An Inside Look at the Duke-UNC Football Rivalry

Brian Greene played in the Secondary for the Blue Devils from 2002-2005. He was selected to the Freshman All-ACC team by the Sporting News. You can read his earlier articles here.

Our State

Of course it had to start with basketball. A kid in suburban Atlanta with no ties to the State of North Carolina. Enamored by those two drastically different, but forever married shades of blue.

Being born in 1983, I was lucky enough to watch Grant Hill sky, Christian Laettner dominate, Bobby Hurley grind, and Elton Brand bang. On the flip side of that coin I saw Jerry Stackhouse glide, Rasheed Wallace battle, Antawn Jamison clinic, and Vince Carter defy. The battles were bigger than epic, the tradition was thicker than molasses, and none of that has changed 30 years later. It started my understanding of the Duke/North Carolina rivalry, but it is not where it finished.

I always found myself leaning toward the Devils in Blue. I always saw it as the real blue. Ours is not associated or described by outsiders as “baby” or “sky” – we get “royal” and “dark”. I guess the other is “nice”. I mean who doesn’t like the color of the sky? Who doesn’t warm up when they hear the word or think of an actual baby? But we aren’t talking about skipping down a sidewalk or walking into a nursery. We are talking about competition at the collegiate level on playing fields, in classrooms, and the colors we wear when we head into that competition with people from your side. I’d rather be “dark” and “royal”. Those descriptions bring images of kings and grim reapers to mind, both of which we are going to do our best to force you to see in us every time we compete with you.

I played North Carolina four times on a Football field only winning once and it still pains my fingers to type that fact. Going into my first game in ’02 I remember hearing from my teammates raised in NC, or the ones who had previously played in a “Battle for the Victory Bell”, about how much it meant … how violent it would be. People can tell you all they want about anything they want to, but we as people don’t have a firm understanding about anything until we actually experience it ourselves first hand.

We battled them in ’02 scoring a TD with under a minute left in the game to take a 1 point lead. Unfortunately, our defense let them get within range of a game ending field goal that resulted in a 2 point loss. After rolling over post my superman-dive in attempt to block that game winning field goal, I looked at their side of the field for a reaction and, when I saw it, I stood and began walking towards our locker room. Even I knew after our four quarter battle with them, shaking hands after that fight wasn’t what happened. What we didn’t know until later is a sprint was made to the inflatable Duke helmet in the opposite corner of our field, where a kicker and his cohorts trounced the equivalent of a large balloon in celebration of their win.

The following year we were up 23-0 at halftime and celebrated our win on their field without damaging property – we did take the bell off campus though.

I realize there is no historical comparison between basketball and football when it comes to Duke and North Carolina. This rivalry is predominantly known for the round ball. That doesn’t mean there is any less intensity or hatred on Thanksgiving weekend in Durham or Chapel Hill every Fall. Fans of this rivalry see a bloody nosed Tyler Hansbrough or a shoving match with our favorite UNC Basketball Coach ever and that is the image they relate to a fight between these two schools.

If you are looking to watch Duke and North Carolina ‘fight’ you won’t find one better than at Noon EST in Chapel Hill, North Carolina this Saturday. No matter what happens in the two basketball games later this Winter, those aren’t fights – they are contests with unarguably amazing athletes who are the best at what they do. Violence, the closest thing you can get to an actual fight between our two schools, will take place Saturday from kickoff to kneel down in Kenan Memorial.

To have to predict this game every year as a former player is almost an injustice. I am either one of two things:

1.) A Homer – regardless of my true beliefs in Duke’s ability to win this fight there is also an element within me that could never pick UNC to beat us. If they were 11-0 and we were 0-11 I would still struggle to make that prediction. In fact, I know I couldn’t.


2.) A Turncoat – this is something I will never be. I am still scratching my head about how Florida hired a former UGA Football player to lead their Football team? Could you imagine what would happen if a Duke Athletic Director hired a former UNC Football player to lead our Football program? I can’t even see that as a possibility.

Then look at two General Season Statistics: (we’ve played basically the same competition with the exception of South Carolina)

Offense / PPG – Duke 34.3 / UNC 32.8
Defense / PPG – Duke 22.8 / UNC 24.9

Add the Extenuating Circumstances: The Victory Bell, our win over them last season, a chance to beat a Top 25 opponent (UNC), The outright ACC Coastal Title (Duke), and a birth to the ACC Championship Game (Duke).

All of the above makes this game impossible for me to proclomate on. What I can and will predict is an absolute knock-down, drag out fight. One of those events where you get butterflies in your stomach throughout due to the absolute intensity being displayed in front of you. An event where things get “chippy” often– one that will likely include a couple flying yellow flags. The phrases “extra-curricular,” “that was late,” and “above the belt” have the potential to be used early and often.

So sit back and enjoy the show. Don’t be afraid to yell at your television, or if at the game, a fan wearing the other color. It’s expected this weekend. You have one free pass a year to tell them how you feel. I personally enjoy reminding them their mascot is a goat with horns – and we all know that goats eat garbage. Don’t let this weekend pass without your heart rate climbing a little — without your “pee getting hot” as a Duke Coach of ours used to say. Because there are a couple of superhuman athletic contests later this winter between these two schools you won’t have the opportunity to be as barbaric around.

Now with all of that said the homer in me will always and forever win out … Duke 30 – UNC 28 … and The Bell rests comfortably for another 12 months in The Yoh — a place it will need to get used to being while Duke is under the direction of David Cutcliffe.

One comment

  1. Very well written article. I, too, expect a knock-down, drag-out fight between the two, because we would love nothing more than to beat UNC in their building to go to the ACC championship, and they would love nothing more than to take that opportunity away from us on their senior day. Should be an epic struggle.