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""It is a basketball rivalry that simply has no equal. Duke vs. North Carolina is Ali vs. Frazier, the Giants vs. the Dodgers, the Red Sox vs. the Yankees. Hell, it's bigger than that. This is the Democrats vs. the Republicans, the Yankees vs. the Confederates, capitalism vs. communism. All right, okay, the Life Force vs. the Death Instinct, Eros vs. Thanatos. Is that big enough?""
The basketball rivalry between Duke and North Carolina is the fiercest blood feud in college athletics. To legions of otherwise reasonable adults, it is a conflict that surpasses sports; it is locals against outsiders, elitists against populists, even good against evil. It is thousands of grown men and women with jobs and families screaming themselves hoarse at eighteen-year-old basketball geniuses, trading conspiracy theories in online chat rooms, and weeping like babies when their teams -- when "they" -- lose. In North Carolina, where both schools are located, the rivalry may be a way of aligning oneself with larger philosophic ideals -- of choosing teams in life -- a tradition of partisanship that reveals the pleasures and even the necessity of hatred.
What makes people invest their identities in what is elsewhere seen as "just a game"? What made North Carolina senator John Edwards risk alienating voters by telling a reporter, "I hate Duke basketball"? What makes people care so much?
The answers have a lot to do with class and culture in the South, and author Will Blythe expands a history of an epic grudge into an examination of family, loyalty, privilege, and Southern manners. As the season unfolds, Blythe, the former longtime literary editor of "Esquire" and a lifelong Tar Heels fan, immerses himself in the lives of the two teams, eavesdropping on practice sessions, hanging with players, observing the arcane rituals of fans, and struggling to establish some basic human kinship with Duke's players and proponents. With Blythe's access to the coaches, the stars, and the bit players, the book is both a chronicle of personal obsession and a picaresque record of social history.
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