My high school and its enemy institution across town own the oldest football rivalry in the United States — City vs. Poly. It began in 1889, when a team from my school, an all-boys high school named Baltimore City College, defeated a team from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, also an all-male school, called Poly.
The rivalry between these two schools grew in importance in Baltimore and continues today. The annual City-Poly football game became the city’s dominant sports event before major league teams arrived in the 1950s. For many years, the City-Poly game has been played on Thanksgiving Day or the Saturday following, signaling the end of the football season for all of Baltimore’s schools. In spite of City’s early dominance, Poly leads in overall wins with 62 wins to City’s 60, but City won this year’s game in a thrilling double-overtime battle that included a bench-clearing brawl.
I understand sports rivalries and feel right at home living in Carolina vs. Duke country. Tonight, the two university’s basketball teams clash at Duke’s madhouse called Cameron Indoor Stadium in the first of two scheduled games this season. Duke’s aptly named Blue Devils are faring less well than usual this year, entering this game with a record of 18 wins and 5 losses, 6-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Carolina’s Tar Heels enter the fray boasting a 21-4 record (9-2 in the ACC) and is looking like a team probably headed for the Final Four again. UNC lost the national title game last season in a heartbreaker to Villanova, thanks to an amazing shot at the buzzer. None of that matters tonight to Duke or Carolina fans. Throw out the record book, as the saying goes.
As a retired UNC faculty member, naturally I’m a devout Carolina fan who faithfully wears light blue and cheers for the Heels on game days. But my respect for things Duke and my affection for Duke-related friends go deep. Both of my new artificial hips were put there by a Duke surgeon. I regularly visit my Duke cardiologist, who is a member of my church. We never discuss basketball, though. Many of my church friends are associated with Duke. We sing together in the choir. My sister’s husband attended Duke. All good people.
None of that matters on game day. When the official tosses the ball up, I’m rooting for the Tar Heels, undeterred by the obnoxious chants of the Cameron Crazies. If the men in stripes are as competent as the players, we have a great chance of winning.