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The Most Heated Rivalry in College Basketball

Posted: Tuesday January 31, 2006 4:44PM; Updated: Wednesday February 6, 2008 12:13PM
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The Most Heated Rivalry in College Basketball
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By Will Blythe

The basketball rivalry between Duke and North Carolina is the fiercest blood feud in college athletics. To legions of otherwise reasonable adults, it is a conflict that surpasses sports; it is locals against outsiders, elitists against populists, even good against evil. It is thousands of grown men and women with jobs and families screaming themselves hoarse at 18-year-old basketball geniuses, trading conspiracy theories in online chat rooms, and weeping like babies when their teams - when they - lose.

What makes people care so much? The answers have a lot to do with class and culture in the south, and in his book, To Hate Like This is to Be Happy Forever (HarpenCollins, Feb. 2006, $24.95), author Will Blythe, a lifelong Tar Heels fan, expands a history of an epic grudge into an examination of family, loyalty, privilege, and Southern manners. The following is an excerpt:

The morning after I saw Mike Troy, I logged on to the website Inside Carolina for the first of several daily visits. It was the place where you could always go where everyone knew your fake name. Coffee in hand, I clicked on one thread after another, a hunter-gatherer in search of big games. I liked screeds, jeremiads, vindictive attacks. I liked shoot-outs between posters. I liked accounts of pickup games, recruiting gossip, and the never-ending assault on Duke University. If I had ever thought myself consumed in a most unseemly fashion with the Duke--North Carolina rivalry, I had finally found a place that made me feel like a dull elder statesman who parsed his sentences carefully and made a career out of avoiding controversy. The guys here wielded flamethrowers.

The prototype for the site had been built in 1996 by Ben Sherman, then a 16-year-old Carolina fan in the unlikely outpost of Newtonville, Massachusetts. He couldn't quite say what resulted in his having a crush on a team eight hundred miles south, but it emerged at about the same time as consciousness. "I hated Danny Ferry as soon as I started watching TV," he said. Naturally, he applied to North Carolina for college, where, as was so often the case with out-of-state applicants, even ones with good grades and high test scores, Sherman was rejected. He headed south anyway, to the University of Richmond, where in August 1998 he established a new base of operations for his Carolina website. The site had since evolved into a sort of vast cybernetic encampment, in which hardcore Tar Heel fanatics could gather to express their tribal affiliations.

"The way I look at it, it's a grander scale of when me and fellow Carolina fans get together, just screaming and yelling and throwing things. After the game, if you're pissed off . . . you vent. And a message board is a place to vent. It's so ecstatic after the win, so devastated after the loss. Sometimes it boils down to the chance for somebody to say: I hate this."

The Duke--Carolina rivalry burned perpetually on the Inside Carolina board like one of those underground coalfield fires in western Pennsylvania. There was no way to put out the flames. Hardly a day went by without two or three new Duke threads sparking up, so many that some posters complained about the board's obsession with the Blue Devils. It wasn't that the complainants wished to defend Duke -- to the contrary. Instead, they felt that such an obsession was demeaning to North Carolina. Such threads ceded too much psychic territory to Duke. They actually enlarged the school by spending so much time cutting it down to size.

In the hours I spent each day rummaging around the site, I'd gotten to know the personae of many posters. Ironically, one I'd come to appreciate was a Duke supporter, Lpark, everyone's favorite Blue Devil for his generally balanced and occasionally self-deprecating commentary on both programs. What was he was doing so far away from home, spending hours a day on the Carolina message board, suffering the jibes and taunts of his declared enemies? I couldn't say. Penance, maybe.

But from time to time he appeared just sane enough that the flaming partisans of Inside Carolina envisioned a potential convert. They were always trying to lure Lpark into the light -- the light blue, anyway. They wanted to see him healed of his Duke affliction, purged of the demons that must have lived inside of him. Occasionally, Lpark got mad and punched back, as he did in one exchange: "You talk about Dahntay's lip snarl," he wrote, referring to the much-hated Blue Devil Dahntay Jones, now playing (rarely) for the Memphis Grizzlies. "How about Jerry Stackhouse's head bobs, Rashad McCants's primal screams, every face Vince Carter made after a dunk. What's the difference? The answer . . . the shade of blue."

This was entirely too reasonable a response, and thus doubly annoying. He accused the IC regulars (who tended to descend on Lpark for an oldfashioned street mugging when he got a little too uppity), of "taking any situation [in regard to Duke] and tagging it with the most sinister spin possible." Well, of course. He was posting on a North Carolina website, was he not? Go back among your own, he was instructed at such times. You want balance, you want nonpartisanship, join the League of Women Voters.

His polar opposite in sectarian terms (although equally possessed of intelligence, long memory, and the capacity for ripping new assholes in irksome posters) was the poster known as ManhattanHeel. She displayed a saucy, take-no-shit manner. One of the most visible and respected (and even feared) of the site's posters, Manhattan, or MH as she was often called, reminded me of James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, Bill Clinton's campaign team in 1992. Post an opinion about Duke, especially one that admitted even a speck of favor, and she arrived on the scene instantly with a definitive rebuttal, a one-woman quick-response team.

Here, for instance, is a post of Manhattan's occasioned by Donald Trump's visit to Cameron for the second Duke--North Carolina game of 2004. It serves as a fine example of the withering, take-no-prisoners tone Manhattan deployed against the Duke universe, or anyone who so much as sat cheering in a ringside seat at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The only man I hate in America as much as K . . . is Donald Trump. So how fitting is it that he "just loves" Coach K? Let's see, Trump is egomaniacal, narcissistic, win-at-all-costs, an adulterer, a philanthropist for PR purposes only, and often a liar. He and K must have been twins separated at birth. The only difference is that Trump gets former Miss Universes and K gets Mickie.

Now, this is not just an uninformed rant. I have met Donald Trump. We share a degree from the same business school. I have a good friend who works directly for him (and no, a cheesy TV show was not involved in his employment). I have heard the untold stories, both business and personal. Basically, this is a man who would put his name on every roll of toilet paper in America if he could. You see the name TRUMP tackily plastered on as many buildings in NYC and Atlantic City as you see K's name blanketing every surface of Durham County. This is also a man who has repeatedly screwed bondholders out of hundreds of millions of dollars when a deal doesn't go his way. I'm sure he will be a star lecturer at the K Institute of Ethics.

So I ask you, is there anyone in America who is a better "face" for the K fan club than The (Other) Donald? Seriously, if I were a dook alum, I would be embarrassed to have yet another goon like him shilling for dook u. Just when I think it can't get any more ridiculous over at that faux gothic cesspool, it does.

I drank deeply from Manhattan's bottomless pool of vitriol. There was something tonic about it. On Inside Carolina, she was merely one among an entire nation of raging beasts, all as anonymous as members of the witness-protection program. And, oh reader, what a harsh world theirs was, full of fear and loathing. But at least that tiresome Carolina rectitude disappeared, replaced by an honest expression of dark, human passion that Nietzsche would have been proud to witness. Whenever the occasional wet blanket of a poster tried to plump for a little civility (there actually used to be a board member named PreacherJohn, or something like that), he or she was chased off.

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