To the rivalry's potent rich kid vs. poor kid, outsider vs. local dynamic must be added its political dimensions. To oversimplify, Carolina is the liberal school, Duke the conservative. This difference goes back at least to the 1950 Democratic senatorial primary, when the former president of UNC—the sainted Frank Porter Graham—faced Willis Smith, chairman of the board of trustees at Duke. Smith's principal strategist, his proto-Lee Atwater, was a local Republican by the name of Jesse Helms. They ran a campaign based on race (a Helms staple, as it would turn out), and Smith beat Graham by some 20,000 votes. While Smith went to the Senate, Graham ended up as a U.S. representative to the United Nations.
In the '70s me and my snooty little liberal friends felt that we owned a devastating advantage in the Duke-Carolina argument by virtue of the fact that Richard Nixon had attended law school at Duke. And we found this gem of a quotation from Tricky Dick that had a conclusive redolence, post-Watergate: "I always remember that whatever I have done in the past or may do in the future, Duke University is responsible in one way or another." This seemed to say it all, at least if you were a snooty young liberal.
Even in basketball, the universities find themselves on opposite sides of the political spectrum. A graduate of West Point, Krzyzewski is famously conservative, exalting corporate values, speaking to American companies about "winning in the corporate world." During the last U.S. Senate election in North Carolina, he got into a little hot water for hosting a fund-raiser on the Duke campus for the Republican candidate and eventual victor, Elizabeth Dole. By contrast North Carolina's longtime coach, Dean Smith, the winningest coach in NCAA Division I history, has spoken out on behalf of liberal causes from the start of his career. He participated in the integration of Chapel Hill's public facilities in the early '60s, supported a nuclear freeze in the early '80s, opposes the death penalty and was at times touted as a possible Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate.
The sociocultural difference between the two institutions might be worthy of an earnest tome by Barbara Ehrenreich or C. Vann Woodward, were it not for the fact that it all gets played out rabidly, if somewhat inarticulately, in a basketball rivalry that simply has no equal. Duke vs. North Carolina is Ali vs. Frazier, the Giants vs. the Dodgers, the Red Sox vs. the Yankees. Hell, it's bigger than that. This is the Democrats vs. the Republicans, the Yankees vs. the Confederates, Capitalism vs. Communism. All right, O.K., the Life Force vs. the Death Instinct, Eros vs. Thanatos. Is that big enough?
Both programs have been about as successful as college teams can be, each having won three national championships, ( North Carolina claims a fourth, from 1924, before the current playoff system began.) They are both among the top four teams in alltime victories, North Carolina having racked up 1,825, Duke 1,730. They began playing each other back in 1920, with North Carolina leading in the head-to-head victory count 123-93. Each has employed some of the game's legendary coaches—Frank McGuire, Smith and now Roy Williams at North Carolina; Vic Bubas and Krzyzewski at Duke.
And they both have enjoyed rosters resplendent with many of the game's greatest players—at North Carolina, Michael Jordan, Lennie Rosenbluth, Larry Brown, Billy Cunningham, Larry Miller, Charlie Scott, Bob McAdoo, Phil Ford, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Kenny Smith, Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter and, now, the mercurial sophomore guard Rashad McCants. Duke has featured Dick Groat, Art Heyman, Jeff Mullins, Gene Banks, Mike Gminski, Johnny Dawkins, Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, Elton Brand and Jason Williams. Current sophomore shooting guard J.J. Redick, perhaps Duke's greatest shooter, is likely to end up in their company. No school in the country has signed more McDonald's All-Americans than Duke or Carolina—a measure of their allure to the nation's best high school players.
The hiring of Williams, the former Kansas coach, by North Carolina last April should take the rivalry to greater heights, if that's possible. Williams grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, attended the university in Chapel Hill and served as an assistant coach to Dean Smith. The rivalry is in his blood. His feelings about Duke were apparent in his coy confusion at last year's NCAA tournament when, before the Kansas-Duke West Regional semifinal game, he quipped to reporters, " Duke is a four-letter word, but is it D-U-K-E or D-O-O-K?"
"That rivalry is like tying two cats together and throwing them over the clothesline!" former coach of Missouri Norm Stewart told The Washington Post. But he added that Williams's presence should increase the acrimony between the two schools. "Roy has competed hard against everybody in the country," Stewart said.
Krzyzewski knows this firsthand. During a second round NCAA tournament game between Duke and Kansas in March 2000, Krzyzewski berated a referee in front of the Duke bench until Williams couldn't take it anymore. It "looked like a coaching clinic with the referees going on over there," Williams later told reporters. Living vicariously through Kansas, North Carolina fans grew delirious as Williams raced down to the Duke bench, got right up in K's mug and began yelling. Not one to back down, the Duke coach screamed back at Williams. The two had to be separated and led back to their respective benches. Afterward, Krzyzewski said, "I think he was trying to protect his turf, and I was trying to protect mine."
The rivalry was on something of a hiatus for a couple of years, the traditional conflagration dampened a bit by the lack of success (relatively speaking) enjoyed by the recently departed North Carolina coach Matt Doherty. (He did, however, win a classic game in Chapel Hill last spring, even bumping chests and exchanging profanities with Duke assistant Chris Collins when Duke bench-warmer and aspiring rapper Andre Buckner came up and gave Doherty a shove.) The hatred was still there, as always, but one side had gained too much power, as in a bad marriage.