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Alexander Wolff
March 06, 1995
When North Carolina and Duke tip off on Saturday night, they will try to take the finest feud in a I of sports to even greater heights
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March 06, 1995

An Unrivaled Rivalry

When North Carolina and Duke tip off on Saturday night, they will try to take the finest feud in a I of sports to even greater heights

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As it happened, Angie gave birth to a girl, Madison. But had she had a boy, it wouldn't have mattered. "I would have had him all day long," she says.

As expectations in both camps have soared during the 1990s—for the first four years of this decade, one school or the other either won an NCAA crown or had the nation's best recruiting class—passions like the Robertses' have become inflamed accordingly. "Duke was the first school to challenge Carolina," says Chansky, who co-founded Four Corners, a Chapel Hill eatery where everything from the decor to the menu would give a Dookie indigestion. "And Duke is the only one to pass Carolina. It's been threatening as hell to Carolina people. There has been some anger, some hurt, some resentment. Plus, there's the natural evolution of things. You have to get old, and Dean is 64. Well, the Duke people must have thought they had that coffin nailed shut. But guess what? He's baaaaack! Duke hasn't kept Dean in coaching or kept him competitive. But it's made him a little more competitive, more keen to coach."

A few years ago a friend with royal-blue bloodlines, the son-in-law of former Duke basketball All-America Dick Groat, gave Chansky a dog. The dog came with a name—Hurley, after then Blue Devil guard Bobby—but Chansky decided not to change it, "because he's short, white, runs a lot and whines occasionally, and besides, I thought it would be a sensitizing experience. And you know what? I haven't minded Duke as much the last few years. Even if there are now six classes of Duke kids who think it's their birthright to go to the Final Four."

Ah, Duke kids. They're the ones who bivouac outside Cameron by the hundreds—sometimes weeks in advance for a game against Carolina. They once chanted "In-hale, ex-hale" at the Tar Heels' Steve Hale when he played with a collapsed lung. They captioned a huge cavity on a page in The Duke Chronicle thusly: "This big, useless white space was put here to remind you of [Tar Heel center] Eric Montross." They brandished signs calling Carolina's Mike O'Koren, who suffered from a skin problem, THE OXY-1000 POSTER CHILD. Nowadays they wear T-shirts bearing Smith's likeness and the legend YOU'LL NEVER BE LIKE MIKE.

Over at the Dean Dome the multitudes may be a "wine-and-cheese crowd," as former Florida State guard Sam Cassell pronounced them several years ago, but when Duke comes through they turn hard-liquor-and-limburger. There was such joy when the Tar Heels beat the defending NCAA champion Blue Devils in a 1992 regular-season game that fans stormed the floor and police had to barricade Franklin Street, Chapel Hill's main boulevard. Several months earlier someone had stolen a ball and net from the 1991 Final Four out of the trophy case in the lobby of Cameron. The booty turned up the next day, neatly arrayed around the Old Well on the Carolina campus, along with a writ of penance: "I will not snatch Duke's priceless championship memorabilia"—repeated 100 times.

Scan the sweep of the series, and you can trace each rekindling of the rivalry to a recruit over whom the two schools fought. Heyman never again lost to the Tar Heels after the Brawl, and he went for 40 points against them in his final game. A few years later Smith saved his job when he prevailed upon a Pennsylvania high school star named Larry Miller, whom everyone had expected to attend Duke, to enroll at Chapel Hill; in Miller's senior season the Tar Heels beat the Blue Devils for the first of Smith's many ACC tournament titles.

So it has gone, back and forth, over the years: A player North Carolina sorely wanted, Dick DeVenzio, chose Duke in 1969, and he would have the satisfaction of hearing Smith say, following a 91-83 Blue Devil win in '70, "This game was decided a year ago when Dick DeVenzio decided to go to Duke." The Tar Heels struck back with O'Koren, someone Duke was certain it would sign because as a junior O'Koren had won a New Jersey state high school title while playing alongside a senior named Jim Spanarkel. who had since become the Blue Devils' point guard. Soon thereafter Banks, who turned down Carolina, helped Duke go from sixth to second in the league and reach the 78 NCAA title game.

While the Blue Devils never came close to landing any of the Jordan-Worthy-Sam Perkins triumvirate that delivered Smith's first NCAA crown, in 1982, Duke reestablished itself in '85 with the signing of Danny Ferry, whom Krzyzewski calls "probably the first big-name guy to choose my program over North Carolina's." Since then Coach K has more than held his own, skillfully using the early-signing period to coax such players as Hill, Hurley and Christian Laettner into turning right, not left, off 1-40 on their way in from the airport.

Smith can live with the occasional loss of a prospect. "We get Montross," he says. "The next year the best big man is Cherokee Parks, and they get him. I don't get too upset." Adds Krzyzewski, "Some of who-gets-whom has to do with who got the last one."

But the currently lofty level of the series can be traced less to a particular recruit than to a particular moment on a particular night when a particular fist came thundering down hard on the scorer's table. A few days before, president Sanford had upbraided the Duke students for showering condoms and panties on a Maryland player recently involved in an incident with a coed. So, as the top-ranked Tar Heels took the floor at Cameron on Jan. 21, 1984, the students wore halos fashioned out of coat hangers and aluminum foil, and they held aloft unctuous signs bidding A HEARTY WELCOME TO COACH DEAN SMITH AND THE NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS.

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