UNC's law school wait-listed me. Looking back, this was a blessing.
A few months after graduating college I moved to St. Louis and started studying law at Washington University, a Division III school. For the first time in my life, I no longer lived in ACC territory. And this was like Switzerland. Sure, St. Louis had its share of Missouri and Illinois alumni, but that's not really a heated rivalry. Nearby St. Louis University had a nice local following, but you'd have to be an NCAA tourney expert living in Missouri to pick then-coach Charlie Spoonhour out of a crowd.
Spending a few college basketball seasons in St. Louis (and then a few more in Cincinnati) opened my eyes. I realized that the sport doesn't actually revolve around Tobacco Road. Sure, Duke-UNC was still important on a national level as the best rivalry, but there was a lot of intense basketball being played everywhere else. And there were other good rivalries, like Kentucky-Louisville, Kansas-
Missouri, and Xavier-Cincinnati. (It helped that Xavier was becoming nationally recognized when I lived there, and Bob Huggins was still coaching Cincinnati.)
As a natural result of this new perspective, my focus shifted. I'm still a Duke fan -- it is my alma mater -- but I started appreciating the sport on a more general level. Seeing as how no other sport at the college or pro level has been similarly captivating, the college basketball season holds special meaning for me, and is not necessarily defined by how long the Duke teams play.
I wish I could pinpoint the time at which people outside of the ACC began to hate Duke, but I don't think there is one. (I'm open to suggestions.) I understand that Kentucky fans have hated us since 1992, but that's a specific event. Duke was only regionally hated when I was there. There was the controversy in 1995, where the team's subpar win-loss record wasn't attributed to Coach K because of his temporary absence from the team. In 1999 there were eligibility issues involving Corey Maggette, the outcome of which has never been clear, and the small exodus by Maggette, Will Avery, and Elton Brand. Then there was the rise of Maryland by the turn of the century, which brought out the best and worst in both teams when they played.
Still, a confluence of random events needs a tipping point to become a trend, and here is one theory. Duke's role as Public Enemy No. 1 originated in 1997 from an event that had nothing to do with Duke: Dean Smith retired. While Carolina had success soon after that, in the nation's eyes the target had shifted to Duke, which could no longer be called an upstart program. Coach K became the institution; he was the one now suspected of benefiting from curious officiating, an accusation very relevant today.
I still love Duke and hate Carolina, but I'm not as bipolar about the whole thing. Taking a step back, I notice that the rivalry looks like a two-headed monster to everyone else. At first I would compare it to the Red Sox and the Yankees, which works when you analogize the free agency offseason to blue chip recruiting. But the comparison is ultimately inadequate; that rivalry is generally one-sided. The Yankees are a one-headed monster.
Perhaps a better example of a two-headed monster comes from women's hoops: Connecticut and Tennessee. There's a more balanced form of dominance there, seeing as how each team alternates their mini-dynasties. Each team gets their pick of the best talent every year. Both teams have a weird mystique that helps them win close games. Plus, you have two coaches who stop at nothing when it comes to playing petty mind games. The result is pronounced: if you're not a fan of either team, you have a very powerful desire to see them both fail miserably. I think that's how others see Duke-Carolina.
For more on the rivalry, I have two blog recommendations. First, go to Engaged to a Carolina Tarhole, where the author gets to live out the rivalry every day under one roof. I'm sure it's pretty tense there today. Second, go to DevilMacDawg, who exercised real brevity in her one-word post here.