Duke and Kentucky will play in a few weeks, thus renewing one of the country’s most intense (although the teams don’t meet too often) rivalries.
We’re used to thinking of it in the light of Christian Laettner’s gutting heroic shot (if you’re a Duke fan) to beat Kentucky’s Unforgettables (entirely understandable that they felt gutted. That team went far beyond what anyone could have expected of it).
Duke and UK have a much more involved history though.
Duke went into Lexington and nabbed the great Jeff Mullins from right under the Baron’s nose.
In 1966, Duke might have won the national championship if Bob Verga hadn’t been sick. The high scoring guard just had nothing to give and Kentucky knocked Duke out.
Both teams were all white although (we think) Duke’s first African-American recruit, CB Claiborne, was an ineligible freshman.
Kentucky beat Duke - and went down in history as the last stand of segregated basketball, losing to Texas Western, with five black starters, in the championship game.
We’re sure it didn't seem like a break at the time but it’s a legacy Kentucky will always have and which Duke was fortunate to escape (although a healthy Duke team might have beaten the Miners. It’s impossible to say).
Duke and Kentucky met again in the Final Four 12 years later, in the championship game. Duke had a wildly young team by the standards of the day and the precocious Blue Devils fought hard but fell to Kentucky 94-88.
Duke surely irritated Kentucky fans again by swooping back into Lexington about 18 years after Vic Bubas snuck Mullins out and got another talented guard, 6-5 Vince Taylor.
Duke beat Kentucky twice that season, in the first game and then again in the NCAA Sweet 16 - in Lexington.
Then came 1992, which Duke fans remember for Laettner’s magnificent shot and Kentucky fans for his so-called stomp.
Aminu Timberlake realized Laettner had made a serious mistake and laughed and clapped on the floor as the official called a technical on the Duke star.
It became “the stomp” after “the shot” and made games between Duke and UK white hot.
In 1998, UK got a measure of revenge with a comeback win in the Eastern Regional Finals.
But we’re here to talk about 1978.
John Feinstein dubbed that Duke squad “Forever’s Team,” a term which stuck and also revealed the highly emotional and sweet fan that hides beneath Feinstein’s tough journalistic hide (it made another appearance when Feinstein, who has - or maybe had - a real passion for Navy sports, and who found employ in the Navy radio network for 14 years, once got overly worked up and cursed during a broadcast).
In 1978, teams with two juniors, a sophomore, two freshmen and a transfer weren’t supposed to be able to contend for a national championship.
That team was brilliant though, as you’ll see here. It was a shame to lose that game but the team is, well, Forever.