In my previous journalistic life, I was a sports columnist at a small newspaper in Alabama, and there I had an intimate look at the gnarliest, nastiest and, as it turns out, most horticulturally threatening rivalry in sports - Auburn vs. Alabama.
(Any Alabama fan reading this will instantly notice that I typed Auburn first.)
In my first month on the job, I received a call from a troubled Bama fan who had spent the previous month measuring every Auburn and Alabama photo in our newspaper. His research showed a difference of about 3 square inches, tilting toward Auburn. "I knew you favored them!" he said. He would turn out to be only mildly rabid, comparatively.
So moving to North Carolina, I've found that while the Duke-UNC basketball rivalry is one of the best in college sports, it can be a little Grey Poupon-ish. Sure, there's some healthy disdain going on between fans, but that tends to be smoothed out with a little too much mutual respect for a white-hot rivalry.
That's also what our favorite pollster, Tom Jensen of Raleigh's Public Policy Polling, concluded this week in his annual look at UNC and Duke fans in North Carolina. Jensen found, not surprisingly, that most of the state's voters will be pulling for the Tar Heels (41 percent) over the Blue Devils (31 percent). That is, however, the closest spread PPP has found between the two schools in five years of asking the question.
This year, Jensen dug a little deeper into what the fans think of the opposing school. Which fans dislike the other guys the most? That would be UNC's faithful - 36 percent of whom generally root against Duke all the time, with 23 percent rooting for them and 41 percent saying they don't care. Carolina fans who describe themselves as "hardcore" pull for Duke to lose by a 66/12 spread. Duke fans are split, with 35 percent pulling against the Tar Heels and 35 percent rooting for them. "Hardcore" Duke fans pull for UNC to lose by a 53/32 spread.
And that respect thing? 53 percent of UNC fans say they respect Duke to 33 percent who dislike or hate the school. For Duke fans, the spread is 49/33. Just for fun, he asked respondents who they would vote for if the governor's race was between Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and UNC's Roy Williams. Coach K came out on top 34-31, but voters from both schools said they had great respect for the other team's coach.
All of which doesn't sit well with Jensen, who reveals:
All of this talk of mutual respect makes me want to vomit in my mouth. My name is Tom Jensen and I'm a Tar Heel. I hate Duke, I hate Mike Krzyzewski, and I want Duke to lose all games in all sports unless they're playing NC State in football or baseball.Now that's more like it.
Peter St. Onge