Loss and the Ethics of Rivalry, or, Putting a Postitive Spin On Being Told Repeatedly to Go to Hell

The most brutal thing I’ve ever heard anyone say to anyone else was said by a girl to a boy in my tenth grade math class. “I don’t even hate you,” she said back then, “because hatred is a kind of love. I’m indifferent about you.” I won’t dignify the question, of whether or not that boy was me, with a response.[1]

I’ve been proclaiming my status as a future Tar Heel Dead for about as long as I’ve been eating solid food. So I hate Duke, yes, but I realized startlingly how close that hatred was to love sometime in the third quarter of this past battle for the Victory Bell (note to the confused: sometimes Duke and UNC play each other in the sport with the eggish-shaped ball instead of the spherical one). I had always thought of Duke fans in the same way that I imagine Superman probably thinks about Bizarro: as warped reflections of my own strengths and weaknesses, whose values would probably align with my own if they’d only been born on the right planet. Our thoughts on Tyler Hansbrough or Coach K probably couldn’t be more different, for example, but at least we’d both place a basically equivalent value on college basketball. Case in point: I hate seeing Duke lose to teams who aren’t UNC. In a way it reflects poorly on the school I devote so much emotional bandwidth to[2], to see their biggest rival fail to defeat an outsider.

Which is why it was not that surprising to me when I realized that, in terms of narrative payoff and an understanding of athletic victory as a reward for one team’s expenditure of superior effort, Duke had to win. I did not want Duke to win, I merely realized that they should. It was nauseating.

I have the pro-wrestling fan’s demand for narrative payoff with my athletic entertainment, so I generally can’t help but think in those terms. A sixth win for a beleaguered Duke team (in admittedly fly black helmets) meant basically infinitely more than it would for a UNC team that’s going to have to frame the season-ender against Maryland as their “bowl game” no matter what happens. This game had the potential to be the culmination of an 18-year story, or more accurately the end to an interminable chapter about one-sidedness in a book that’s roughly a century long (and a way better read than that chapter might indicate). Objectively, there was no better way for Duke to reach bowl eligibility than by abducting the Victory Bell at Wallace Wade.

So while it’s possible that I merely got caught up in how much I dig Cascada, I was not as deflated as the people around me when Jamison Crowder caught that really pretty phenomenally exciting pass[3] and landed directly on his skull. With the exception of Gio Bernard, who plays every game like he knows me personally and wants to be on my Favorite Tar Heels Ever list,[4] Carolina was outplayed, and ultimately whatever passes for justice in college football was served.

Once you get past the easy stuff like geography, rivalry is a soft science. It’s tough to pin down the things that conflate into a definite animosity between one school and another in concrete terms, but I think one of the factors is probably payback. One of the reasons why UNC’s win over NC State this past weekend was so satisfying is because it came after four years of futility, in an amazing way. Gio’s punt return was a lightning strike of pure letdown for State fans in Kenan, and it was double-satisfying because it was a victory for a team I care about, and an act of revenge against a team I loathe. The Victory Bell game was the exact same thing for Duke. Maybe I’m a bad person, but victory is sweeter when it causes someone else some psychic pain, and that comforts me slightly even when I’m the one in pain.

The walk from Wallace Wade to event parking trapped myself and lots of other powder-blue losers in some sort of gothic architectural bottleneck, and as we were all trying to squeeze through to the other side, Duke students began verbally assaulting us from the windows. In those circumstances, the subtext of “go to Hell, Carolina, go to Hell,” becomes “We are turning up the volume on your psychic pain because you’re wearing the wrong shade of blue,” and that’s what ought to happen: We should feel bad and They should feel good.  But in all that there’s good news for Carolina fans: it’s time to get really worked up about the Victory Bell game again. It’s not a given anymore, which makes it way more exciting.

Plus, if Duke wins the ACC and Rutgers wins the Big East, the Orange Bowl will be that battle for New Jersey superiority that we’ve all been waiting for. And, full disclosure: I would hate to see Duke lose.


[1] It wasn’t, I swear.

[2] And, I guess it’s worth pointing out, didn’t attend.

[3] I know that there’s no editor quite like the human memory, but I’m not going to go back and watch it and risk being wrong. A simple catch by Crowder is a failure on the part of UNC’s defense; an upside-down, midair neck-breaker miracle catch is the way movies about sports are supposed to end, which hints at some deeper forces at work and almost completely justifies the failure of fandom that my lack of deflation signifies.

[4] Which is constantly fluctuating and is of inconsistent number but will always include Chad Scott, Serge Zwikker, and Serge Zwikker’s headband.


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3 Responses to Loss and the Ethics of Rivalry, or, Putting a Postitive Spin On Being Told Repeatedly to Go to Hell

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  1. Hunter Whitworth says:

    Oops, should be “five years of futility” instead of four. Excitement was clouding my understanding of numbers and time.

  2. Warren says:

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  3. daniel says:

    well done, sir!

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