What does 9 national championships, separated by 8 miles on Hwy 15/501, and two different shades of blue mean this time of year? It can be only be one thing…it’s time for the rivalry entitled “The Battle of Tobacco Road”. Tonight’s matchup (9 p.m. eastern/ESPN) is the 237th meeting of this storied series between two of the most successful programs in basketball history (North Carolina leading series 132-104).
Usually, I write about my thoughts on the game (and trust me…I will get to it), but let me share why this rivalry mean a lot to me. With several family members as Duke graduates (and friends that are Tar Heels fans), I haven’t miss a lot of this games over the year (it’s should a national holiday for me). There are two games on the sports calendar every year that I “Never” miss and that’s this one (and Notre Dame/USC football).
Before I get in my thoughts on Wednesday’s meeting at the “Dean Dome”, let me share my top 5 moments of the rivalry that I have witness watching over the years.
Duke’s Austin Rivers game-winning 3-pointer to beat UNC 85-84 (February 8th, 2012)
Being a Duke fan (for my entire life), I respect anyone that put on the Duke jersey, but Austin Rivers was not one of them. Was he a good player and was the shot memorable? Absolutely, but I am glad he only stayed one year in Durham. UNC fans should be happy to know that in the NBA, Rivers is only averaging 6.1 PPG.
Matt Doherty (UNC Coach) & Chris Collins (Former Duke Assistant Coach) fight on sideline (March 9th, 2003)
The shoving between coaches occurred when Duke’s Dahntay Jones injured North Carolina’s guard Raymond Felton after fighting for a defensive rebound. Matt Doherty was one of the worst coaches in Tar Heels history (53-43 record in 3 seasons) Granted, he won an ACC regular season championship in 2001, but that’s all he accomplished in the ACC. I can still recall several players from both teams getting technical fouls (as well as the coaches) at that point of the game! Unfortunately, UNC won that contest 82-79
Duke’s Gerald Henderson flying elbow against Tyler Hansbrough (March 4th, 2007)
I know what you UNC fans are saying. I know you are calling me your “typical” Duke fan and thinking of different adjectives to call me, but karma caught up to you on that day…didnt’t it? When JJ Redick (you remember him…don’t you?) was playing at Duke, you couldn’t stand him because he was one of the best players to come through the Duke program since the early 1990’s (don’t get me started on that). At least JJ Redick didn’t cry on national television. Don’t remember the moment? Check it out here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VH9gnyosh_w…. As funny as that was seeing (as a Duke fan), the score wasn’t in an 86-72 lost for the Blue Devils.
Duke’s Chris Duhon coast-to-coast reverse lay up to beat UNC 83-81 in overtime (February 4th, 2004)
This game was in 2004 was the BEST game that I ever watched in the rivalry. UNC tied it at the end of regulation with a Jawed Williams 3-pointer to force overtime With great defense by “The Landlord” Sheldon Williams in overtime, the Blue Devils win it in overtime with a coast-to-coast reverse lay-up by Chris Duhon to get the win.
Duke’s Jeff Capel buzzer-beater 3-pointer to force overtime (February 5th, 1995)
If you haven’t seen this shot (regardless if you are a UNC and/or Duke Fan), you are not a college basketball fan. Luck for everyone, I shared the link above. I was in elementary school when this game took place. As UNC player Serge Zwikker came to the foul line with 3 seconds left and holding on to a three point led, I thought this game was over. To the Devils faithful surprise, he missed both free throws (he might want to take lessons on clutch free-throw shooting from Christian Laettner from the 1991 National Semi-Finals game against UNLV). Duke’s Cherokee Parks grab the rebound off the miss and passed it to Jeff Chapel and he threw up a 37-foot shot as time expired and made it to force overtime. As great as that moment was, Duke ended up losing in double overtime 102-100.
I know that I am missing a lot of moments in this rivalry, but those are the moments that I enjoyed watching the most. As far as tonight’s game in Chapel Hill, I know it will not disappoint. Granted, North Carolina has had a up-and-down season so far, but its still Duke vs. North Carolina!! As a Duke fan, I am going to pick the Devils, but I think it will be a closer game than what most people think! I would like a “blow-out”, but I know in the best collegiate rivalry ever…that doesn’t happen!!
*Kurt Johnson is a Connecticut School of Broadcasting graduate and a former intern at Atlanta Sports Radio 92-9 The Game. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @kjexperience