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Duke-UNC Memories

By Al Featherston

I wish I could say I remember Duke's 96-74 victory over North Carolina on Feb. 25, 1955.

That was less than a month after my sixth birthday and I'm afraid ACC basketball had not yet cracked my consciousness. I didn't get to relish the fact that both guard Joe Belmont (32 points) and forward Ronnie Mayer (28 points) outplayed UNC sophomore Lennie Rosenbluth (18 points).

It wasn't that the game itself was so special - certainly not compared to what was to come in the rivalry. But it would have been interesting to watch the last Duke-North Carolina team that matched two unranked teams.

Ten months after that 1955 game, both Duke and UNC were in the top 10 when they met in the semifinals of the Dixie Classic in Raleigh. That UNC team already included the five starters that would go 32-0 and win the national championship a year later in 1956-57. Duke would get a win over the '56 Heels at home, then come as close as anybody to dethroning the unbeaten Tar Heels in 1957.

I don't have any memory of the Feb. 9 matchup that season. However, I now know that the thriller was played in Chapel Hill - in Woollen Gym, an old dump of an arena. Its inadequacies would have a major impact on the game, costing Duke a chance for a monumental upset.

No. 1 UNC led almost all the way, but in the final minutes, the Blue Devils mounted a spirited comeback. Earlier that season, Duke had rallied in the final seconds to upset No. 7 Kentucky - infuriating Adolph Rupp, who vowed never to visit Duke again. This time, UNC was up eight with less than two minutes to play when guard Bobby Joe Harris (who hailed from the small North Carolina community of King, which would later produce Duke's fun-loving Kenny Dennard) sparked a fullcourt press that brought the Heels to the brink of defeat. In the final seconds, Harris twice came up with steals and fed forward Bob Vernon for easy baskets. The second of those tied the game at 73 with 16 seconds left.

Only Harris didn't know that.

You see, the arena's tiny electronic scoreboard was impossible to see from the court. To help the coaches and players, UNC had a small hand-operated board at one corner of the court. But the student assigned to flip the scores got so caught up in the frenzy at the end of the game that he forgot to flip the final Duke score. When Harris looked after Vernon's second basket, he saw: UNC 73, Visitors 71. Thinking the Devils were behind with just seconds remaining, he intentionally fouled Tar Heel guard Tommy Kearns, who made two free throws to give UNC a 75-73 victory.

"I lost the game and on purpose, but I didn't know it at the time," Harris told reporters afterwards. "The scorekeeper was slow putting the points on the board. He cost us the game. They didn't beat us. Their scorekeeper did."

That wouldn't be the last time in the rivalry that a scoreboard issue would come into play.

There was one other interesting aspect of UNC's 1957 win in Chapel Hill. That was the first Duke-UNC game to be televised. It was the debut for a system known as Broadvision - the game was broadcast without sound over the state's public television network. Viewers could watch the game and listen to their preferred radio network coverage.

Of course, today Duke-UNC is a television staple. It's ESPN's most valuable regular season college basketball property. For much of the nation, the first Duke-UNC game - usually scheduled for the week after the Super Bowl - is the real start of the college basketball season. It's become a television fixture because the two programs have sustained their excellence for so long. When Duke and UNC meet Wednesday at Cameron, it will be the 145th straight meeting in which at least one of the two schools is ranked.

[Note: Some sources cite a Feb. 27, 1960 matchup as the last meeting between unranked Duke and UNC teams. While it's true that's the one meeting in the last 56 years in which neither team was ranked in the Associated Press Poll, UNC was ranked No. 12 that week in the Coaches Poll (sponsored by UPI at that time, now the USA Today/ESPN Poll)].

Nationally, Duke and UNC have achieved cult status with the arrival of ESPN and their twin ascension to a dominant national status. Either way you want to date the start of the modern era - either the debut of ESPN just before the 1979-80 season or with the expansion of the NCAA field to 64 teams in 1985, Duke and UNC have been college basketball's two biggest winners.

Between them, they have seven national titles and 20 Final Fours in the 64-team era - that's more than any other CONFERENCE! This year's meeting will match the last two national champions … and that's the second time that's happened in the rivalry (also in 1994 after Duke won in '92 and UNC in '93). It will be the 17th game in the last 20 years matching Duke and UNC teams that have each been to the Final Four within the two previous seasons.

