Fourth and Long
If I had told you three months ago that the Carolina-Duke football game might impact who wins the Coastal Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference you probably would have thought I was delusional. I probably would not have disagreed with you.
Despite any pre-season predictions I may have made, here we sit with the Tar Heels set to take on the Blue Devils in Durham Saturday night on national television with the winner in first place of their division.
The fact that the game is being televised on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. should tell you how important the “world wide leader” thinks this matchup is. On the same day that Virginia Tech and Clemson are set to rumble the conference and the network chose to put Tobacco Road in primetime and set the Hokies and the Tigers up with a noon kickoff.
Don’t get things confused, this is not the rivalry that brings forth the highest rated college basketball game year in and year out. The turf version does not match the intensity and history of the bad blue blood spilled on hard courts eight miles apart.
First of all, neither football team has had nearly the amount of success that their respective basketball programs have had. This has never been more true than at Duke. While Carolina has a long history of mediocrity on the gridiron, the Blue Devils have taken being bad to a whole new level.
The second of many reasons why the football rivalry does not match the basketball one is that it is so lopsided. UNC has won the last nine matchups and Duke has managed just one win since 1990. Is it really a rivalry when one team is clearly and overwhelmingly superior to the other?
In this case yes.
Football, basketball or soccer (the Carolina women notched a 2-0 win over Duke this week), the rivalry still exists. It may not be hyped as much on Sports Center but any time these two schools compete at anything it is personal, if not to the players than at least to the fans.
Take it from a guy who has been devastated over a lost penny to a Duke fan wagered on a regular season lacrosse match, the constant rivalry and occasional hatred is real.
This rivalry is particularly important to me because I have a small part it in. That’s a lie… I have a huge part in it. I personally take credit for the UNC’s overtime victory against Duke in 2007.
Some friends and I were seated about four rows behind where the Duke kicker warmed up. To make a long and awesome story short and less awesome, I razzed the kicker all day until he missed a potential game winning kick. The backup began to warm up so I razzed him too. He rewarded my passion and loyalty by missing a vital field goal of his own. True story and yes I have witnesses!
This year they named it one of the great ACC Moments in Football History…the game, not my trash talking. I doubt I will ever be given proper credit for my effort that day but that is okay. It’s not about individual credit, it’s about the team.
Still…I know my friends know what happened and I bet that kicker does too.
I will not be in Wallace Wade Stadium this Saturday. Despite my desire to discuss with current Duke kicker Ross Martin things like how intense the pressure is, how windy it seems, his mother, his looks, his girlfriend, her looks and his manner of dress I cannot be counted on to influence the outcome of the game by doing so.
Instead my beloved Tar Heels will be forced to try and beat Duke the old fashioned way… on the field. For the first time in a long time this appears to be a tall task.
The Blue Devils are very well-coached and showcase exactly the high powered offensive attack you would expect a David Cutcliffe team to have. Their biggest weakness is their inability to stop the run.
North Carolina is still learning the system of a new coach and brings to town one of the best offensive lines in the country blocking for one of the best backs in the country. The Tar Heels weakest link has been their secondary which have been known to give up big chunks of yardage against quality quarterbacks and receivers.
All this adds up to what should be one heck of a football game Saturday night!
David Friedman is a long-time contributor to Roanoke-Chowan Publications. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.