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A Great One From The Mail On Duke-UNC

A great one from the mailbag...thanks DuckDevil!
I’ve been mildly amused as some commentators have recently attempted to
downgrade the status of the Duke-Carolina rivalry. For those who don’t comprehend the
organic intensity of the rivalry, consider my story.

To this day, some who knew me consider me the John Walker of Chapel Hill, a veritable
Carolina Taliban. More sympathetic observers pity me, a victim of childhood brainwashing.
Me? I just think I knew right from wrong.

You see, I endured as a hardcore Duke fanatic while attending the University of North
Carolina, on and off, for nine years. This was a period that produced Phil Ford, James
Worthy, Michael Jordan, Jimmy Black, Sam Perkins, Kenny Smith, and Brad Daugherty. Over
the course of those years, my life became far more tightly interwoven into the social
fabric of Franklin Street than the average student. But I remained, throughout, both loyal
to Duke and unwaveringly hostile to UNC, and somehow lived to tell the tale.

The love of Duke basketball was probably already in my genes, but just to be on the
safe side, my dad gave me a heavy dose of religion at a very young age. Dad watched
basketball, not with a lot of knowledge, but with a fundamentalist’s passion. Some of
my earliest memories involve watching the Devils on TV with my dad, his veins bulging and
expanding, temples glowing crimson, exhorting Marin and Verga, scolding and lecturing Vic,
and taking the Lord’s name in vain with a wicked righteousness.

Inheriting my father’s calm demeanor as a schoolboy in Raleigh, North Carolina, I
went through a succession of cheap transistor radios, all of which refused to bounce
cleanly off the pavement after yet another crushing loss to Dean or another ACC foe. My
older brother, like my father before him, attended Duke and lived through the “Gone
in 17 Seconds” horror. He remains Duke-obsessed. Randy Denton, Tate Armstrong, Jim
Sparnarkel, Bob Fleischer, Gary Melchioni, Willie Hodge, Gene Banks, Dick DeVenzio: these
were names so sacred I was prepared to throw down whenever one of my school mates failed
to show adequate respect, a not-infrequent occurrence in my north Raleigh neighborhood.

Life, like my transistor radios, took an odd bounce during my senior year of high
school. My parents and I had a lengthy falling out (see “Dazed and Confused”)
that culminated in arriving home after a party to find my bags packed and the door firmly
locked. Never passing up an opportunity to stick it to my dad, after graduation I blew off
college for a couple of years and then enrolled at UNC in 1979.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Attending Duke would have required working a
lot harder, and sucking up to my dad to foot the bill. Additionally, and equally
importantly, there was still a critical shortage of females at Duke at that time.
Advantage Carolina. I packed up and moved behind enemy lines.

There was just one little problem with my plan. It was too late to learn how not to
hate Carolina. And not just Carolina basketball; like any true Duke fan, I possessed a
visceral hatred of Dean Smith, Carolina football, Carolina lacrosse, and Carolina field
hockey. Hell, I quietly placed belly-flop curses on the Carolina women divers whenever my
swim team girlfriend made me attend her meets.

Curiously, when I went to Carolina basketball and football games, I generally just got
drowned out or shouted down. It was watching the Heels or Duke on the tube that proved to
be my un-doing. When Carolina played, the ball would go up and I developed the
characteristic strain of Tarheel tourettes usually seen, oh, about eight miles down
15-501. And though I didn’t necessarily go looking for trouble, with hatred in my
heart and on my sleeve for everything “Carolina Blue,” it didn’t take very
long for the guys in the dorms, the fraternity houses, and the bars, to sniff me out.

After a couple of freshman experiences fending off drunken dorm mates, I developed some
survival rules for game times. My first rule for watching Carolina on TV in my dorm was to
securely lock the door until the mob’s testosterone level had safely dropped after
the game. Rule #2 was to never, ever, open the door to my room, no matter the pitch
(“Dude, I just want to pay you back for that six-pack. I’ve got a six of long
necks. Just open the door!”). I quickly learned that this rule dictated that I pee in
a can, and I often prayed that was the only bodily function the evening required. The only
exception to these rules was my roommate, who in his heart of hearts, wanted to pound me.
Poor Keith was a born-again Christian, and kicking my ass was just another temptation he
had to deny himself. I also learned to keep a pillow nearby to muffle my cheers and
commentary, but even that didn’t completely do the trick. Just knowing that I was in
there behind a locked door, casting my spells on free throw shooters and howling with
every Carolina stumble, was enough to send guys into a rage.

Those rare occasions when Carolina lost could produce particularly harrowing
situations. I will never forget enjoying too exuberantly, in the locked privacy of my
room, an improbable victory by the Terps in Carmichael. I remember contemplating calling
the campus cops that night, but finally rounded up some friends on the phone to come and
get things under control. Late night wrestling matches, thrown beer, and the smell of
urine from under my door were not uncommon on such occasions. And this was from guys who
liked me! My car sometimes bore the brunt of it, from deflated tires to the
finger-painting of a large phallus in the oxidized red paint of my Karmann Ghia (it was a
real head-turner on a spectacularly sunny, March day as I parallel parked into a choice
space on Franklin Street).

The stakes only grew higher when I became an upperclassman. By that time, I was
bartending at a prime Franklin Street bar (anyone remember Harrison’s?) that
attracted a large game crowd. I also belonged to a fraternity, becoming its President in
my senior year. I still haven’t figured out how they allowed that to happen. I knew a
large number of Carolina athletes, including James Worthy (he has to be the all-time
nicest, most down-to-earth superstar in the history of basketball), as well as a couple of
the cheerleaders, and I think most knew my true colors. I survived the Franklin Street
riots that accompanied a couple of Final Four disappointments, despite being the happiest
fellow in the mob. Somehow, I managed to not become an Orange County crime statistic.

As I headed into the home stretch of my five-year plan, it was clear that my UNC
strategy had paid off. My mediocre academic showing was rewarded with another in-state
tuition ride at the University of North Carolina law school. At that point, however, I
opted to live with a couple of former Duke students, including my great friend, John, who
later turned me on to DBR. Hate, like love, is meant to be shared, and John-boy and I had
an abundance to share in our Chatham County, manufactured home.

It was while I attended law school that I experienced the fantasy Duke-Carolina game of
my lifetime, and I swear I’m not making this up. My brother scored two tickets for a
Duke-Carolina game in Cameron from a beer wholesaler with whom he had a business
connection. But there was a hitch. This beer guy was dating a former Playboy centerfold,
and our job was to escort her to the game. I’m really not making this up. Well, my
brother and I resigned ourselves to this state of affairs and reluctantly explained to our
(ex-) girlfriends that we wouldn’t be able to bring them with us. I was placed in
charge of the pre-game research; it was my job to locate the back copy. And yes, Duke
thrashed the Heels that night, or it wouldn’t be much of a fantasy, would it? To this
day, I can’t help but feel that this was God’s ­ and my brother’s -- way
of rewarding me for my suffering.

Although I now live far from ACC country, like my father before me, I am teaching my
young daughters ­ four and six ­ life’s truly important lessons. I periodically
interrupt their television viewing to bring them some very special programming from Fox
Sports. The girls already know my Web habits, and when one sees me on the computer early
in the morning, she instinctively will ask, “Did Duke win?” Invariably, I motion
for her to climb upon my lap, and I reply, “Let’s take a look at Duke Basketball
Report and find out.”

Go to hell, Carolina!

“duckdevil”, B.A., University of North Carolina, 1984. J.D., University of
North Carolina School of Law, 1988.