But the rivalry is built on far more than consistent excellence. It has also featured a level of competitiveness that other ballyhooed events - the Super Bowl, the Yankees-Red Sox, the Masters - rarely match. Even when the two seem mismatched (anybody remember the classic 1995 double-overtime thriller from Cameron?) there is usually drama. Last year's 82-50 blowout in Cameron was an aberration - the earlier 64-54 war in the Smith Center a month earlier was a much more representative outcome.

Duke will be favored at home Wednesday night (Pomeroy projects an 83-73 Blue Devil win), but don't get too confident - even with the homecourt edge. Like the 1957 thriller, some of the best performances in the rivalry have come on the road. Over the last five years, Duke has a better record in Chapel Hill (3-2) than in Durham (1-4). UNC is 5-5 in Cameron over the last decade … Duke is 6-4 in the Smith Center over the same span.

That's just the way the rivalry works.


I've only been following the Duke-Carolina rivalry since 1960.

The first game that made a mark in my consciousness was the 1960 ACC Tournament semifinals in Raleigh.

I was 11 years old and my father got us tickets for the ACC Tournament. I think I was more excited about getting out of school early and making the trip to Raleigh - we lived in Charlotte at that time - than the prospect of seeing any basketball. I was bitterly disappointed when one of the largest snowfalls in North Carolina history delayed our trip 24 hours. We missed the Thursday afternoon quarterfinals.

In hindsight, that was a break - I would have hated my first Duke game to have been a pedestrian 82-69 victory over South Carolina. Instead, it was the matchup with the top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels.

That was one of Frank McGuire's best UNC teams. Senior big man Lee Shaffer would win ACC player of the year, but junior forward Doug Moe was the best player in the league. He was a first-team All-ACC choice in 1959 and 1961 … the only reason he didn't win all the top honors in 1960 was that he missed the first half of the season due to an academic suspension. Junior guard York Larese was another All-ACC player (and future pro), who was regarded as the best shooter in the league.

UNC was 18-5 (12-2 ACC) and ranked No. 16 nationally. They were tied by a talented young Wake Forest team for the regular season title, but won the draw for the top seed (no tiebreakers in those days).

Duke was a middling 12-10 (7-7) in the ACC under first-year coach Vic Bubas. It was a junior -dominated team, led by junior forward Carroll Youngkin, junior center Doug Kistler and junior swingman Howard Hurt. Bubas played around with the rest of his starting lineup before finally returning to a smallish lineup that included junior guard Jack Mullen, a Navy veteran, and tiny junior Johnny Frye.

They called themselves "The Birmingham Five" because that was the lineup Bubas used early in the season when Duke surprisingly won the Birmingham Classic, beating host Alabama and heavily favored Navy (which had knocked UNC out of the 1959 NCAA Tournament) to win the title. Bubas' first team was actually pretty good early, getting off to an 8-3 start, but it lost its way at midseason, losing seven of 11 games down the stretch.

That's why it was such a big surprise when Bubas predicted to Durham Herald Sports Editor Jack Horner that Duke would win the tournament.

"Being honest about it, I don't what possessed me to say that," Bubas told me more than 50 years later. "Maybe I was trying to give my team a little confidence."

I didn't know about that prediction as I headed for my first Duke game that frigid night in March, dodging the mountains of snow piled up in the corners of the parking lots outside Reynolds Coliseum. I did know - thanks to my father - that the Blue Devils were huge underdogs to the Tar Heels. The two rivals had met three times during the regular season and UNC had won each by at least 22 points: 75-53 in the Dixie Classic; 84-58 in Chapel Hill; and 75-50 in the regular season finale in Durham just six days earlier.

But the game I saw that night was a different story. The Blue Devils came out with fire and passion and seized an early lead behind Youngkin, a native of Winston-Salem who had redshirted for a year to improve his academics. UNC's Shaffer got in early foul trouble and rather than sub for his star post player, McGuire elected to leave him in the game. To some extent that strategy worked as Shaffer scored 21 points for the Tar Heels. But at the other end of the floor, it was a disaster as Youngkin abused the cautious UNC defender - pouring in a career high 30 points.

Duke opened a 35-19 lead just before halftime, but with Larese (who would finish with 25 points) on fire, Carolina rallied and on four occasions, led by a basket.

The game was tied at 63-all with just over a minute left when Hurt, a streaky shooter from the mountains of West Virginia, hit a go-ahead shot from the left corner. After UNC missed at the other end, Hurt rebounded and was fouled. His two free throws gave Duke a 67-63 lead. The Tar Heels scored three more times, but two more free throws by Hurt and two by Frye gave Duke the 71-69 victory.

