Friday, November 16, 2012

A brief look at Carolina's football rivalries

Note: This post mentions Carolina football rivals in unflattering terms. Before you get bunchy underwear about something I wrote, remember that I'm not insulting schools. I'm insulting football teams and occasionally their fans and maybe, by extension, you.

Last night's matchup between the Heels and the 'Hoos got me thinking about Carolina's diverse football rivals. When I arrived on campus in 2003, rivalries were not evident because Carolina football was not evident. It took time for me to learn what my new friends had known for years about the five rivals.

I'll start with Duke, the proximity rival. I have to include the Devils in this post because they are eight miles away and culturally opposite of Carolina for many ugly reasons. Unfortunately, the rivalry suffers because Duke football suffers. Duke students have not supported their team for many years, so the game can feel like solitaire. That said, Duke did reclaim the Victory Bell this season. Perhaps the changing of hands will change the atmosphere of the Tobacco Road gridiron rivalry, but it probably won't. Fans make a football rivalry; a team only plays in it. All-time series record: 57-36-4.

NC State is the contemporary rival. The best part of playing the Wolfpack is its fanbase, a loud bunch that seems to root against Carolina more than it roots for its own team. Beating State is a joy, but the magnitude of that joy does not compare to the despair of losing to them unless, of course, you refer to the 2004 or 2012 victories. Current and past head coaches at both schools have hurled insults through local media and sometimes apologized. All-time series record: 64-32-6.

East Carolina is the rag doll rival. Awhile ago I read that the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation requiring the continuation of the series. Fine, I say. East Carolina fans are passionate enough to care more about their own team than State fans. Game day in Greenville is a fun experience, but I suspect it is at its best when the Heels are in town. All-time series record: 11-2-1

South Carolina is the forgotten rival. Most Heels fans want to see this game as at least a biannual fixture, but South Carolina has no room for us because it already faces out-of-conference Clemson each year. At least that's what they would say. South Carolina fans have a football arrogance that can be found at most SEC schools, but the Gamecocks' 1971 departure from the ACC intensifies that arrogance. South Carolina narrowly escaped its last encounter in Chapel Hill. I hope the result will be different next August when the Heels and Gamecocks kick off the season on a Thursday night in Columbia. All-time series record: 34-18-4

Virginia is the classical rival. I think traditional might be too strong of a word since most Carolina football fans care more about beating ACC newcomer Virginia Tech. But Carolina and Virginia share the oldest rivalry in the South. If you have ever seen a black-and-white photograph of Carolina football fans, then you were looking at people who hated the University of Virginia football team. I have to respect that. All-time series record: 59-53-4

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