Duke and North Carolina Battle on Tobacco Road

To the untrained eye it would seem that the 221st contest between the Duke Blue Devils and the University of North Carolina Tar Heels would be of no importance to the students at distant UVM. However, this classic college basketball rivalry has reached such extreme heights that it causes UVMers to sprint through the dorm hallways screaming “Duke sucks, Go UNC!” repeatedly after UNC’s amazing victory last Saturday. “You want to be a part of it,” said freshman Josh Applebaum of Lanesboro, Mass. “They get the top recruits, the best coaches, and they’re always at the top level. It is the ultimate competition.”The reason students at a school almost 800 miles away can get excited over two other schools’ basketball game is because the energy between the two squads has reached the same level as such fabled rivalries as the Red Sox-Yankee, Bears-Packers or Boston College-Boston University.To quote ageless broadcaster Dick Vitale, “It’s the greatest rivalry in college sports, baby.” This greatness stems from all of the ideal components of the perfect rivalry. They are very close in the a geographic sense, in fact they are located on the same stretch of Tobacco Road, a mere eight miles from each other. Beyond that, the teams share a legendary history, filled with buzzer beaters and future superstars.With players such as J.J. Redick, the ACC all time leading scorer and three point shooter, and Michael Jordan, arguably the best player ever, involved in the rivalry the scene is always set for great games and dramatic finishes.North Carolina leads the all time series 125-96 but the Blue Devils have dominated of late, winning 16 of the previous 19 contests. But what makes the rivalry so great is that none of this matters. No matter the players, no matter the coach, no matter the rankings, either team always has a chance.Saturday was a perfect example of this when a Duke team loaded with experienced seniors such as J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams facing a “rebuilding” North Carolina team led by four freshmen. The odds were stacked against the 15th ranked Tar Heels who were facing the #1 team in the country surrounded by the Cameron Crazies on senior night for Redick and Williams.The stage was set for Redick to dominate when he opened the game scoring seven of his teams first 13 points giving the Blue Devils a 13-2 lead. For Tar Heel senior David Noel it seemed like, “it was going to be a long night.”But as J.J. cooled down, UNC heated. Led by national freshman of the year candidate Tyler Hansbrough, who had a gutsy 27 points and 10 boards, while spending much of the game battling with the veteran Williams.The rivalry didn’t disappoint, as the game came down to the wire yet again. After North Carolina took an 11-point lead, the Blue Devils responded by going on an 8-0 run to pull within three with under two minutes remaining. Free throws sealed the game for the Tar Heels as they went on to win 83-76.This game was another chapter in the storied rivalry between two college basketball powerhouses. In an age when players are leaving early for the NBA and big paychecks, this rivalry is one of the only remaining pure establishments in the sports world.