by Jeff Laughlin
I want to cover a rivalry. I want to see the blood feuds that define generations of athletes and fans. I want to watch the barbarians pounding on the rails separating them from their enemies. I want to write about the sports wars and know impossible comebacks fueled by intense neighborly hatred.
Unfortunately, I live in the Triad.
The closest thing we really have to a rivalry is probably Carolina-Duke, which hosts the most tired set of clichéd fan idioms in history. I mean, I love the ACC. I grew up on it. But I’m tired of throwing out the record books annually for teams that do not play here.
We have Wake Forest, but does Wake Forest have us? Their best games play out in different arenas across the state — inaccessible to the common watcher — and their recent history has left fans without anything to hold on to.
We have approximately 500 colleges in the area, but they all play in different divisions and conferences, making their games spectacles for a few students rather than important capstones to great seasons. UNCG, Guilford College, A&T, High Point University, Winston-Salem State — they play in all kinds of sports, but without much riding on the game. Regional pride plays a small part in the equation, sure, but the onus to sell out to a rivalry falls on the fans.
Two weeks ago, HPU and UNCG scheduled a game in High Point, but rain caused the schools to cancel the game. Not postponed, but canceled. That’s hardly what rivals do.
At War Memorial stadium, A&T played High Point to a scattered crowd, most of them run off early in a rout. I asked a few of them how they felt about their neighboring city as a rival.
“This game doesn’t do much for either team. They aren’t even in the same conference,” Ray Grant said. He graduated from HPU in 1947.
“This has nothing to do with High Point. I came to watch my son,” Mark McMillan said. His son plays for A&T.
“I’m not sure those schools really know each other exist,” Chris McSween said. He’s taught at both of them.
The fans’ intelligence has grown exponentially in sports. They know nothing will come of an out-of–conference win or loss in a long season. Regional lines cannot make them accountable for the Triad’s lack of sporting power.
Even the Winston-Salem Dash and Greensboro Grasshoppers play in such radically different divisions that games between the two serve no purpose.
So, what can we do? How do we create virulent hatred?
Aside from impossibly realigning collegiate conferences, we cannot. The denizens of the Triad must rise up and demand a feud. We must revolt. And I’m all in, provided there are a few ground rules.
Blood rules. There should be some blood. I’m not calling for fighting or stabbing here, but maybe an historic battleground lies directly between two colleges. Or we can play up a team’s allegiance with the British somehow and make this a Revolutionary War cry. Is one school particularly Russian? That plays well again, right?
Size matters. If a school has more people and more money, that should absolutely play into this. Class wars never fade, so perhaps a smaller school’s fan base can muster up some old fashioned jealousy/hatred for the crosstown rich kids? Maybe a public school versus a private school? It works for the Triangle.
No Love. In a game like this, Triad denizens must demand perfection. That means, no falling in love with people in the opposing team’s colors: no Wake Forest gold, no Spartan blue, no Grasshopper green. Once we figure out the teams, keep it in your pants — these allegiances will dig deep. For those of you already married, Triad City Beat will recognize annulments if/when the court system fails you.
Team Bars. Obviously city bars will have to host fans of these teams. Just keep it clean, kids. I know we search for a deeper connection to our teams/cities, but you we must keep it within reason. If a local bar flies a flag you don’t trust, keep walking.
Free Rides. The casual fans need to be involved, here. If we were to pick Guilford College as a team in this rivalry, most people will not have gone there, but do you think all the ACC fans went to Duke or UNC? Hardly. We all have to tolerate hangers-on, though, if we want this created hatred to work.
The Triad deserves a real rivalry. If we can follow the rules and migrate towards our own institutions, we can birth the greatest thing any tri-state area has going for it: pure, unadulterated bloodlust.
I’ll be checking back with possible rivalry games in the future but until then, remember: Hatred is its own reward, but we have to earn it.