"It's like Christmas in March," Bubas told reporters, echoing the words Virginia coach Billy McCann had uttered the day before when asked how he felt after the Cavs took an early lead over UNC in the opening round.

Four Duke starters played 40 minutes - Frye got a little rest as Wisconsin guard John Cantwell (the player former coach Harold Bradley had recruited instead of Billy Packer) played four minutes. And just to rub it in to the Duke-players-play-too-many-minutes crowd, three Blue Devil starters played another 40 minutes 24 hours later, when Duke stunned Wake Forest, the ACC's co-regular season champs, in the championship game. Doug Kistler played 120 minutes over three nights. Hurt and Mullen played 119 minutes each.

Afterwards, Bubas was asked about his pre-tourney prediction.

"I had a hunch," he said. "And I do think I have a horseshoe when it comes to this tournament."

He was referring to his experience as a player and assistant coach at N.C. State, when he had been a part of nine tournament title teams. He was 12-0 in the Southern Conference Tournament as a player; 19-3 as an assistant coach and, after the '60 tournament, 3-0 as a head coach.

He would finish his 10-year tenure with a 22-6 ACC Tournament record - that's still the best winning percentage (.786) of any coach who ever stalked the sidelines in the league … better than Coach K (.742), better than Dean Smith (.716) and better than his mentor, Everett Case (.682).


Duke's 1960 ACC Tournament upset of UNC is what made me a basketball fan. Before that game, I paid little attention to the sport. Afterwards, I couldn't get enough of it. I would spend many nights in my bed, the blankets over my head, a transistor radio plugged into my ear, listening to Add Penfield, Ray Reeve or Bill Jackson describe the action on Tobacco Road. There were no weeknight telecasts then - just the weekly ACC Game of the Week on Saturday afternoon, sponsored by the Pilot Life Insurance Company. To this day, I can still recall the words to that jingle:

Sail with the Pilot at the wheel

On a ship sturdy from its mast to its keel.

He guides through storm and wave,

Insures you while you save.

Sail with the Pilot o'er the seas,

He's got plans for every growing family.

Worries are far behind you

There's really peace of mind, too.

When you sail with the Pilot all the way,

So get on board the Pilot ship today!

Best Ad Ever?

Was there ever a more thrilling tune? Mozart couldn't have done any better!

I have to thank Pilot Life - and C.D. Chesley, the Philadelphia broadcast exec who sold the Game of the Week to the ACC - for my second great Duke-Carolina memory.

It was Feb. 4, 1961 - one day after my 12th birthday. We weren't planning to make the drive up from Charlotte to see the Duke-UNC game in Durham. Thank goodness because the state was hit by a severe ice storm that shut down travel in the area. But even more thankfully, Duke-UNC was the ACC Game of the Week - a special one because it was not broadcast in the afternoon, but was instead scheduled for an 8:20 p.m. start.

There were news reports that Duke athletic director Eddie Cameron was offered a national network hookup for the game if he would just move the start time to 1 p.m., but even though that was an incredible opportunity - even the NCAA title game wasn't on national TV in those days - he turned it down.

I was camped out in front of the TV when Jim Simpson (the future ABC star) introduced the starting lineups. Shaffer had graduated, but UNC still had Moe and Larese, and had added sophomore guard Larry Brown. Bubas had four starters back from his ACC title team - Mullen was declared academically ineligible a few days before the game - but the real star for the Blue Devils was sophomore forward Art Heyman.

It's almost impossible to imagine the impact Heyman had on Tobacco Road in that era. You think the Harrison Barnes recruitment was big news - hah! Heyman might not have had Skype or Twitter, but his recruitment ignited the flame that turned Duke-Carolina into an inferno.

It started out innocently enough.

Heyman was the nation's most celebrated recruit - a bullish 6-5 forward from Long Island, who dominated New York's playground leagues with his combination of skill and physical power. Everybody recruited him, including Duke. Unfortunately, he made his visit to Durham in the spring of 1959 after Coach Harold Bradley had left for Texas and before Bubas had arrived from N.C. State.

Heyman was escorted around campus by several of the sophomores who would win the ACC title as juniors a year later. They didn't quite bond - Heyman taunted them with boasts about how he would abuse them on the court when he played for North Carolina.

