The beginning of the bell
Norm Speer. Loring Jones.
These two men were the head cheerleaders at North Carolina and Duke in 1948, when the rivalry was at a great height. In 1947, both teams finished inside the top 25 — No. 9 for UNC and No. 19 for Duke. And while the teams’ play had risen, so had the shenanigans that accompanied the rivalry.
Speer and Jones decided to counter the rampant pranks with a symbol of victory, an object that would rival the Little Brown Jug of Michigan and Minnesota. Speer, of UNC, found an old railroad engine bell, and Jones, of Duke, asked his engineering professor to design a cart.
The cart was made, and the bell was polished.
The Duke Men’s Student Government Association said they hoped “the token of friendly rivalry would foster friendly relations and eliminate vandalism between the two neighboring schools.”
And with those hopes in mind, the bell was painted half Carolina Blue and half Duke blue before the 1948 game.
That contest was on Nov. 20, 1948, and it would result in a 20-0 win for the Tar Heels. The team was led by all-time UNC great and two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice. For the first time, the bell would stay in Chapel Hill.
Although a forfeit back in the 1800s still raises some debate as to the overall record of the series, UNC has dominated the rivalry. Since the bell was introduced in 1948, the Tar Heels lead the series 42-22-1 — excluding two UNC wins in 2008 and 2009, which were vacated due to an NCAA penalty.
‘My favorite victory’
One of the most memorable games in the rivalry came in 1969, when the 2-6-1 Blue Devils came into the contest as the underdogs against a Tar Heel team riding a four-game winning streak.
With the score knotted at 7 in the third quarter, Duke decided to run a trick play that would stun the UNC defense, its fans and the country. All-ACC quarterback Leo Hart bent down and pretended to tie his shoe, and wide receiver Wes Chesson took the snap to go 53 yards for the score. A landmark moment — “The Shoestring Play” — was born, and the Blue Devils would cruise to a 17-13 victory.
The next day, Daily Tar Heel sports editor Art Chansky recounted the play vividly.
“Chesson simply ran unmolested down the left sideline, his only problem being not to pass out from laughter before he reached the end zone,” he wrote.
For 14 of the next 17 years, the bell would stay in Chapel Hill. But when Steve Spurrier became the head coach at Duke in 1987, it was the Blue Devils who would shine. Spurrier would lead Duke to three consecutive wins. The biggest of those three victories came in 1989, when the Blue Devils routed UNC 41-0.
But UNC responded, and from 1990 to 2002, the bell remained Carolina Blue and became almost a myth to Duke fans.
The Tar Heels’ 12-game win streak ended in 2003 with a 30-22 Blue Devil win, making the 2004 matchup one the Tar Heels would circle on their calendars. This game was about bringing the bell back to Chapel Hill and also becoming bowl-eligible. The seemingly dead rivalry was fueled once more.
The Tar Heels pulled away early and continued to score, dropping 20 points in the second half to cruise to a convincing 40-17 win.
As the final seconds ticked away on the clock at Wallace Wade Stadium, the boys in Carolina Blue rushed toward the bell they once owned and embraced it. But instead of painting the bell back in Chapel Hill, the spray-paint cans came out on the field. Not only did the Tar Heel players paint the bell, but first-year Kyndraus Guy took the visiting sidelines and painted “UNC Rules 40-17.”
Then-senior Jason Brown said the loss in 2003 helped motivate the Tar Heels to bring the bell back to Chapel Hill.
“It’s a very beautiful feeling, and it feels so much greater when you remember the history behind it,” Brown said to the DTH. “I tried to block so many of those memories out of my mind, but it just makes it that much better today.”
The Tar Heel faithful wouldn’t have to block any memories out of their minds for the next eight years, as they extended their dominance into the next decade.
But in 2012 — Larry Fedora’s first year as UNC’s head coach — Duke won the bell back, leaving a sour taste in the Tar Heels’ mouths.
Quarterback Bryn Renner mounted a comeback for UNC, but it was not enough, as a Jamison Crowder 5-yard touchdown reception for Duke with 13 seconds remaining broke the backs of UNC. Duke fans stormed the field, and Gatorade was poured on Coach David Cutcliffe. The bell would return to Durham.
“I’ve definitely never been a part of something like that where the students rushed the field,” former Tar Heel cornerback Jabari Price said to the DTH in 2012. “That stuck with me — that’s going to stick with me forever.”
For Duke, it was a monumental day.
Dave Harding, a former All-ACC offensive lineman and co-captain on Duke’s 2013 team, said the Victory Bell was something he took great pride in getting and retaining.
“The Victory Bell was something we all knew of, but we had only seen it once a year over on the Carolina sidelines,” he said. “We had heard about it, but kind of like a legend in a way.”
After winning the bell in 2012, Harding and the Blue Devils won again in 2013, retaining the bell for the first time in back-to-back years since the 1980s. Harding said he kept his jersey — with some extra Duke blue paint on it from the post-game festivities — and said he hopes to frame it.
“I had come up through the years watching the Carolina players riding around on it in Wallace Wade Stadium,” Harding said. “To be able to capture the bell and to paint it Duke blue is a memory I’ll never forget. It’s still to this day my favorite victory.”
Only one will win
Just a season ago, after UNC’s 45-20 win over Duke, things got out of hand in the North Carolina locker room.
The Tar Heels rushed the bell to their visiting locker room at Wallace Wade Stadium immediately after the win for the highly anticipated spray-painting. But when bags were packed and buses were boarded, the carpet and walls of the locker room were covered in Carolina Blue. The damage would cost UNC more than $25,000 to fix and would bring a heat to the rivalry unparalleled in recent years.
The Victory Bell will sit on the sideline for the 67th time Saturday as the two rivals vie for the lead in the Coastal Division. Both sides want it, but only one will get it. The North Carolina upperclassmen want it more than ever, and they’ll do anything it takes to keep it.
For junior running back T.J. Logan, losing the bell in 2012 and 2013 made the 2014 win much sweeter.
“We were so excited just to shake it and everything,” Logan said. “Now it’s back out on the field, I feel like guys can see what we won, and they don’t want to let go.”
Redshirt senior offensive guard Landon Turner echoed that sentiment.
“I hate we lost it ever, but in retrospect, it’s kind of a humbling experience,” Turner said. “The sunshine is not as good if you don’t have rain.”
Nobody knows what the outcome will be Saturday afternoon at Kenan Stadium. But sweat will pour, blood will be shed and the bell will ring.