Numerous sports commentators have declared UNC-Duke the biggest and best sports rivalry in America. (For example, http://www.foxsportscarolinas.com/02/12/13/UNC-Duke-is-Americas-best-rivalry/landing_acc.html?blockID=862965)
From what I can tell, it's mostly because of the two schools' a) proximity and b) comparable success. Last year I wrote an article about the history of the rivalry for my school newspaper. But — in its most elemental and intense form — I experienced this rivalry for myself for the first time this week: in the student section of Cameron Indoor Stadium.
After weeks of camping out, I proudly wore the plastic wristband that guaranteed me entry to the game. I lined up with my (now dear to me) tent group in our well-earned spot #46, three hours before tip-off. Everyone was using the time to paint up: many people painted their arms, legs and chests as well as faces. I did my best to avoid the dark blue paint all around me but in the end got attacked by my friend Ryan, who successfully painted my right eye, the corner of my mouth, and an obscure spot along my hairline. I tolerated it because I felt it would be clear to my UNC friends that the paint was involuntarily applied, while the presence of dark blue color on my face would be enough for my Duke friends to stop pressuring me to paint up.
Finally it was our turn to rush into the stadium and be forcibly packed together by the line monitors on Cameron's rickety student risers. The energy was contagious, and I enthusiastically joined in with any cheers and song that weren't anti-UNC. That is, until the game started. When the teams actually started playing, I realized how deeply my allegiance to UNC runs. With UNC in the lead the entire first half, I was flipping out. I could barely contain myself, quivering at the thought of jumping in my car immediately after the game to drive straight to Franklin Street and join in the mad festivities when we won. There it was: that small but hugely telling word "we." Even when trying to fit in at Duke, when trying to assimilate entirely, I still couldn't let go of my original position in this "us vs. them" dichotomy.
I've never been more invested in any sporting event in my entire life. I've watched games I care about, I've played in games I care about, but never has it seemed to matter so much to me personally. Despite my white t-shirt proclaiming neutrality, I struggled to muffle my moans and cheers in favor of the Heels. "You're giving yourself away," scolded my friend Tori, who stood next to me during the game.
But then, of course, Duke gained the lead and the Heels couldn't get it back. At the end I didn't feel happy for the Duke victory the way I thought I might. Despite my new fondness for this school, I had no wish to celebrate. I trudged back to my room to write a paper I had previously hoped I might have an excuse to put off.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. Every frozen second in that tent, every miserable early-morning tent check, every inconvenient shift I covered: It was worth it without a question. Not only did I love the novel experience of Kville tenting, I loved getting to know and becoming friends with my tentmates. And being at that game—potentially the most-watched game in college basketball—in the middle of the infamous Cameron Crazies, was more fun than I had ever imagined a basketball game could be. The entire epic experience is something I am infinitely glad I chose to do, something I could see myself telling my kids about.
I like to imagine there is no better shade of blue, because the challenge is what makes the rivalry fun. It's incredible that I've been able to experience it on both sides— behind enemy lines, indeed.