The Duke-North Carolina rivalry is in its own realm of competition. Just about any list of top sports foes will have the two schools in the top five—Bleacher Report once ranked it as the No. 1 American sports rivalry, beating all of the great professional rivalries like Yankees-Red Sox and Celtics-Lakers. The hate between the two schools is legendary, and when they share a court, field or any other playing space, things can tend to get ugly.
At Duke, some students spend up to six weeks in a tent for the chance to see the enemies face off on a basketball court. Students on both sides completely buy into all the hate, trash talk and passion that comes with attending either of the schools. The fire between the Blue Devils and Tar Heels is undeniably intense no matter the sport, or who staffs the competing teams. But that opens an intriguing question: Does one of the greatest rivalries in sports exist outside of sports?
After all, the two schools sit just eight miles apart and share many characteristics. Both are top-tier academic institutions and have deep-rooted North Carolina heritage—they even share blue as their primary school color, although the shade matters significantly. Before picking their affiliation, many students apply to both Duke and North Carolina in high school.
“I think it’s wholly dependent on where and how you meet them. Outside of basketball, I think that most of them, most of them, are really good people that are well worth talking to,” North Carolina freshman Jared Whittington said. “They’re interesting. They have really unique perspectives.”
“Honestly, outside of basketball, they’re good people, in my opinion,” Duke freshman Kevin Fan explained.
“I think they’re nice people,” Duke junior Jameson Burmeister said. “However, they all believe in the misconception that UNC is superior to Duke and I do not understand why.”
“I think they’re just like any other students,” North Carolina sophomore Lila Wilson said. “There are some that are kind of elitist, but it is a really hard school to get into, so I respect them … I think they do think they are better than us.”
“I have a lot of friends that go to Duke, so I have nothing against them outside of sports. I think they’re great,” North Carolina sophomore Elio Jooss said.
Many students, especially those who grew up in North Carolina, have friends in enemy territory. Those relationships can be complicated as they attempt to balance the fine line of loving each other and hating each other’s choice of school.
For seniors Justin Williams and Peter Deering, this has become a familiar situation. The two Charlotte, N.C., natives have been friends since middle school and while they journeyed together throughout high school, they split ways for college, with Williams ending up in Durham and Deering, along with two of their other friends, finding his way to Chapel Hill. As far as how they look at each other, there’s no bad blood:
“A lot of my best friends go to UNC,” Williams said. “No hard feelings towards UNC students as a whole.”
“I’m friends with Justin, so I think they’re more or less the same as us,” Deering said.
That’s not to say that there is not some fierce back-and-forth between the four of them.
“[It’s] very, very intense. To the point where there’s too much anxiety around the games,” Williams noted. “First out of fear of your team losing, the second [being] you just can’t get chirped like that by your friends because it’s heinous. You gotta dish out the chirps as hard as they’re coming in. It gets rowdy.”
“We definitely have our chirps here and there,” Deering explained. “Unfortunately, for the last couple years it’s been pretty one-sided. [We] usually try to keep it positive.”
When it comes to the center of the rivalry, kind words are hard to find. From everyday smack-talk to booing Duke fans off Franklin Street, Blue Devils and Tar Heels are far from friendly when basketball is involved.
“Not it. They’re just not it,” Fan said of North Carolina basketball.
“I don’t like Duke basketball at all, or Coach K or any of that,” Wilson said. “I really liked last year. We beat him twice in a row and ended his career, so that was really fun.”
“We’re not that good this year, but they’re worse,” Duke freshman Jameson DiPalma said.
“I love the rivalry, but obviously I hate Duke basketball,” Jooss said.
“They haven’t done too well this year and I think ever since they got their new head coach, the program is headed downhill,” Burmeister explained. “I think [Duke] is starting to find its grounding under Scheyer, and when I look at UNC basketball I don’t see that same brotherhood. I don’t see that same energy that Duke basketball has.”
For a select few, the rivalry has a bit of a different meaning. Robertson Scholars attend both universities in their four collegiate years. While they have a main affiliation, students within the program link the schools on a whole different level. Duke freshman and Robertson Scholar Jonathan Walker gave some insight into the duality of his position within the rivalry:
“Outside of basketball, I love ‘em. They’re good [people],” he said on his Chapel Hill counterparts. “But when it comes to basketball, I don’t know them.”
“It’s interesting. I’m going to support Duke 100%. Like last year in the Final Four game, [or] whenever UNC won, it [wasn’t] like ‘Oh, yay, UNC won,’ no, it was like ‘Duke lost,’” Walker added. “Being on both sides is interesting because you don’t want to see either team do bad, but if [I] had to, I want to see UNC do bad. I want [Duke] to do well.”
Academically, the Robertson Scholars rise above the rivalry to get the most out of the two top-notch institutions. But as close as they get as a group, there is always a little room for trash talk.
“It’s really funny, we act like we don’t know each other,” Walker explained. “Outside of basketball we’re best friends, but when it comes to basketball, it’s just straight animosity, honestly.”
Each student at these two schools sees and feels the rivalry differently. And no matter how many friends one has on the other side or how far from a basketball fan they consider themself, there is no escaping what the rivalry is on the court.
However, this current generation of Duke and North Carolina students have never been more connected, and the hate that was once so fierce off the court seems to have dissipated quite a bit. Today’s students see each other on a similar level, perhaps ushering in a new style to this very historic rivalry.
Editor's note: This article is one of many in The Chronicle and The Daily Tar Heel's annual rivalry edition. Find the rest of The Chronicle's coverage here, and follow along with the full Rivalry Challenge here.
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