Battle For Tobacco Road: Why Duke-UNC Is America's Greatest Rivalry

by Kate Kole

Less than 10 miles stand between the University of North Carolina and Duke University.

Wednesday night, the Tar Heels' Men's Basketball team will make the cross-town trip to a packed Cameron Stadium for their first highly-anticipated matchup of the year.

Duke has had the upper hand in this game in recent seasons, and considering the home-court advantage and current hot streak the team is riding, they'd appear to be the favorite in the upcoming contest, as well.

Duke vs North Carolina Last 87 Meetings UNC: 44 wins, 6,719 points Duke: 43 wins, 6,725 points — ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 18, 2015

But, of course, with a rivalry as heated as UNC-Duke, no team can truly claim an advantage. History, records, accolades and rankings go out the window as passion and grit fuel games of such prestige.

There are several notable statewide college basketball rivalries — Michigan-Michigan State, Iowa-Iowa State and Louisville-Kentucky, to name a few.

But, arguably, no other achieves quite the same stature as the ACC throwdown between the Tar Heels and Blue Devils.

Proximity in campuses creates the foundation for why UNC-Duke is America's greatest rivalry. It's like a high school sports rivalry on steroids. Quite literally, the team down the road is the initial step toward national prominence.

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Of course, this rivalry goes far beyond Tobacco Road. Each team's history seems to symbolically mirror the other. UNC has made 45 NCAA Tournament appearances, while Duke trails closely with 38. UNC has played in the Final Four an impressive 18 times, and Duke in 15.

The Tar Heels boast five National Championships and the Blue Devils have claimed four titles of their own. Coach K and Roy Williams are household names.

The teams are both regulars in the AP Top 25 rankings. And, this year is no exception, with Duke currently holding the number four spot and UNC sitting at 15.

Legends are born and history is made in these two programs. The school individuals root for, play at, attend or graduated from becomes an integral and inseparable part of their identities.

Yet, by the same token, you need not be a loyal fan of either to have a vested interest in the game.


It's become much greater than a regional interest; it has captured the attention of college basketball fans, nationally.

Each season brings its own inspiration and story. For Duke, Coach Krzyzewski recently achieved his 1,000 wins and the program collectively celebrated the remarkable accomplishment.

UNC, on the other hand, lost one of its greats in Dean Smith's passing and the program collectively mourned his loss.

As current players take the court in the game, they're playing for far more than themselves. They'll step foot onto the same hardwood floors Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Jason Williams and JJ Redick once occupied.

This contest isn't about a tally in the win-loss column, individual stats, the number of banners hanging from the rafters or securing a higher seed, come tournament time. It's about pride and tradition.

The term "epic" is overused, and yet, that's exactly what is merited when describing the institution the UNC-Duke game has become. Its significance goes beyond the current landscape of coaches, players and fans.

It's a fight to both maintain and further the legacy of a program. These coaches, players and fans bleed their own shades of blue as they rise to the occasion of competing in the best rivalry in college basketball.

So, what's in a rivalry?

An unparalleled excitement and knowing that after the big game, one program will ecstatically celebrate a momentous win, while the other will experience the crushing letdown of loss that only comes as a result of the highest stakes.