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UNC vs Duke: There is no such thing as lower stakes

Oh hell no.

North Carolina v Duke Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Yesterday, my colleague, Alex Thompson, elected to write a piece titled “UNC basketball: The stakes against Duke are lower this time around.” Although Alex is by all accounts a fine human being, and presumably thinks of himself as a Tar Heel fan, I would like to take this opportunity to issue him a public reprimand on behalf of all that is good and holy in this world.

First of all, Alex repeatedly misspelled Dook (we really need a style book at THB, as this error is made repeatedly). Second, and more to the point, there is no such thing as a “lower stakes” basketball game between North Carolina and Dook. Alex’s delusional and/or drug-addled point, to the extent his grotesque denigration of the English language can be said to have a point, is that (1) there are lots of good teams packed tightly together; (2) Dook is, and I quote, “an arm’s length away from Carolina;” and (3) therefore losses to other teams like – snicker – Virginia would mean more because seedings and standings and yada yada something something.

No. Just no.

Let’s deal with this “arm’s length” business first. Alex would make an excellent candidate for a supporting role in a horror movie. He’s the guy that assumes that a couple of shots to the chest took care of the chainsaw killer. That’s not how this works at all. Dook is 2 ½ games back of the Tar Heels in the ACC standings. Two. And one half. That’s with UNC having two games remaining against Virginia, one versus Louisville and another tilt with Dook, to say nothing of road games at NCSU and Pitt.

Everything you need to know about dealing with Dook in this situation you should have learned from the Friday the 13th series. Once you shoot the serial killer, you should then decapitate him, electrocute the corpse, feed the body to sharks, and then kill the sharks just to be sure. This is our goal for Thursday.

Even if Dook were circling the drain with Pitt and BC, it wouldn’t matter. That’s the difference with a rivalry. The rules of a rivalry – a real rivalry, not an ESPN faux rivalry like the one it’s trying to pretend exists between Oregon and UCLA because that game happens to follow the Dook game on Thursday – dictate that winning the rivalry game is the most important thing, every single time. It needs no further accoutrements.

ACC standings? Pfft. Tournament seeding? C’mon. Neither of those things is as important as winning the first game against Dook, because winning the first game means that you have a chance to beat them again for a sweep, which is far more important than ACC seeding, because really, who even knows what your seeding was in the ACC tournament 43 seconds after the tournament is over? No.

If Dook beats the Tar Heels on Thursday night, your reaction should not under any circumstances be that the game wasn’t that important. It should be that you have serious conversations with friends and loved ones about whether you are capable of moving on with your life after the events of the prior evening, after which you should steel yourself for a positively unbearable day of absorbing abuse from Dook people, which can mitigated only by reviewing your catalog of all of the reasons you hate Dook.

I daresay I am an authority on this matter. You see – and this is hard for me to talk about – I live a life that is chock full of Dook people. Friends. Coworkers. People in my fantasy football league. Family. They’re everywhere. What’s worse, I like them (well, most of them). This was not on purpose.

The thing is, I may or may not actually be married to a Dook person. And that’s not the worst of it. The dating relationship that may or may not have have led to a situation like this occurred during a period of four years in which Dook’s results in basketball were: Final 4, finalist, NCAA champion, NCAA champion.

The person who was the roommate of the person I may or may not have married was a lifelong Dook fan who was fond of wearing a 1988 “Triple Crown” T-shirt (commemorating the fact that Dook beat UNC three times in 1988), and shouting “TRIPLE CROWN! TRIPLE CROWN!” every time Dook beat the Tar Heels during those four PTSD-inducing years, which was too often.

This of course was the beginning of an arms race, which culminated in my lamination of multiple copies of the Daily Tar Heel after the 1992 “Bloody Montross” game and using them to wallpaper her room. Snippets of the accompanying articles were left around her room in books, drawers and other places to ensure there would be reminders for weeks.

Those years ended, but the relationships that were built then didn’t. Which means that between the people I got to know back then and others I’ve met over the many years since, no UNC loss in the rivalry has occurred since that did not result in my email, and later, texts, being lit up like a Dook defense in Cameron facing a Stackhouse/Wallace team (Sheed is undefeated in Cameron). It never stops. Just this week, I arrived at my office to find it “decorated” like this:

Welcome to Hell

I maintain that the Laettner photograph is an act of violence, and I reported it as such to HR. In any event, that’s how things are. And with a really good rivalry, that’s how things are supposed to be. I once retained a voicemail from a taunting Dook fan for over two years, because he had called to let me know that he was watching FSU pound the Tar Heels, and wanted me to know in particular that he was calling with 9:21 left, he was so enjoying the moment and so sure our humiliation was inevitable.

UNC promptly rallied from 21 down to win, and at least 441 times thereafter, I called his phone for the sole purpose of playing that message back at his answering machine. One of my major regrets in life is not having a recorder going when Krzyzewski broke down in tears after losing to Cal in the 2nd round of the 1993 NCAA tournament so that I could have periodically left that one on his machine, too (millennials: ask your parents about answering machines).

Is this petty and juvenile? Sure. Should it be beneath mature adults with real lives, families, careers, and other adult responsibilities? Probably. But count yourself lucky if you’ve gotten to spend cherished parts of your life in the give and take of it, because it means you’ve experienced among the truest, deepest and best rivalries in sports, and that you understand that it means everything, every time.