Last night, Alex Yegiyants and I decided to make a list of the 15 greatest moments in Duke-UNC history. It wasn’t easy, and I know some of you reading this will disagree with our choices. Alex and I know a lot about this rivalry, but in the end, this is an objective exercise, and of course there’s room for debate. Some, for instance, might wonder why didn’t include the Austin Rivers game, or the Jeff Capel shot from 1995. In the end, though, these are our choices, and we hope you enjoy the list. Let’s begin!
15. The “Blue Devil” Terror (Mar. 4, 1923)
In 1922, Duke students chose the nickname “Blue Devils” for the school’s sports team, after a group of French flying aces who had toured campus several years earlier. With a new name came the need for a new mascot, and in the absence of student volunteers, an enthusiastic local 54-year-old homeless man named Frederick Van De Bergh was offered the job. Nobody realized it at the time, but Van De Bergh suffered from severe psychosis (called ‘the Spinster’s Complaint’ at the time), and had been institutionalized six times for threatening to assassinate six consecutive presidents. Despite this, he proved immensely popular with Duke students, and some of his racier dance routines—particularly “Old Tom’s Toenails” and “Where’s My Butter Boy?”—are still performed at Duke today. On March 4, though, when North Carolina came to town, Van De Bergh suffered his latest psychotic spell and showed up at the gym completely naked, covered head-to-toe in blue body paint and patches of cat fur. The students went wild, but their enthusiasm quickly turned to shock as Van De Bergh ran up to the Carolina players and attacked them in what one local paper called a “rabid biting frenzy.” It took over 30 minutes for Van De Bergh to be subdued, at which point Duke was forced to forfeit the game. Van De Bergh was institutionalized yet again, and spent the next six years in a strait jacket at Butner Hospital near the Virginia border. Upon his release, he returned to Durham, where he later served as a respected member of the city council.
14. “Billy Overalls” (1979-1982)
Carolina fans didn’t know exactly what to expect when William Cheevers, a 7’2” center from the Ozarks Mountains of northern Arkansas, came to campus in the late ‘70s. Some were put off by the fact that he spoke his own strange hill dialect, while others were offended by the fierce ‘dead animal’ odor emanating from his body. And what kind of basketball player wears overalls and hunting boots on the court? Four years later, though, after the man they called ‘Billy Overalls’ had amassed an 8-0 record against rival Duke, there were no complaints—even after he relieved himself on television before attempting a free throw in 1981. Cheevers was arrested for sodomizing a dog a year after his graduation, and died in prison from dysentery in 1985, but his memory lives on in Chapel Hill.
13. The Finale (February 28, 1983)
Unlike most of the other entries on this list, this game is notable for what didn’t happen. Although the game was highly anticipated, one event held the nation’s attention even more: The finale of the hit show M*A*S*H. As game time rolled around and not a single player or coach had yet hit the court, fans became anxious in their seats. Eventually, a camera crew made its way to the Duke locker room to find both teams and coaching staffs huddled around a small tv, focused intently on the final exploits by the gang from the 4077. When asked about the game later, the players would only discuss the finale. Most found it to be a satisfying farewell, with one notable exception in Michael Jordan, who had rooted adamantly for the North Koreans during the show’s 11-year run and was upset that a majority of the American characters survived.
12. The Adlai Stevenson Game (Feb. 19, 1956)
In the spring of 1956, with the presidential election just months away, Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower were neck-and-neck in what looked like the closest race in United States history. That was before Adlai Stevenson decided to attend a Duke-UNC game in Chapel Hill, hoping to curry favor in what would surely be a battleground state in November. His close friend and Durham City Council president Frederick Van De Bergh made sure he had courtside seats, but things took a turn for the worse when Carolina star Lennie Rosenbluth attempted to save a ball from going out of bounds. Reaching for the ball, Rosenbluth managed to accidentally punch Stevenson in the ear, at which point the candidate’s face began to swell into the shape of a grotesque oval. Thinking he would be seen as a “dandy” if he left the game, Stevenson refused to move, but his appearance disgusted the spectators. “Why, that man has the head of an egg!” shouted UNC coach Frank McGuire, and soon the cry was taken up in the entire stadium. The Eisenhower campaign seized on the moment, and soon Stevenson was being called an “egghead” in all corners of the country. He lost all credibility, and was routed by Eisenhower in November.
