UNC vs. Duke – What Makes a Rivalry “Epic”?

By Marcus Shockley

There are few truly “transcendent” rivalries in sports. There are rivalries at every level of sports, from JV volleyball to the NFL. But most rivalries are local. Only a few rivalries break out and become so known that media coverage pays attention.

To me, the two biggest rivalries in college sports are Ohio State-Michigan (football) and UNC-Duke (basketball). A couple of summers back we were chatting with Gerald Henderson. a former Duke player, about the rivalry. At the time, several of Henderson’s coaching staff were UNC alums.

What makes a great rivalry? In a word: balance. At one time in the not-too-distant past, UNC and Duke were not the Greatest of Rivals. NC State was UNC’s biggest threat, also being just a few minutes down the road from Chapel Hill. Consider that in 1982, Micheal Jordan, James Worthy and Jimmy Black brought a national championship home to Tobacco Road, and one year later, in 1983, NC State’s Thurl Bailey, Sidney Lowe and Dereck Whittenburg did the same. However, over the years, Coach K’s rise to prominence and NC State’s slump led to a changing of the guard. In 2009 UNC brought home another title, and one year later in 2010, Duke won another. The fact that UNC and Duke are always legitimate title contenders is part of what makes the rivalry strong. You simply can’t have a rivalry where only one team is a powerhouse. Both UNC and Duke boast a bevy of NBA alums, and both have HOF coaches.

The UNC-Duke rivalry has also two other components; the two campuses are physically closer than most high school rivals and they have longevity. The 2009-2010 back-to-back wasn’t the first. In 1991 & 1992, Duke won a pair of titles, then in 1993, UNC won Dean Smith’s second title. But that’s just the titles. Since 1981, either UNC or Duke has made the Final Four a whopping 21 times.

In order for a rivalry to exist, there must be balance, and the longer that balance is there, the bigger and more storied the rivalry becomes.

So today is UNC vs. Duke, round 1 of the 2012 edition of this rivalry.

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.