OCT 01, 2019 • 6 min read
Some rivalries between colleges are infamous, whether it be the classic Ivy League rivalry between Harvard and Yale, contention between the two Bay Area giants UC Berkeley and Stanford, or the great football rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State - competition between colleges in a characteristic feature of the American university system.
Today, we’re delving into the deep, heated and long-lasting feud between neighbouring North Carolina colleges, the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill (UNC) and Duke University!
The Carolina-Duke rivalry is one of the longest known to man, its origins dating all the way back to the 1790s when a scandal erupted between the Mangum and Duke families. Taylor Duke, married, and Chaney Mangum, unwed, had a child out of wedlock - a scandal that led to one family suing another and eventually, a rivalry for control over North Carolina that has lasted centuries.
The Mangums, who played a major role in the founding of the North Carolina Whig Party, soon became key supporters of UNC. The Dukes, however, were hardline Democratic Republicans and soon funnelled money from their tobacco empire to establish Trinity College, which not long after became Duke University.
This rivalry spilled into many aspects of North Carolina, including public affairs. The splitting of Orange County in 1881 was the first instance where the bitter feud between the two became apparent.
Whilst the Mangums argued for the county to be renamed Mangum County, the Dukes threatened to move their tobacco interests away from the area in a play to thwart the Mangums’ plans. This led to the renaming of Orange County to Durham County.
The feud then morphed into the Tobacco Road rivalry - a contest between two colleges less than 8 miles apart - giving birth to the battle of dominance that continues to this day.
However, most don’t understand the UNC-Duke rivalry as one of opposing families - most understand the rivalry as one that has originated from the warring of two of the United States’ successful basketball teams.
Despite this, it took a long time for this famous basketball rivalry to come to fruition. Not only was the sport not invented until 1891, but Carolina and Duke did not create teams until 1911 and 1906, respectively. However, this all changed on January 24, 1920.
Beginning with their first basketball game - a match that attracted a crowd of over 1000 people - a victory of Carolina over Duke 36-25 marked the establishment of their feud. However, it was many years before the rivalry between the two intensified. Football was still the major game of the era, and the crowds were much more interested in the contest between the two state schools UNC and NC state.
In fact, the first suggestion of rivalry did not occur until February 5, 1929, when Duke defeated Carolina for the first time 36-20. Along with this defeat, the rising popularity of the sport of basketball as an alternative to football added fuel to this kindling fire.
Slowly, the rivalry began to take shape. It was one characterised not only by location, basketball and ancient warring families, but also by the fact that one was private and the other public.
As the evolution of the sport led to more skilled players, more dedicated fans and more national coverage, the rivalry only grew and grew. In the early 1950s, Duke won 8 straight games, whilst UNC won 5 in a row in the second half of the decade and managed to clinch the 1957 National Championship. Soon, the popularity of the games began to rival that of UNC versus NC State. However, it was the arrival of head coach Mike Krzyzewski in 1980 that changed the nature of the feud.
This fresh-faced student of legendary coach Bob Knight looked to change the game, ushering a new era of competition and catapulting the nature of the rivalry to historic standards. The rivalry between him and UNC’s Dean Smith gained public notoriety, with UNC winning the 1982 and 1993 NCAA titles while Duke claimed those of 1991 and 1992. Krzyzewski also managed to lead Duke to three runner-up finishes - a feat only accomplished once by their UNC rivals.
Ultimately, the rivalry has pushed both teams to achieve tremendous accomplishments and outstanding success. Both colleges are amongst the top five ‘most winning’ basketball teams of all time, simply going to show the power of competitive spirit!
As one of the fiercest and longest college rivalries in existence, it is also one of the most exciting - make sure to tune in to a UNC-Duke basketball game to see this rivalry come to life.
Want to play sports in college? How about for the Ivy League? Learn how Crimson student, Willem maximized his athletic ability and secured a Likely Letter to Harvard for soccer!
Claudia applied to over 10 universities with the help of Crimson and received acceptances from Stanford and a number of Ivy League schools before deciding on Princeton. Claudia is studying International Affairs and Public Policy, and represents her university in varsity swimming.