For nearly 70 years the Victory Bell has been a part of the North Carolina-Duke football rivalry, a symbol of triumph that has been around longer than the ACC has existed.
For a while now, as long as many can remember, the bell’s platform has worn the colors of the rivalry’s most recently victorious school. Which means that since Nov. 20, 2014, Carolina blue has surrounded the bell. Until now.
The Tar Heels play at Duke on Thursday night and, as is the tradition during UNC-Duke week, a student manager wheeled the Victory Bell out onto the edge of the practice fields, where it sat on Monday with a noticeably different look. No longer was the bell adorned in light blue.
It had received a new paint job: half Carolina blue and half Duke blue, with both teams’ logos on the respective side of their shade. Larry Fedora, the UNC coach, claimed ignorance about the bell’s makeover.
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“It was new to me,” he said. “I hadn’t seen it yet, I just heard about it from a player.”
Later, UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham confirmed in a text message that this is simply the new, and indefinite, look for the Victory Bell, which has been in existence since 1948. Cunningham and Kevin White, the Duke athletic director, mutually agreed to a Victory Bell with equal representation for both schools.
It’s unclear when the tradition of painting the bell’s platform began but that – the postgame paint job – had become the norm in recent years after the bell changed sides. Duke painted it a darker shade of blue in 2012, after snapping a long streak of futility against UNC. And UNC painted it back two years later.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Victory Bell’s transformation comes two years after the Tar Heels reclaimed it amid a wild celebration after a Thursday night victory in Durham in 2014. When the game ended, UNC players jubilantly rang the bell while they spray painted it Carolina blue.
The celebration continued in the visitor’s locker room, which at Duke is on the other end of a practice field that borders Wallace Wade Stadium. Not long after the game Duke sent UNC a bill for $27,170.44 to cover repairs related to spray paint damage on that practice field, in the visitor’s locker room and parts elsewhere.
About $22,000 of that covered the cost of a new carpet in the locker room. Another $4,500 went to repaint the walls of the practice facility and stadium where someone had spray painted “U-N-C.” At the time, Cunningham bristled at charges that he found excessive.
Eventually, Cunningham and Fedora wrote personal checks – $13,585.22 each – to cover the damages. Fedora said on Monday that he didn’t plan to discuss with his players what happened at Duke the last time the Tar Heels played there. But, he said, “We won’t do any painting.”