Yes, Heyman was a lock for the Heels. He already had his ticket on Frank McGuire's Underground Railroad, a recruiting pipeline overseen by Harry Gotkin that had already funneled players such as Rosenbluth, Pete Brennan, Tommy Kearns, Joe Quigg, Moe, Larese and Harvey Salz from New York to Chapel Hill. Heyman was going to make his ride with Brown, a playground rival (but not as is sometimes asserted, his friend). The two Jewish stars were slated to room together in Chapel Hill.

But it never happened.

The first trip Bubas made after his introduction as the new Duke coach was to New York to watch Heyman play in a pickup game. He reportedly muttered, "I've got to have this kid."

His chance came when Heyman's stepfather and UNC's McGuire almost came to blows one night at the Carolina Inn. Heyman later testified that his parents made him go to Duke - that if it had been up to him, he'd have grabbed his bags at the Raleigh-Durham Airport and taken a cab top Chapel Hill.

But his good feelings toward UNC didn't last long. Bitter over his late change of heart, UNC targeted Heyman for unbelievable abuse. In those days, freshmen couldn't play on the varsity, but the Duke freshmen "The Blue Imps") faced the UNC freshmen ("The Tar Babies") three times. In the first encounter, played in a high school gym in Siler City, Heyman was subjected to anti-Semitic slurs and cheap shots. Late in the game, after leading Duke to a huge lead, he was slugged from behind by a Tar Heel freshman named Dieter Krause.

Heyman, warned to avoid provocation by Duke freshman coach Bucky Waters, kept his cool. But Waters didn't.

"Before the game, I sat down with Art and told him, 'You've got to prepare yourself for anything. If you explode, you'll make them happy,' " Waters later said. "Then the game started and they began with this line of rhetoric, right in front of us, 'Jew! Christ-killer!' It was vicious. Well, Art was incredible and we won the game. Or we were about to win it when Krause cold-cocks Art. Just a cheap shot, just a punch from out of nowhere. I lost it. I was so convinced that it was all premeditated that I had [UNC freshman coach Kenny Rosemond] by the lapels and I was bouncing him off the scorer's table. I kept pushing him into the [scoreboard controls] and the scoreboard was going nuts. Here I work so hard to convince Art to keep his cool, then I lost mine."

Call that the second great Duke-Carolina scoreboard moment.

Heyman's arrival on the varsity the next fall inspired more vitriol. He was an immediate sensation. In his first game against LSU, he scored 23 points. He scored 27 points (with 11 rebounds) in his second game. He topped 20 points 13 times in his first 16 games - twice topping 30.

Duke was 15-1 in those games, losing only to UNC in the championship game of the Dixie Classic in Raleigh. In that game, Moe shut down the brash sophomore, holding Heyman to 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

Heyman responded by cutting Moe's picture out of the Durham paper and pasting it inside his locker. When they met again, he vowed to be ready.

That next meeting came on February 4 and Heyman was ready.

There was an amazing atmosphere in the Duke Indoor Stadium that night. It got ugly early - I didn't know it at the time, but UNC finished the preliminary freshman game with just three players on the court because everybody else had been ejected for fouls or fighting.

The varsity game was just as bitter - even as Heyman opened on fire. Moe could do nothing with him, despite some questionable tactics.

"I never played with a grudge, but that game, I had a grudge," Heyman told me years later. "Moe was guarding me and he kept spitting on me. Every time I took a shot, he spit on me. I told him I was not going to take that. I told him I had a cold and if he wanted to keep spitting, I'd let him have some real nasty stuff. I wanted to fight him, but Doug was a blowhard and he backed down and all we did was dance a little. McGuire got upset when our trainer, Jim Cunningham, came off the bench to get between us and Krause. He didn't know that Cunningham knew Krause from high school.

"Doug was frustrated. I was on that night ... I was focused. He couldn't stop me. I hit nine of my first 11 shots and got him in foul trouble."

Despite Heyman's heroics, UNC led by one at the half when another ugly incident occurred. At the time, both teams left the floor by the same route (between the stands on the side where the visiting team now sits). A UNC male cheerleader was slapping the butts of the UNC players as they left the court. For some reason, he also smacked Heyman's butt … and the angry Duke star responded by shoving him away.

Nothing would have come of it except that upstairs, a Durham lawyer (and UNC fan) named Blackwell Brodgen saw it and filed assault charges against me.

"The case was thrown out of court," Heyman recalled. "But the story went all over the country that I had hit a cheerleader. They didn't make it clear that it was a male cheerleader. My mother was playing cards when she heard about it and she called me up and asked me how I could hit a woman!"

