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The Shakespearean origin story of the UNC-Duke rivalry

UNC students hold up signs and cheer as ESPN’s “College GameDay” crew come to the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC, for the UNC-Duke game on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022.

If you strip the UNC-Duke rivalry down to its nucleus, you will find a story that is almost Shakespearean. 

Two families with hatred for one another. Forbidden lovers. A child born out of wedlock. 

While the two schools didn’t clash on the court until 1920, the seeds of a sports rivalry might have been planted by a blood feud and a five-dollar child support case. 

In 1794, the married Taylor Duke – the namesake of Duke University – pursued a relationship with Chaney Mangum.

“The Mangums were crucial in helping [UNC] survive its first century,” read a 1994 article from the News & Observer. “Willie P. Mangum served in the board of trustees for 43 years. Adolphus Mangum, a professor, helped reopen the school after the Civil War.”

Today, the Mangums are remembered by academic scholarships and Mangum Hall, which rests on Raleigh Street. 

For months after beginning their affair, Duke and Mangum worked to conceal their relationship and their newborn son. However, the couple was unable to stay away from each other and had another child — exposing them completely and bringing the illicit relationship into public eye. Duke was forced to pay five dollars a year in child support following a custody court case, and the feud quickly moved from hostile courtrooms to education. 

“There’s no question [of] the importance of the two families to their respective institutions and one more wrinkle to what has been a storied rivalry,” local historian Freddie Kiger said

The rivalry wars

In the 1960s, the rivalry became personal during a series of recruiting wars.

Both teams recruited players from New York, and the recruitment battle reached its height because of one person: highly-touted recruit Art Heyman. 

During his visit to Chapel Hill, Heyman’s stepfather commented on then-UNC head coach Frank McGuire’s factory-like style of coaching. As a result, Heyman “had to keep the two men from throwing punches at each other,” according to a 1995 edition of Sports Illustrated.

So, when then-Duke head coach Vic Bubas picked up Heyman from the Raleigh-Durham airport on his way to UNC, the commit found a new home nine miles away.

During his sophomore season in 1961, Heyman learned that the Tar Heels – made up of New Yorkers who were once his friends – did not take kindly to his change of heart. Then-sophomore Larry Brown, who was supposed to be his roommate in Chapel Hill, punched Heyman, leading to a full-on fight that took 10 policemen to break up. Although the case was later dismissed, Heyman was charged with assault and battery by UNC members after the game.

“It was like a 10 minute brawl,” North Carolina history professor Matthew Andrews said. “That seems to be when the rivalry was ratcheted up and taken to another level.”

In the next regular season matchup, guardrails and chains were placed in front of bleachers in Woollen Gymnasium. 

Before the 1960s, the rivalry seemed to be about education. The 1961 season helped escalate the feud by turning it into a physical battle where the winner gets the last laugh. However, the rivalry needed one more starring role. 

Mike Krzyzewski. 

Coach K’s entrance

Kiger said Krzyzewski was "cut from a different cloth." After becoming the head coach in 1980, Krzyzewski became intent on “elbowing [his] way in” to the area, where the UNC-NC State rivalry ran supreme.

By 1984, he did just that.

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During the first UNC-Duke game of the year, Smith wanted a substitution a little over four minutes into the game. To stop the clock, the head coach banged on the scorer’s table and accidentally added 20 points to UNC’s score. Smith was not given a technical. 

After the game, Krzyzewski ranted about the differences between the two programs. 

“Coach K repeatedly, publicly and privately, said that there was a double standard in the Atlantic Coast Conference,” Kiger said. “Smith gets calls. It’s his official. Smith gets his way.”

In that moment, Krzyzewski added a new element to the rivalry: coach versus coach. His desire to turn Duke into one of the best programs helped make UNC-Duke the rivalry it is today. 

Although both teams have new coaches at the helm, each of these eras adds a component to the modern rivalry. Even as the two teams prepare for their 261st game against one another, three things are constant when the teams square off, Kiger said. 

“Time stands still,” he said. “The universe slows down. Our collective hearts beat to the pulse of a leather round ball for two hours.”


@dthsports |