Even in today’s sports media climate, where rational and measured discourse is often drowned out by outlandish takes, hyperbole and exaggeration, it may not be hyperbolic to say the hype surrounding the national semi-final of Saturday between the No. 2 seed Duke and the No. 8 seed. North Carolina could be unprecedented, although we have trouble precisely measuring such a claim.
Where to start? How about the literal arrival of Duke in New Orleans, in a caravan of two buses, flanked by four police officers on motorcycles. The second bus looked no different from the others. The first, however, was not. He flashed an assembly of Duke’s “D” logo, the national championship trophy and an argyle bottom.
It wasn’t easy.
So as the procession descended Poydras Street in New Orleans shortly after 8:30 p.m. CT Thursday, past Caesars Superdome, past City Hall, past downtown restaurants like Reginelli’s Pizzeria and Daisy Mae’s Southern Fried Chicken and Breakfast , the Blue The Devils were greeted by boos from a contingent of North Carolina fans as they made their rounds.
Welcome to the 2022 NCAA Men’s Final Four, where meeting three-time national champions Villanova and Kansas, who met at this event just four years ago, is somehow, surprisingly, the undercard. .
The 258th men’s basketball meeting between Duke and North Carolina is so significant that Grammy-nominated country musician and die-hard North Carolina fan Eric Church canceled a show scheduled for Saturday night in San Antonio in order to attend the game . Church, a Granite Falls, NC native who attended Appalachian State University, was forced to make amends with his fans, but you’ll make amends when you can’t miss such a rare game.
Halley’s Comet comes once every 75 years, but it took 102 years to this. The Duke and North Carolina men’s basketball teams have met on the court since 1920 (who could forget the Tar Heels’ 36-25 victory in January 1920 or the Blue Devils’ 19-18 response two months later?).
Most, if not all, of the Duke and North Carolina players who were made available to the media on Friday were asked by a reporter about their reaction to Church’s decision.
“You said, who is it?” Duke freshman guard Trevor Keels asked the reporter, asking for clarification. “What is his name?”
Eric Church, said the reporter.
“Eric Church…,” Jeremy Roach said, his brain searching, scanning, hoping for a chance to remember.
Message from Eric Church pic.twitter.com/hIZ54imdVW
— Eric Church (@ericchurch) April 1, 2022
The two Duke players burst out laughing. “I mean, I don’t even know what to say,” Keels said. “I’m pretty sure his fans are mad. I really have nothing to say. He’s going to see a great basketball game, that’s all. I can respect him, though. It’s going to be a good game, so you gotta do what you gotta do. You gotta see it live instead of watching it on TV. It’s definitely better in person. I hope it gets a good spot, though, because their fans will be do if he’s upstairs or something.”
“You know, it’s funny because I think he was at our last game, or one of the games he was at,” North Carolina junior forward Armando Bacot said, “and I want say, I talked to him. One of the coaches told me to shake his hand, but I had no idea who he was until I saw the title. I was like, ‘Oh, OK. Who is this guy”, and then a lot of my friends in Chapel Hill would tell me like how famous he was but I didn’t know because I don’t listen to country music. I guess it was a Stupid time for me not knowing exactly who he was but now when I see him I’m definitely going to show him some love and I mean I’m grateful for his support.”
In such a legendary rivalry, defined by such close geographic separation and such packed trophy cases, you will take all the support you can.
When asked what comes to mind first when they see their rival’s school colors, the answers included “fight” and “war”.
“I don’t think I’ve ever really seen a Carolina-Duke game that you’re just going to cut out because you don’t want to watch it,” Keels said. “It’s always a dogfight, every game. The players are going to get into it. It’s a hectic game, so you have to like it.”
“It’s going to bring the best performance that day,” added Roach.
That day is tomorrow, at 8:49 p.m. ET on TBS, in the penultimate game of the season, the second day of April, when each team will seek its second victory against its rival in what was an always unlikely the best of three series in Mike Krzyzewski’s curtain call and Hubert Davis’ inaugural season.
There has probably never been anything like it, in terms of development, in the history of the sport.