Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Battle for Tobacco Road

My first childhood memory of College Basketball was the infamous Grant Hill to Laettner play, now known simply as "the shot". I realized right then at the age of 7 that there was something special about this game, and the Duke program.

The very next year, my first full season of college hoops, solidified my lust for college hoops, as I watched my beloved Wolverines and the fantabulous 5 transform the game. I filled out my first bracket in 1993, and picked Jimmy, Juwan, Ray, Jalen, and Chris to lead Michigan to the championship. Sadly, I would endure probably the second most famous moment in college basketball, when Chris Webber called a time out they didn't have. There I knelt on my living room carpet, 8 years old, the lines on my head painted in maize and blue magic marker, heart broken. The scissors would be handed over to perhaps my most hated athlete of all time, Eric Montross, to cut down the nets for none other than the UNC Tarheels. A bitterness towards anything Carolina blue was established.

[Note - I actually have never blamed Webber for blowing it. The real reason Michigan lost that year was because Ray Jackson picked up three quick fouls, forcing him to sit most of the first half. The Wolverines could never overcome the deficit in the 2nd half.]

Coincidentally the first two champions I can remember are also at opposite ends of college basketball's greatest rivalry. Tonight marks the first of two regular season meetings between the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Battle for Tobacco Road is a storied rivalry, and has served as the highlight for midseason College Hoops. While often both teams are in the Top Ten, even when there are the rare down years for either program (see Capel, Jeff), the matchup never fails to produce one helluva basketball game. I can't imagine tonight's game not living up to the expectations and certainly will be tuned in, craft beer in hand.

The problem I have with tonight and every time these two do battle is that I absolutely despise both teams. If either of these teams are playing, you can rest assured that I am cheering for the opposition (Da U included). Duke and UNC without a doubt are the most storied programs in college basketball. Naturally, they aren't the only dominant programs/franchises that I've always loathed. This list also includes the obvious in the Yankees, the Cowboys, and the Lakers, along with Jack Reilly and the Hawks of Minnesota Peewee hockey, the greatest intercontinental champ of all time Mr. Perfect, and the menacing Bald Bull. I don't have to worry about anyone else on this list ever squaring off against each other, but year after year I must choose to cheer for the Devil or the Heel.

Unlike many on the "hate" list above, I respect both UNC and Duke and truly do look forward to their matchup. I think Coach K and Roy Williams are two of the best coaches ever. I love what the Cameron Crazies have created in gyms across America. I love how both teams passionately dislike each other, and put it all on the line. I love how there's a hero made in almost every matchup. As much as I hate to say it, Duke/North Carolina is a big part of why I love College Basketball.

This year, as has been the case the past three years, I will be pulling for Carolina. How can you cheer for a team with Hansbrough you ask? How can I possibly cheer for an underachieving squad that had an opportunity to be one of the greatest teams of all time because they have ridiculous talent up and down the line-up? .................. Well..... dammit.... (pause and sigh) I was just going to say Greg Paulus - who under no circumstances will I ever cheer for.... Ugh, but thinking about it... I can't cheer for Carolina either...

Guess I'll just cheer for more blood.

1 comment:

  1. Wait, you don't think that Montross filled The Chief's shoes?