11. Death by Tobacco (Feb. 4, 1875)
In just the tenth year of the budding rivalry, long before television or radio had even entered the equation, Duke was coached by tobacco baron James Buchanan Duke—the man who had given his name to the Durham University. At that time, J.B. Duke saw basketball less as a sport that could succeed on its own merits, and more as an advertising opportunity for the Duke Tobacco Company. “All ye wretched cagers shall have thy maws filled by the black weed when-so-e’er ye trod yon boards!” he famously told his players, and so it was—for the first 10 years of Duke basketball, the players were forced to chew tobacco whenever they took a foul shot, at which point they would spit the juice into a spittoon held by a manager and loudly pronounce, “that there is the state’s finest tobaccy!” In 1875, though, J.B. Duke took it to the next level, forcing his players to chew tobacco at every moment, not just on the foul line. By the game’s end—a 54-12 victory for North Carolina—four players had died from tobacco poisoning (now called “Duke’s Complaint”), and three others were hospitalized for asphyxiation. All three later died, and J.B. Duke was forced to abandon his advertising campaign. A statue of the great businessman can still be seen in front of the chapel on Duke’s west campus.
10. The Experiment (Mar. 15, 1943)
In the midst of the second World War, with morale at an all-time low, the presidents of Duke and North Carolina met and mutually decided that scoring in the college game was too low. Americans needed something to cheer for, they knew, and the low-scoring affairs that had come to dominate the NCAA game were no longer doing the job. In a bold move, they decided to expand the size of the basket—from its current diameter of 18 inches to a full 24 feet. The hoop now took up the entire sideline, and to make scoring even easier, they lowered it from ten feet to six. The result was an offensive explosion—defense proved impossible, and UNC prevailed by a score of 432-412 that day. Unfortunately, the students didn’t enjoy this new brand of high-octane basketball, and they destroyed both baskets and lit the gymnasium on fire in what came to be called the “Ides of March Riot.” The next season, in an attempt to atone for their mistake, the presidents reduced the diameter of the hoop to a mere 10 inches—barely enough to fit a basketball—and Duke won 2-0 in seven overtimes.
9. The Mask (March 2, 1997)
As evidenced by his amazing performance in the 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, Vince Carter was a great showman. However, fans of UNC and Duke got an early glimpse of Carter’s prowess for theatrics when he played an entire game in 1997 wearing a Ronald Reagan mask with holes cut out for his eyes. Carter had an especially effective game, and led his team in scoring. The highlight of the game came halfway through the second period when Carter capped an alley oop with an aggressive windmill dunk and a boisterous shout of “Reaganomics Bitch!” To this day, it’s unclear exactly what message Carter was trying to send with the mask. Some say it was meant to be a not so subtle jab at Duke University, which was then considered to be an elitist and economically driven institution by some. However, others have noted that prior to the game, Carter exhibited embarrassment at a zit that formed on his forehead. A third theory, recently popularized, posits that Vince Carter is just a huge Ronald Reagan fan. Supporters of this argument point to his autobiography, Vince Carter: Memoirs of a Huge Ronald Reagan Fan.
8. Battle of the Greens (Jan. 31, 1996)
This game started off somewhat uncharacteristically with Duke taking a 42-30 lead at the half. But the gap in the score didn’t stop this one from ending up a stone cold classic, as with 17 minutes left in the second half, the players decided to drop all pretense and reveal that this battle of the blues was actually, a battle of greens. Fans stood in awe as, one by one, players for both teams shed their humanoid shells and revealed the scaly green reptile skin underneath. The game ultimately ended as a one point victory for UNC, but will be remembered by most as the event that heralded the end of humanity’s reign on a little planet we call Earth.
7. The Kiss (Feb. 24, 1989)
There’s no love lost between the different shades of blue—or so they’d have you believe. But in 1989, at Cameron Indoor Stadium, we saw that love and hate aren’t quite the opposing forces we might have believed. In the midst of a close game, with less than three minutes left, Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski approached center court to confront the referee at the same time. When the official slipped away, the two furious coaches were left staring into each other’s eyes, and we all remember what happened next—a kiss for the ages, two technical fouls, and the only “draw” in the history of the long rivalry.
6. Wojo Shrugged (Mar. 3, 1997)
In what onlookers describe as one of the single oddest point guard performances of all time, a 1997 game between these rivals was defined by the actions of a single man, Steve Wojciechowski (or simply, Wojo). Although generally considered a reliable and team-oriented point guard, Wojo played very unlike himself. He would not pass the ball to open teammates and neglected easy alley oop plays on at least three separate occasions. At one point in the first half, Wojo went a full three and a half minutes without passing the ball a single time, a stretch during which he took seven contested field goals. Afterwards, Wojo was pulled by Coach K for the remainder of the game. When questioned by media, it was revealed that Wojo had read Ayn Rand’s opus Atlas Shrugged the week before game. “Why should I pass to these guys?” Wojo asked the press. “Why should I help them build monuments to themselves on my back?” When a media member pointed out that this was a point guards role on the team, Wojo became noticeably distraught. He then wrote “cog” on his forehead with a sharpie and lay down on the floor.
