She, describing Duke basketball fans while looking, so sweetly, across the dinner table at one of them, her husband: “Effete snobs. Very vehemently anti-North Carolina. Going into Cameron Indoor Stadium is a hostile experience.”
He: “There are some (Duke) people who will pull for Russia against Carolina. I am not that way ... because I have to live with her. But I just don’t like Carolina’s color of blue, for some reason. That Duke blue is a much prettier color.”
She: “What can I say? There’s only one color of blue.”
So it goes, a rivalry unique to college basketball, one that occupies some parts of most days in normal times and will get close to all-consuming as the countdown to Saturday’s NCAA semifinals in Indianapolis ticks away.
Although Tobacco Road has no defined boundaries, nearly everyone remotely interested in basketball knows it meanders through Chapel Hill (North Carolina), Durham (Duke), Raleigh (North Carolina State) and Winston-Salem (Wake Forest). What has usually civilized folks, such as Judge and Muff Carr, atwitter is that half of the residents of Tobacco Road -- Duke and North Carolina -- make up half of the Final Four.
And if Duke happens to upset mighty Nevada-Las Vegas and North Carolina beats Kansas, well, that would create a Monday night in sport like none other: the Dookies and the Heels for the championship of U.S. routes 15-501 and the rest of semiamateur basketball America.
North Carolina and Duke in the NCAA final? The manager of a Chapel Hill restaurant-sports bar called “Four Corners” looked outside at uncluttered Franklin Street and imagined the scene.
“There’d be 11,000, 12,000 out there, before, during and after the game,” said Craig Reed. “Everybody likes to see Carolina beat Duke one more time each year. You can’t beat ‘em enough, know what I mean? If you played ‘em five times and beat ‘em five times, you’d really want to play ‘em that sixth time.”
This hardly is the first time two teams from the same conference have made the Final Four. With Duke and Georgia Tech, the ACC also managed that last year. With Indiana and Michigan from the Big Ten in 1976, Georgetown and Villanova from the Big East in 1985 and Kansas and Oklahoma from the Big Eight in 1988, teams from the same league have met for the NCAA title.
Still, never have teams so close and so jealous of one another gotten so close to the ultimate matchup. It is less than 12 miles, as the cab flies, from center court at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium to center court at North Carolina’s Smith Center. That proximity often makes matters a tad tense in places that range from courtside to fireside, from boardrooms to bedrooms.
Robert W. “Judge” Carr Jr. and his wife Marjorie “Muff” have been in the thick of this North Carolina-Duke feud even before they met in the early 1970s and married some six years later. Smiling, they call their relationship “a mixed marriage.”
Judge’s mother -- and many of her kinfolk -- attended Duke; Judge’s father -- and several of his relatives -- went to North Carolina. Judge is a former basketball walk-on at Duke and the assistant director of development for the university’s school of engineering.
Muff was a member of North Carolina’s first swim team for women. She graduated with a degree in zoology, went through med school at North Carolina and is a pediatrician. She half-whispers that her courses leading to a master’s degree in theological studies (with emphasis on medical ethics, specifically death and dying issues as related to pediatrics) are at ... Duke.
The Carrs are members of their respective booster clubs. To add spice, they live in Raleigh-N.C. State territory. Fact is, N.C. State with its championships in 1974 and 1983 has had more NCAA-title success during the last quarter-century than either Duke or North Carolina.
“They have improved,” Judge admitted.
“How gracious,” said Muff.
The three closest schools -- Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State -- actually share some things. Library access for one. And joint conferences with the Duke and North Carolina med schools. And then. ...
The chancellor of North Carolina, Paul Hardin, graduated from Duke and ran for mayor of Durham in 1967. Dean Smith began his ascendancy at North Carolina, in the early 1960s, when Duke’s Vic Bubas was the ACC’s pre-eminent coach; Mike Krzyzewski began his ascendancy at Duke, in the early 1980s, when Smith was the ACC’s pre-eminent coach.
Duke is a private university with about 6,300 undergrads; North Carolina is a public school with an undergraduate population of 23,592. Duke’s arena seats 9,314, North Carolina’s 21,572. Duke’s students are irreverently clever, once yelling “Air Ball” in German to the University of Washington’s Detlef Schrempf and chanting to the parents of Danny Ferry: “One more kid, one more kid.” North Carolina’s students are tame, in part because Smith wants them that way.
Duke’s Durham is a working-class town; North Carolina’s Chapel Hill is a college town. Duke took a chartered flight to Indianapolis Thursday afternoon; North Carolina was to fly commercial later that night. Smith stressed academics this week of weeks; Krzyzewski said basketball is all-important, this once.
