Today there are two sports rivalries in America that, according to history and hype, stand high above the rest. They are Duke-North Carolina in college basketball, and the Yankees-Red Sox in professional baseball. To take this a step further, one of these two incredible rivalries clearly tops the other.
As a Duke senior from New Jersey, I have intimately experienced both rivalries, and it is clear which matchup generates sports euphoria better than any other.
With all due respect to Boston and New York, tonight's contest between the Blue Devils and Tar Heels will showcase what has become the No. 1 rivalry in sports. Here's why:
The Dean Dome and Cameron Indoor are eight miles apart. Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium? Try 205 miles apart.
Distance is important because it fundamentally affects the interaction between opposing fans and even opposing players. When senior Sean Dockery goes to the grocery store, he is approached equally by haters (Carolina fans) and lovers (Duke supporters). When the average Duke fan heads into work in the triangle area, the chances are that the guy sitting to the left shares his preference and the girl one cubicle to the right hates Duke's guts.
2) No David vs. Goliath factor.
The Yankees and the Red Sox, while undoubtedly true rivals, do not satisfy the definition of rivals nearly as well as Duke and UNC. Since 1919, the Yankees have won 26 World Series rings. In 2004, the Red Sox won it all for the first time in 86 years. I hate to break it to those fans, but it is not a rivalry when one team is so much better so consistently.
Duke and North Carolina, on the other hand, have achieved eerily similar success. UNC has four national championships. Duke has three. UNC has 88 NCAA Tournament victories. Duke has 86. UNC's former coach, the great Dean Smith, is first on the all-time wins list with 879 victories. Duke's current coach, Mike Krzyzewski, is at 742 and counting.
"To have two storied programs this close, there are more similarities with the two programs than dissimilarities," Krzyzewski said. "Trademarks have been good kids, playing hard together, playing good defense, and doing it clean but hard, and understanding their places within their universities.... It's been an honor for me to be a part of it for this time."
Do you really think Joe Torre would speak so deeply about the Yanks and Sox?
3) These college guys don't get paid and don't talk trash through the media.
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Coach K had something to say about this one too.
"[It's about] the purity of collegiate sport compared to pro, not that there is anything wrong with pro sport," Krzyzewski said. "But [our] guys aren't making $25 million or $13 million or whatever."
If you think the absence/presence of money has no weight on the quality of the rivalries, then you're nuts. These college guys are playing their hearts out for their institutions, for their fans, and for their teammates.
On the other hand, Yankees like A-Rod and Red Sox like Manny Ramirez seem to play for themselves and their wallets. In order to create storylines, players need to talk smack with cameras in front of their faces.
And then there is Johnny Damon, who thought so much of the rivalry that he switched from the Sox to the Yanks to make 13 million a year instead of 11 million. Have you seen anyone transfer from Duke to North Carolina recently? I don't think so.
4) Only two guaranteed matchups per season.
Duke and UNC play two or three times a year, so every time these teams square off, it's life or death. New York and Boston play 19 times per year-who cares about one game?
Plus, the Yankees-Red Sox would mean so much less without the postseason. Bucky Dent, Aaron Boone, David Ortiz, and Curt Schilling have made their mark on the rivalry primarily because of the playoffs.
Duke and UNC have never played in the NCAA Tournament. And even when the teams have met in the ACC Tourney, the games have been about Duke vs. North Carolina, the best rivalry in all of sports.