5. The Oil Game (Jantober 33, 2499)
In what historians consider one of the most important events in history. The Necromancers of UNC took on the Duke University Skelebots in a game that would determine which of Earth’s two remaining life forms would be allowed to have the planet’s final barrel of oil. Many saw this as an inevitable outcome as the Necromancers and Skelebots were the only species to truly thrive after the Singularity that occurred nearly 500 years earlier. The game was close throughout with both sides leading at various points. Necromancer shooting guard Rihanna Carol Oates led all scorers with 32, but it ultimately wasn’t enough as the game ended when the dying embers of our sun exploded in a marvelous cacophony of light.
4. Do the (New) Wave (March 15, 1973)
In 1973, Duke and UNC fans were treated to a truly unique game watching experience. Picture this: Duke player Bob Fleischer shoots a runner, but instead of following the arc of the ball through the basket, we smash cut to Fleischer high fiving a teammate on the other end of the court. A second later, Fleischer looks directly into the camera and questions what such a basket is really “worth”. Two points? Why? For what? As the second half started up, all play stopped and both coaches spent the period questioning the linear nature of sport and its bourgeois trappings while smoking a carton of cigarettes. Only after the game was it revealed that the entire game was actually Jean-Luc Godard’s new film, La Tristesse Mélancolique. While fans of French New Wave were delighted, many along Tobacco Road were left wondering how the performance would affect their team’s tournament seeding.
3. The Swimming Pool Game (Feb. 12, 1937)
During the great depression, there was only one man, Ernest “Hardwood” Botticelli, who repaired basketball courts in America, and like a cobbler of old, he would travel from town to town drumming up business. It so happened that he was in the North Carolina Triangle in February 1937, and was simultaneously repairing the courts at both UNC and Duke—at the time, the only basketball facilities in the state. That forced the teams to get creative when the date of the big game came around, and it was Pokey Krzyzewksi (Coach K’s grandfather, a civic leader) who came up with the winning idea: Why not play the game in the old Chapel Hill municipal swimming pool, which had been drained during a Typhoid fever scare the year before? Volunteers attached peach baskets to either side of the pool, the players were lowered into the concrete structure, and the fans watched from above, shouting their support. In an era when teams didn’t change sides at halftime, the Blue Devils had a tremendous advantage, as their basket was in the shallow end of the pool, and they won the game 74-34. Within weeks, 13 of the participating players had come down with Typhoid fever, traces of which had lingered in the crevices of the concrete.
2. The Four Corners Defense (Feb. 2, 1978)
In 1978, Duke coach, Ira “the Innovator” Marfin had nothing more than a nickname he gave himself and a radical plan when his team hit the court against the Tar Heels. Long a student of basketball, Marfin took note of the “Four Corners Offense” many teams had started using to stall the game and create an advantage on the offensive end. Desperate to come up with an answer for the strategy, Coach Marfin decided to fight them on their own turf. Prior to the game, he told four of his players to stand at the four corners of the defensive end before the UNC offense had a chance to arrive. He felt this would deprive the Tar Heel offense of their precious corners, and give his team their only chance to win. It was an immediate success: A baffled Dean Smith refused to concede his spacing to Duke, and a war of attrition took place at the corners, with players trying to box each other out. Meanwhile, the basket went unnoticed, and Duke prevailed 6-0. The next time the two teams played, UNC guard Franklin “Smarty” Jones wondered aloud why they didn’t just ignore the corners and drive to the basket, at which point an enraged Smith kicked him off the team. Jones became a horse trainer, and won the Kentucky Derby in 2001 with a thoroughbred he named after himself.
1. The Last Game Ever (March 13, 2011)
On Mar. 13, in the finals of the ACC Tournament, Duke beat North Carolina 75-58. The following December, the machines of our planet became sentient in an event known as “The Singularity.” In accordance with Mayan predictions, they waged war on mankind beginning on Dec. 21, and it wasn’t much of a battle—those who weren’t killed were enslaved, and put into a coma-like state where the fantasy of real life was maintained via a series of sedatives and hallucinogens to forestall any thought of revolt. In our minds, the usual reality persisted, but it was an illusion—all Duke-UNC battles since, including the infamous Austin Rivers game and the Jantober Oil Game, were figments of our collective imagination, and didn’t actually happen. (NOTE: There is some debate among historians as to whether our previous reality was truly “real,” in the strictest sense, or whether that, too, was a delusion from an enslaved labor class. If that’s the case, the last Duke-UNC game took place on Feb. 24, 1989, when Dean Smith and Mike Kryzyewski kissed at center court.) (NOTE: The historians themselves, however, were not real, nor was the debate, nor is anything you’re reading right now.)