Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The rivalry (part 2)

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.


Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

I still think it's hilarious that Engaged to ... linked to my site a little while back. Think she knows she willingly linked to a Tar Heel?

I just can't get that caught up in the rivalry. I have friends from school that trash-talk, but I'm too superstitious to approve of that (it's the Red Sox fan in me).

Neel Mehta said...

Think she knows she willingly linked to a Tar Heel?

I don't think I knew that I was willingly linking to a Tar Heel. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but the subject has never come up. You've only mentioned things in a DC-area context.

I get a little caught up in the rivalry, but as you can tell, I'm not your standard Coach K devotee. I'll probably talk more about my remnants of irrational Duke bias as the season progresses.

Welcome, fellow mellow one. Your school's cast of nobodies (and emergency bench of more nobodies) did quite well tonight.

Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

Oh, surely I've left comments on your other college b-ball posts before, no?

I was happy with my guys last night--going into the game, I just wanted them to keep it close, like they did against Illinois. Of course, when they pulled ahead, I wanted the win. Still, I think we did OK. Made too many turnovers, but we'll get better.

Thank you in advance for not de-linking me, just because I went to Carolina.

Bryce Westervelt said...

I know those Duke fans....being a Maryland Alum. myself...down year, Driving me nuts that I moved to Tampa, all they do is cover the Florida Gators......Anyway Neel...it is good to see what you are up too....would love to get back in touch...talk to ya soon.

DevilMacDawg said...

My disdain for UNC comes from a few different sources. First, well, there's The Rivalry. All through undergrad, etc. I didn't like 'em so much. Boo them! Yay us! Burn things when we win! Hell yeah!

Then I went to B-School in Athens, and I had (still have) a great friend who was a UNC alumnus, and he was fine. Wonderful guy. There was a really obnoxious guy from State (?!) and then also some obnoxious Tarheels on the periphery of my social circle, but nonetheless allright over all.

Of course, I was in grad school during The Troubles, so I took it all with something of a grain of salt. I did, however, cry after the Carolina game in Cameron and the FSU game we lost.

Yeah, I cried.

Moving to Dallas, I was like you, Neel - in Switzerland. Texas is not hoop central (even today). I took a very different perspective on the whole thing.

THEN I moved up to DC, where all hayull broke loose. Sorry, but there are just some ornery tarheels up there. And I lived with my best friend from Duke. And it just spiraled.

Then I married one of these guys.

And I moved to Florida. The good thing is that most of the games are televised. It is, still, football purgatory down here.

And I now work with a very stupid person who is a tarheel fan, who talks trash All. The. Time. Even today, he talks trash at me saying "Well, we might coulda won but Duke really has the refs on their side". !!!

Seriously, I've dealt with individual Tar Heels who are great. Love 'em. But Tar Heel Nation as a collective gets on my last everloving nerve. I commented to a newly-minted tarheel fan (he became a fan last year to taunt me): "Gee, is the ride on the bandwagon rough this year".

And Ol' Roy. Ugh.

And that color. This is why we couldn't have a boy child - everything is in that horrid color!

Okay, enough. Go read my blog for my true feelings. ;-)

DevilMacDawg said...

Oh, and APL - you act more like my nice tarheel friends. Not the collective obnoxiousness that is Tarheel Nation.

Neel Mehta said...

Oh, surely I've left comments on your other college b-ball posts before, no?

APL: I went back and looked. When I reviewed Blue Blood last year you said that you knew about Trajan Langdon and Jewel. I assumed you had a general ACC basketball interest. This deep, dark secret of yours is brand new.

DMD: That officiating argument is getting tiresome. I didn't think last night's game was skewed one way or the other. I was around a bunch of alumni who were upset with a series of no calls, but I much prefer no calls over bad calls. And Blue Devil Nation can be quite obnoxious too.

Bryce: welcome. It's good to hear from you again. I'll write you in more depth later.

Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

Right back at ya, DMacD. I get along very well with people of all different ACC stripes ... as individuals. (Well, except Clemson people, but whatever.)

bluedevilyn said...

APL: I didn't know you were a tarheel...but I don't care since I like your site. It actually takes more than being a tarheel for me to dislike someone...probably obvious since I'm engaged to one. :)

I wouldn't be that caught up in the rivalry myself if I wouldn't have moved back to NC from the Atlanta area in November of 2004 and then wound up falling in love with one of, "the others." Guess the rest is history.