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On Duke

This is a revised version of a post I wrote last year on the precursor to Carolina March. Recycling is good. It makes Al Gore happy.

Unlike a lot of UNC fans, I don't have a Road to Damascus story about the Blue Devils. I was always a Tar Heel, but I grew up a Carolina fan in Raleigh, where you fought out your collegial allegiances with your milk choice in the school lunchroom - Pine State's regular milk was Wolfpack red and their skim milk a heavenly Carolina Blue. (Chocolate milk was a mighty theological debate around the first grade minds of Lacy Elementary.) Duke was the third leg of the triumverate, but their colors weren't brown, and besides, who was a fan of a team that never won a championship?

Duke hatred just kind of seeped in. My family moved from Raleigh to more neutral environs of the state, some schmuck turned around the program in Durham, and more and more navy-logoed sweatshirts began cropping up. You'd meet the occasional kid who planned on attending Duke, and just overlooked it as a personality flaw - a gaucheness you didn't mention in polite company. Come application season, you'd even toss off the college application for the place; it was good practice for the real application essays that loomed ahead, and there was joy in feeding their acceptance letter to the dog. But even that was more going through the motions than a genuine hatred.

Outsiders in the media try to frame Duke hatred as a jealousy of success, or a class struggle sort of thing. And maybe it is to those folks whose Duke vitrol is a Vitale response. But if you matriculated in Chapel Hill, those reasons are alien to you. Success? A popular T-shirt in the mid-90's carried the slogan "First one to three championships win." It was about time that coach down the road stopped whining to the refs and made a rivalry about of the damn thing. Class? The only people in the city limits who felt they failed in their college choices were in buses chartered by the Duke fraternity system, stumbling down Franklin Street enjoying a rare glimpse at a social scene. No, Tar Heels hate Duke only after their capacity for pity has been exhausted. After reading one too many articles canonizing that funny little Gothic place that sold its soul for cigarette money a hundred years ago. After that last floor slap, that last New Jersey accent asking whether grits can be singular, that last conversation with someone who thinks their T-shirt makes them special. That's when the hatred starts. That's when we experience the sweet-tasting schadenfreude. And that's when we pick up the missionary zeal that drives us out into the world, to say "No, that extra thirty thousand a year doesn't make you special," and "No, in the real world you actually have to do something worthy to achieve merit," and most importantly, "No, put aside the petty grudges and small complaints, and know that this is what it really means to hate Duke."

So if you're watching the game from outside the Carolina perspective, just know the announcers are lying to you. Not intentionally, they just lie out of ignorance. They map it onto rivalries they do understand, like the Yankees-Red Sox or the various clashes in SEC football. But it doesn't work like that. There's a different feel to it, that can't be described any more than a fish can describe water. These are universities that were trying to eradicate one another since before the sports they compete in were invented. It's not here to be marketed, it's not here as a spectacle, it's something to live and die for in three-hour blocks, bracketed by a Southern politeness filling the spaces in-between. It's Carolina beating Duke, and there are few moments sweeter.