carolina. You’re Duke. You don’t like me. I don’t like you. I don’t like your mother. I don’t like anyone from where you’re from. I immediately realized that this is what some people live for. This is what makes or breaks the entire year for some people.”

Some people, he said on Tuesday, but not James.

“This is all still very new to me,” James acknowledged on the eve of the game. “I think there are people around UNC who get upset with me because I don’t hate Duke yet. I don’t have that bad taste yet.”

James learned Tuesday that he would have to sit out the Duke game with a concussion, thus turning him into a very interested spectator.

“One of my teammates told me that Cameron feels like a microwave,” James said. “It’s like you’re on this little plate and all around you are bright lights and heat. I’m looking forward to feeling that. I’ll just try to enjoy the festivities.”

‘Greatest rivalry in sports’

Before Wednesday night, Rodney Hood had been to zero Duke-Carolina games. But Hood, who transferred to Duke last summer, knows the rivalry well. He says that he initially discovered it back in 2001 when he watched the game on television in his hometown of Meridian, Miss. He distinctly remembers watching Duke’s Shane Battier chase UNC’s Joe Forte down the floor on a breakaway, block Forte’s shot from behind, recover it and then outlet a pass to Jason Williams for a 3-point shot. Hood fell in love with Duke’s playing style that night and has watched every Duke-Carolina game since, always rooting hard for the Blue Devils.

“The more I watched it, the more I was sure it is the greatest rivalry in sports,” Hood said. “To me, they were the biggest games of the year. I just loved the history of it, the tradition, two of the top five programs ever in college basketball history meeting up and they’re right down the street from each other.”

Though Hood grew up in college football country, an hour away from Tuscaloosa, Ala., and three hours from Baton Rouge, La., Hood’s mother and father both played basketball for Mississippi State. When he wasn’t offered a scholarship by Duke coming out of high school, Hood chose to follow his parents’ path to Starkville, where he played for one season. Hood then transferred to Duke, where he is practicing with the Blue Devils but is unable to play this season because of NCAA rules. Like James, leading up to Wednesday’s game, Hood found himself engulfed in chatter about the rivalry game.

“My teammates told me the gym is literally going to be shaking,” Hood said Tuesday. “They told me that every game that you’ve seen before, throw them all out the window because the Carolina game goes to another level, which I can’t imagine. After practice today, Coach said: ‘This is the reason you come to Duke, to play in games like this.’ Man, I can’t wait to watch it.”

‘A volcano about to erupt’

On Duke-Carolina gameday, Hood woke up to his fellow Duke students chanting “Go to Hell Carolina!” outside his bedroom window. He says that by 10 a.m. he was ready for the game to start. A few hours later he found himself inside Cameron, standing beneath the Duke basket as his teammates warmed up.

“I was thinking that I’d never experienced an atmosphere like this,” Hood said. “It felt like a volcano about to erupt. I had butterflies in my stomach even though I wasn’t playing.”

When Rasheed Sulaimon hit a resounding 3-point shot in the second half that gave Duke a four-point lead, the normally mild-mannered Hood suddenly jumped off the bench out onto the court, before catching himself.

“I looked into the crowd at that time and everybody was screaming until their faces were pure bright red,” Hood said. “You can’t help but feed off that. I couldn’t believe I ran out there. I’m just glad the refs didn’t see me.”

Hood talked about how at times during the game he found himself linking arms with his teammates or imploring the crowd to stand up, two things he had never done before.

“I went a little crazy and did some things which are out of my character, but I did it because I was so into the game,” Hood said. “I was sitting on the bench with my palms sweating the whole time. I just wanted to be out there for two seconds and feel what it’s like to play in this game. Just two seconds.”

‘Weird, wacky people’

James didn’t exactly enjoy the festivities.

“You could taste the tension on the bus ride over,” James said. “When you are entering the Duke parking lot, their fans are waiting out there and they greet you with their hate.”

An hour before the game, James entered the arena for the first time. Across the court from UNC’s bench, the Cameron Crazies were already packed sardine-full into the student section.

“They were extremely loud, extremely hyper, obnoxious, corny, just weird, wacky people,” James said. “They were in the stands basically all by themselves at that time and it already sounded like the Dean Dome filled to the brim. They are so close to the court, it’s like you can feel their heartbeat.”

James said he felt lucky to watch the game from one of the best seats in the house.

“I can honestly say that was the most fierce basketball game I’ve ever seen,” James said. “Both teams played like their lives literally depended on it. I felt like I burned a thousand calories just sitting on the bench, it was that intense. You know what? It only took one game and now I’ve got that bad taste in my mouth. I don’t like Duke.”

By the time James shook hands with Hood after their first Duke-Carolina game, two young men who had never previously met felt a distinct animosity toward each other.

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