HBO takes a stab at corralling the Duke-North Carolina men's basketball rivalry in a documentary called, "Battle for Tobacco Road: Duke vs. North Carolina." The hour-long show on the greatest rivalry in college sports premieres tonight at 9 p.m.
First, a key statistic from the program: Duke 57, UNC 53.
That's the number of on-screen commentary appearances by members (coaches, players, fans, alumni, radio guys, etc.) from each camp. It was not a scientific count though I put author Will Blythe, a UNC grad, in with the UNC camp and CBS analyst Seth Davis, who graduated from Duke, in the Duke camp. (As a former Duke beat writer, I'm telling you fans of both schools CARE DEEPLY about such minutiae. And by care deeply, I mean DEMAND IT as they froth at the mouth.)
HBO doesn't get it all. Stories, legends, highlights, and recaps from the 89-year old rivalry could easily fill two hours. But a photo, of Kris Lang and Shane Battier is the best they could provide for their PR kit? Weak.
HBO does hit the bright spots and dark hours including the five titles total won by both schools. On the UNC side, you'll see segments on Frank McGuire, the boys from New York, Dean Smith, Charlie Scott breaking the scholarship color line at UNC, and Michael Jordan. On the Duke end, you get sections on Mike Krzyzewski, Art Heyman and other great hated Duke players, Duke elitism, and the Cameron Crazies.
HBO also covers Krzyzewski's "double standards" quote; Smith's reaction to the "J.R. can't Reid" sign; the elbow heard round the world (Duke's Gerald Henderson to UNC's Tyler Hansbrough); and a touching recap of how both programs honored former UNC student body president Eve Carson at Cameron Indoor Stadium for a Duke-Carolina game just days after she was killed last March.
There's also something for N.C. State fans. HBO tips its hat to State for raising the stakes in ACC basketball during the Everett Case era and has great footage of David Thompson during the Wolfpack's glory years. And, to cleanse the pallette, there's even a Maryland fan talking smack.
I give it four tobacco plants (out of five), mostly for stuff I wanted to see but either didn't see or didn't see more enough of. Examples: Chris Duhon's coast-to-coast dash to beat UNC at UNC in 2004; the Matt Doherty-Chris Collins shoving, bench-clearing incident (as coaches, not players) in 2002; Krzyzewski's line to current UNC coach Roy Williams at the 2003 NCAA Tournament. (It has been reported thusly, "If you come to Carolina, I'll kick your ###.")
Also, and this is personal, they should have included feedback from either N&O columnist Caulton Tudor. Toot is the man, in case you were wondering. Still, there is some great lockerroom chalkboard fodder in this thing. Worthy of DVR treatment, for multiple replayings, for sure.
The hour-long feature, narrated by X-Men Origins: Wolverine star Liev Schreiber (Sabretooth!), premieres on HBO at 9 p.m. ET/PT. There will be multiple rebroadcasts on HBO and HBO2 from now through March 29.