During the strangeness that is the COVID-19 pandemic, some have sought reprieve and comfort in the tidings of the holiday season. Whether it’s decorating a Christmas tree, lighting the candles on the menorah or kinara or simply bundling up to endure the cold with loved ones, everyone has some way of celebrating their respective holidays.
But for Tar Heels and Blue Devils, the most important day of the season is on Feb. 6, and there won’t be trees or candelabras or wreaths — just big slams, boards and buckets.
Even with the pandemic and semester hanging overhead, and the fact that there won’t be fans in the stands, the first UNC-Duke men’s basketball game of the season is still a college basketball holy day.
“I don’t think there’s anything in the world that would really ever change that feeling of excitement you get when Duke-UNC is around the corner,” Duke senior Weyman Cohen said.
This holiday won’t be happy for everyone, though. At the end of the night, one blue team will sulk its way out of Cameron Indoor while the other struts away in the ecstasy of a win, even if that celebration will look a bit different this time around.
Most years, Tar Heels know what awaits them in the event of a win: as soon as the clock hits zero, students dash toward campus to release their hopes, fears, anxieties and excitement into one grand mosh pit of Carolina Blue humanity — the rushing of Franklin Street.
UNC junior Jack Hall, a self-professed “Carolina basketball super fan,” recalled his first time ever rushing Franklin. It was February 2019, Zion Williamson had busted through his shoe and Hall was in position when UNC claimed its 88-72 win.
“I could not get into any bar, they were so packed,” Hall said. “I couldn’t find a place to go, so I grabbed my roommates and we literally sat in Lotsa (Stone Fired Pizza), which is now closed. We were right at the intersection, and — I still have the video — we were the first people to make it on Franklin Street as the game was coming to a close.”
What Hall remembers most is not the volcanic eruption of humans he endured that night, but the experience of doing it all with his closest friends. For that reason, this year’s game will be just as special to him, even if Franklin Street isn’t covered in screaming fans.
“Yes, you’re (rushing Franklin Street) with thousands of strangers, but all my memories are me doing it with my best friend and roommate,” Hall said. “If you celebrate it with that same group of close people, it’s going to be just as special.”
Of course, Duke fans have their own traditions, too. Cohen is a two-time veteran of black tenting, a process where students form a line of tents known as Krzyzewskiville — named after Duke’s legendary head coach — and camp outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium for weeks, sometimes over a month, waiting for tickets. If the Blue Devils triumph against the Tar Heels, they also have their own ways of releasing their pent-up anxieties, joys and reliefs.
“You go into the middle of the quad, you take one of those large college benches that has room for a ton of people, and you burn one of those benches,” Cohen said. “It’s that equivalent of rage you find on Franklin Street, you find that kind of rage around a burnt bench.”
UNC students also caught the pyromaniac bug a bit later on, burning couches and other objects in small pockets of the Franklin Street human mob. But with health and safety precautions in place this year, there likely won’t be a mass rushing of Franklin Street or a storming of Duke’s West Campus, brightened only by the moonlight and a bench or couch bonfire.
But the most important tradition here isn’t any of those things — it’s the game itself. UNC-Duke is the greatest rivalry in college basketball, each team boasting its own dedicated fanbase — be they Tar Heel faithful or Cameron Crazies — and packed stadium or not, rushed Franklin or not, burnt furniture or not, they’ll be excited.
“I’m just happy that we’re going to have a game, and I’m happy that I can be in Chapel Hill for it,” UNC first-year Evy Hochstein said. “Am I still going to miss rushing Franklin for the first time? Yeah. But I’m just grateful for what we’re able to do and who we’re able to celebrate with, regardless of the situation.”