Krzyzewski, after his 11th year at Duke, is rather like Smith was after his 11th year at North Carolina -- wildly successful and highly respected but still unable to win The Big One after several tries.
Of his being compared to Bud Grant, the NFL coach who took the Minnesota Vikings to four Super Bowls and lost each time, Krzyzewski said: “I’m glad I’m in a position where you’re asking me that. That’s no problem for me.”
“It’s been tough at times seeing Duke go all those years and wishing we were going, too,” said North Carolina’s Pete Chilcutt, a fifth-year player. “I won’t feel so bad about them going this time.”
Around each campus, there were few obvious signs of Final Four Fever. The bedsheets draped from windows at Duke read: “Rock For The Rainforest” and “Battle of the Bands.” Painted on a large bench was: “aahhhCHOO.” Except for toilet paper still hanging from trees, in celebration of winning the East Regional, North Carolina also was understated -- probably because both schools are accustomed to grand excess in basketball. Duke has been to the Final Four the last four years and five of the last six. Smith has won 78 percent of his 925 games at North Carolina, taken eight teams to the Final Four and won the NCAA title in 1982.
Less known is this: a member of the Washington-area Buckley family has participated in Final Fours in the last four decades. Jay was there for Duke in ’63 and ’64; his brother, Bruce, was there for North Carolina in ’77; his son, Clay, has been there for Duke the last four years. Any other family ever have sons who played in seven Final Fours?
“I’m hoping to have a few Clay juniors,” Clay told the Duke student paper this week. “My dad and I talk about it all the time.”
All the time around Tobacco Road, talk mostly is about basketball. Except by the exalted VIPs, the players.
“People talk about these games (North Carolina versus Duke) from the time the season ends till the next season starts,” said the Washington Bullets’ Mark Alarie, a member of the Duke team that lost to Louisville in the 1986 NCAA final. “These people are sitting in the stands waiting for you to start playing your (early fall) pickup games.
“It didn’t matter that you lost to Louisville for the national championship. It’s more gotta-reclaim-our-bragging-rights (against North Carolina). Quite a core of hard-core fans.”
North Carolina, Duke and other Tobacco Road players are on the court together lots more than during official games. Close to mythical are summer pickup sessions in musty, out-of-date Woollen Gym at North Carolina. In addition to current players attending summer school, pros such as James Worthy, Gene Banks, Tom Burleson and Michael Jordan have been on hand.
“For the younger guys, it’s inspiring,” said Alarie. “I’ve found those games lots more competitive than some of the NBA games I’ve played. The fact that you can get kicked off the ‘A’ court gives you that drive to win. You can spend an entire afternoon trying to win a game there, and you can’t. Even if you have great players.”
Players are able to cash in on fan loyalty during an annual barnstorming surge around the state for ACC seniors whose eligibility has ended. This tour, which can run to 20-some games, nets a player $500 to $1,000 a pop.
“We lost to Louisville on a Monday night,” said Alarie, “Tuesday night, I was in a small North Carolina high-school gym for the start of the tour.”
Torn, sort of, by the prospect of Duke and North Carolina meeting for a fourth time this season Monday is Michael Swanenburg of Monkton, Md. He is a double-major senior at Duke who has had a devil of a time rooting against North Carolina.
“I grew up a Carolina fan,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s difficult around here. ... I root for Duke, of course, but it’s bittersweet when we beat Carolina.”
There is one bit of neutral territory, a business halfway between the campuses called Tranquil Corners Antiques that straddles the Durham (Duke) and Orange (Chapel Hill) county lines. Partner-owner Chris Allen only admits to liking basketball.
If someone were to hold a gun to his temple and ask him to choose, Duke or Carolina, Allen said, “They’d have to pull the trigger.” He added: “The first thing I would ask would be: ‘Well, are you going to buy anything? And if you are, I will say whatever team you want.’ Both teams going so far is fun. It gives a great sense of pride to the area.”
That’s before tipoff Saturday. Duke student Swanenburg said he was in a group that earlier this week asked three Blue Devils players for whom they would root in a Las Vegas-North Carolina final. Two players said Las Vegas, Swanenburg said. The other had no opinion.
“No matter how a Duke-Carolina final turned out there would be bad feelings,” said Judge Carr, “because one put the other out. If Carolina should beat us, that would create stronger ill feeling.”
And if Duke should win and end that long Final Four losing streak?
“That would make me feel very good,” Judge said.
Muff added: “I’d feel really bad Tuesday morning.”