First things first, the most important issue of the day: Yes, we can all agree that the redecorated Victory Bell, with its bifurcated color scheme and logos and decals, looks as tacky as something you’d only find at a cart in the concourse of a mall. All it’s missing is the “house divided” front license-plate frame.
Thank goodness North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham reversed course Wednesday afternoon and agreed to let the bell be painted by Thursday night’s victor.
We should all also be able to agree that something had to be done after North Carolina went wild with the spray paint at Wallace Wade Stadium two years ago, painting not only the bell but Duke’s practice field and the visiting locker-room complex. Quibble if you like with the magnitude of the $27,000 bill Duke sent for repairs, but there’s no question the Tar Heels’ celebration got out of hand and crossed whatever line there is for that kind of thing.
Cunningham’s unilateral decision to abandon the tradition of spray-painting the bell in the winning team’s colors may not have made sense to fans or players, but they didn’t have to write Duke a personal check two years ago like Cunningham and Larry Fedora did.
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Fortunately, Cunningham announced Wednesday afternoon on Twitter he would allow the unique and gratifying painting of the bell on the field to resume, presumably on a calmer scale. Its new colors guarantee a paint job Thursday night, one way or the other.
Still, the tenor of North Carolina’s celebration two years ago underlines how this rivalry has been reborn since Duke returned to football relevance under David Cutcliffe. Since Duke won the bell for only the second time in 21 years in 2012, it has been an even two-two split, with the Tar Heels winning the past two. One of the teams has been in the top 25 in three of those games, and each has won a Coastal Division title over that span (and North Carolina would have in 2012, despite the Duke loss, had it not been banned from the postseason).
The stakes have been a little higher lately, and that’s only good news for a rivalry that is clearly a bigger deal in other sports – basketball topping the list, obviously – but has gained tremendous momentum in football. In an era when Triangle football isn’t really nationally relevant, last year’s Tar Heels being a notable exception, strong rivalries add much-needed spice to otherwise monotonous football seasons. N.C. State and North Carolina have done their share for a while now, and the Blue Devils and Tar Heels are fully engaged as well.
This time around, the stakes are no less high. The Tar Heels need to win out – against Duke, the Citadel and N.C. State – and hope Virginia Tech loses somewhere along the line to repeat as Coastal champions. At 3-6, Duke is still fighting for bowl eligibility, trying to extend that four-year streak to five, although the Blue Devils almost certainly only need two wins to get there, since their academic-progress ranking would put them at the top of the list of 5-7 teams to fill open slots under the NCAA’s new procedure. But even getting to five wins could be tough, with Thursday followed by two more difficult games at Pittsburgh and Miami.
So Thursday’s winner is going to be very happy and the loser is going to have to readjust its worldview, and that’s how it should be, no matter what the bell looks like.
Paint or no paint, the thing still rings. Someone’s going to be ringing the bell and wheeling it around the field late Thursday night in Durham, and at that point, they shouldn’t care about anything but the sound of victory ringing in their ears.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock
UNC at Duke
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham