Rivalries Renewed

After the recent loss of the victory bell, and the COMEBACK STORY OF THE YEAR against State in football, I’ve been thinking a lot about rivalries. Some added fuel to this mental fire came from none other that the Tar Heels’ senior guard Dexter Strickland, who recently had this to say to CBS’ Jeff Goodman regarding N.C. State topping the preseason coaches poll in the ACC:

“They talk those guys up every single year and we beat them every single year,” Strickland said. “They are the least of our worries. Beat us one year and then they can talk smack. Until then, you can’t put them in the mix.”

I imagine this picture when I read that quote:

Sounds pretty confident, eh? While most of us armchair coaches would call that foolish — even call it the dreaded “bulletin board material” like the hack headline writer as CBS did — consider the source. Strickland is a 22-year-old senior who’s never lost to State in his career despite the Wolfpack’s recent recruiting success (Remember C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown are JUNIORs. That heralded class, despite losing Ryan Harrow, was supposed to lift State’s program a while ago.) So why should he view the new State team any differently? I’m getting off topic.

The point of this is to examine what makes a good rivalry, and I think Strickland’s comments are the type that helps keep them alive and well. When I was a student at UNC (2004-’08) many of my fellow students were apathetic toward State. After all, it wasn’t much of a rivalry during those years, although Sidney Lowe’s single win against UNC did come in the 2006-’07 season. The State game (a very important one to me as I had many friends attending NCSU) wasn’t as big a deal to my out-of-state friends or even fellow North Carolinians who had only recently become aware of basketball after arriving at UNC. Frankly, that sucked. Besides the Duke game, I wanted tickets to no other game more than I wanted State tickets. The fact that UNC was beating them handily and regularly only added to my desire.

One downside to attending these games, however, was the inevitable “Not our rival” (Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap) chant that would always surface near the end of the game. Sure, most any student would agree that Duke is Carolina’s MAIN rival, but to just dismiss the Wolfpack seemed ignorant, both of history and of proximity. A rivalry with State is only natural, and the passion is there on the State fans’ side of it FO SHO. The passion is clearly there among the players. You can tell by Strickland’s comment that he’s not pleased with all this talk that State is the best team in the area this year.

Passion among the fan bases is what makes the Triangle the best area of the country for college hoops, and now that State seems poised for a return to prominence, it can only help UNC in terms of recruiting players who want to play in the rivalry and making the Heels’ regular season resume that much more impressive — or daunting depending on how you look at it.

So please, when you’re out there, parading about as some Tar Heel born or bred fan, do your part to stoke the flames. Have you insulted a State fan today?