The cheerleader incident - like the Moe spitting incident and the near brawl in the first half would be overshadowed by the game's final moments.

Duke was just about to wrap up a hard-fought victory when Brown took a long inbounds pass and drove for what would have been a meaningless basket. But Heyman, rather than let him go, grabbed his playground rival in a bearhug. It wasn't a hard or a vicious foul - he held Brown up so he didn't fall or hit a basket support.

But Brown reacted with fury.

"What happened was that I grabbed him to prevent him from making a layup," Heyman said. "Larry threw the ball at me and started swinging. It was right in front of their bench and before I knew it, everybody was hitting me. But I was strong and I fought my way back to my feet and I fought back. They were beating the hell out of me and I was just fighting back."

The rest of the Duke team stayed out of it as Heyman was pummeled by both Brown and by future NBA exec Donnie Walsh, who repeated Krause's cowardly cold-cock from behind. Hundreds of Duke students did respond, pouring onto the court for the wildest brawl in ACC history.

It took 10 Duke policemen 10 minutes to clear the floor of brawling players and students. Afterwards, there was some confusion as to the departure of Heyman. Referee Charlie Eckman reported that Heyman was ejected for fighting, although Bubas claimed that his star had merely fouled out on the initial play, before the fight.

Amazingly, Brown was allowed to stay in the game and shoot two free throws. It made little difference as Duke wrapped up the 81-77 victory. Heyman had been magnificent - 36 points on 11 of 13 shooting from the floor and 14 of 17 free throws. He added eight rebounds and an uncounted number of assists. He got some sweet revenge on Moe, who managed a mere 11 points before fouling out with more than 10 minutes to play.

But there was a disappointing aftermath.

Eckman blamed the fight on Heyman in his report to commissioner Jim Weaver. Bubas was so outraged that he called the local media into his office and showed them film of the fight - which clearly showed that Brown threw the first punch and Walsh came off the bench to slug his star from behind. Even with that evidence, Weaver essentially found all three players equally guilty, suspending Heyman, Brown and Walsh for the remainder of the ACC regular season.

I've always argued that it was that game in 1961 that turned Duke-UNC into a basketball rivalry. Before that night, football had been the focus of the duel between the two neighboring teams. But the Duke-Carolina football rivalry had never matched two top 5 teams as that basketball game did. It never generated anything like the fire and fury that the Heyman-Moe duel evoked.

Those two Duke-UNC games - the 1960 ACC semifinals and the 1961 brawl game - were my introduction to the greatest rivalry in sports history. In the half-century since, I've see too many great games to list them all - the good (the Freddie Lind triple-overtime game in 1968, the 1998 comeback game stand out), the bad (the 1974 Walter Davis eight-point rally in 17 seconds stands out) and the bizarre (the 21-20 game in 1966 and the 7-0 "Airball" game in 1979).

But mostly I just remember great basketball. That's what I'll be looking for Wednesday night when the two teams renew the rivalry of my lifetime.

PS -- I mentioned two memorable scoreboard moments in the rivalry - the 1957 game in Chapel Hill and the 1960 freshman game in Siler City. There's one more scoreboard moment that shouldn't be forgotten. In 1984, when a young Duke team had No. 1 UNC on the ropes in Cameron, Dean Smith went bonkers on the sidelines, trying to get scorekeeper Tommy Hunt to push the buzzer and summon the official. When Hunt (a UNC grad, by the way, and later the ACC's director of football officials) refused - pointing out that it was illegal for him to buzz while the ball was in play, Smith reached over and tried to buzz it himself. He missed the buzzer but gave UNC a quick 20 points on the scoreboard. In the pandemonium, he got what he wanted. The refs whistled play dead and he got to rant - without drawing a technical foul.

That set off Mike Krzyzewski, who responded with his famous "double-standard" speech. Although it was later portrayed as a complaint about the double-standard in officiating, he was actually complaining about the media's uneven reporting of ACC programs. Duke had just been lambasted (rightly) for its treatment of Maryland's Herman Veal. Coach K thought the same reporters who ripped the Duke program overlooked such behavior as Smith exhibited that day. Listen to his words and see what YOU think he was talking about:

"I want to tell you something," he said. "When you come in here and start talking about how Duke has no class, you'd better start getting your stories straight - because our students had class and our team had class. There was not one person on our bench who was pointing a finger at the officials or banging on the scorer's table. So let's get some things straight around here and quit the double standard that exists in this league!"