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Tar Holes to Chomicles: a rivalry in print

“Our two men’s basketball teams are once again meeting on the court. Although we at the [Daily Tar Heel] hope that the best team will win, that does not always happen given Dook’s record of cheating, bribery, Mafia ties, brutality, falling down... and general unsportsmanlike conduct.”

Is this treachery, you wonder? Perhaps an unheard-of string of typos? An obscene example of Tar Heel bribery? The answer to all of these questions is no. On the contrary, this quote—straight from a letter to The Chronicle by former Daily Tar Heel Editor Kim Minaugh—is merely one of many examples of the ever-popular newspaper rivalry between Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

A long-standing tradition, the rivalry centers around a bet on the outcome of the first Duke-UNC men’s basketball game of the season. Every year, the editor of The Chronicle makes a bet with the editor of the Daily Tar Heel about which university’s team will come out victorious.

If Duke wins the game, editors of the Daily Tar Heel must acknowledge UNC’s loss by delivering their newspaper with its banner printed in Duke Blue, the staff editorial replaced with a large Blue Devil and the phrase “Duke: Still The Best” prominently displayed on the front page.

In the unlikely event that the Tar Heels should somehow succeed in winning, editors of The Chronicle must acknowledge the loss in a similar fashion. In addition, The Chronicle prints an amusing spoof of the Daily Tar Heel’s front page—entitled The Daily Tar Hole—on gameday.

Not surprisingly, the day preceding the big game is a critical one for the staffs of both newspapers. One of the most interesting elements is the somewhat less-than-professional letters that pass between The Chronicle and the Daily Tar Heel’s editors to commemorate the occasion and affirm the bet. Some of the more memorable dialogue produced by this feud:

“If the written word is a bit too sophisticated for you, feel free to call me and I will read you the letter or draw out its contents in pictures,” Chronicle editor Greg Pessin wrote in January 2001.

“The Dook Comical is to journalism what Fox is to television,” disparaged Kim Minaugh, Daily Tar Heel editor in 2002.

The next day, Chronicle Editor Dave Ingram shot back, “With your school’s recent renunciation of the sport of basketball, most of us had forgotten that your team once won double-digit games in a season.”

Aside from the basketball wager itself, several former editors from both papers still bleed their respective blues. “You could say the newspapers are rivals, but at the Daily Tar Heel, we didn’t really think of The Chronicle as a true rival in terms of journalistic excellence and tradition,” said Erica Beshears, editor of the Tar Heel from 1997 to 1998.

Though Rich Rubin, managing editor of The Chronicle in 1999-2000, was willing to concede to the fact that The Daily Tar Heel is a “very good” as well as “ambitious” publication, he also added that one purpose of the bet is for The Chronicle staff and its readers to get more fun out of the basketball showdown.

According to former Sports Managing Editor Evan Davis, Trinity ’03, the front-page spoofs, which he eagerly orchestrated, maintain the intensity of the inter-school rivalry, even as the Tar Heels become “less competitive” on the court.

In the end, Beshears said, “while there will never be any question about which school has the best newspaper—that would be UNC—there should always be debate and trash talk about which team is the best each year.”


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