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Duke-North Carolina: Rivalry is Fueled More By Fans than the Game

Believe it or not it isn’t all that easy to write a column about Duke-North Carolina. Trust me this is my fourth attempt at this one.

For starters what different angle could you possibly take?

There have been countless articles, columns and even books written on the topic of the Duke-North Carolina basketball rivalry.

ESPN, local media, even HBO, that beckon of the cheep road side motels, has seemingly picked the rivalry clean like a vulture does a carcass.  There just isn’t much new ground to cover.

Of course there is the game itself but even that is a bit void of juicy stories. The days of Art Heyman and Larry Brown brawling have come and gone. Most of the kids on either team have known each other for a while and some are friends. Just a few years ago Duke’s Gerald Henderson and UNC’s Wayne Ellington were best friends and high school teammates coming into this rivalry. To date they still are friends.

That animosity between players aside from the days or nights of the game just isn’t really there. Sure they want to win for the bragging rights, but when the game is done this are still kids that reside only eight miles apart and could possibly even hang out.

The story and heat of this rivalry lie in the fan bases. Both are passionate, both are loyal and both have a really hard time letting things go, at least the one that enjoys victory last.

Fans on both sides have short memories when it comes to loses and extremely long ones when it comes to wins. Both follow the law of recency, they remember the most recent victories the most clearly– the loses, well not so much.

The fans are the the ones that read these pieces, read the books, watch the specials and curse any opinion that differs from their own. They are the ones that go to their office, to their school, to their friends house and bicker about whether Mason Plumlee is a better big man than Tyler Zeller or Roy Williams is a better coach than Mike Krzyzewski.

Fans manipulate the facts to prove their points and to make them feel better about their position in the rivalry. They might tweak reality just to make them feel their chances at victory and claiming that short (in the case of the first meeting) or long (in the last) period of bragging rights are better.

I’ve seen near physical fights over the outcome of the game and in the name of full disclosure I’ve spoken some less than loving phrases about  member of a certain team whose shade of blue I didn’t fully like.

There are those fans who act as if they somehow played a role in the victory  and use use the “we” pronoun entirely to freely in their gloating. There are the trash talkers and the excuse makers. We all know those fans on both side and those are the ones than fuel our dislike of the other team.

I don’t dislike Kendall Marshall, I don’t dislike Roy Williams, but old Jimmy down the road who smack talks before, during and after the game; now he I could do without. And it’s that guy that causes my blood to boil a bit when my shade of blue doesn’t win, cause I know I’m going to hear it and it isn’t like to end quickly.

I will likely never talk with  or meet Kendall Marshall, Roy Williams or anyone on the current UNC team, but for 40 minutes I won’t like them much. Jimmy I might not like for a lot longer.

And that fan interaction is the driving force behind this rivalry and essentially every rivalry. It causes irrational behavior and emotions not fit for grown individuals.

What happens Wednesday night will have nothing to do with the fans though and aside from some learning experiences on both sides, the game will be quickly forgotten among the players and coaches.

Can Duke slow down North Carolina’s high octane offense with a defense that is shockingly bad and the worst in the ACC in field goal percentage allowed? Fans don’t want to hear those facts but they are facts.

Can North Carolina stop playing down to its opponents or dominate a quality opponent on their home floor? You’ll get different answers depending on who you ask in the respective fan bases.

I have not foreseen good things for Duke in this rivalry for this year. At the beginning of the season I predicted that Duke would not beat North Carolina in either game and so far I’ve seen nothing that changes my mind on that. The Blue Devils’ inability to defend, or have an answer for Kendall Marshall or Harrison Barnes will likely cause them real trouble.

Duke is a good team, but North Carolina is a great team who hasn’t realized that it is great yet. And as painful as it is to think about it, its much more painful to type and even more so to think that I’ll be hearing from Johnny loud and proud come Thursday morning.

I think I might just call in sick that day.