So it finally happened. For the first time since February of 2007, NC State managed to hand us an L. And while there is some solace to be found in the fact that I haven’t had to witness a loss to State since I was a freshman in high school, Saturday night’s game was still a hard pill to swallow.

Following the buzzer, I acted against my better judgment and decided to brave the hornet’s nest that is my Twitter feed after a Carolina loss. As could be expected, there were more than a few heated arguments taking place and plenty of wolfpack fans moronically laying claim to North Carolina as “their state”.

Scrolling through the drivel and seeing the countless hash tagged “#GTHC”s, I found myself convinced of something that many current UNC students still like to deny: NC State is our rival.

There, I said it. State is our rival. Though very lopsided when measured in terms of banners and statistics (someone pointed out to me on Saturday that State could beat us in basketball twice a year for the next 35 years and we’d still maintain more all-time wins in the series), what the Heels and the Pack share is most definitely a rivalry. How can I be sure? There’s just too much hate for it not to be.

To fully understand my evolving viewpoint on the matter, it would probably help to have a little background. As a fourth generation UNC student, I (like so many others) consider myself a Tar Heel born and bred. To this day, my dad is incredibly proud of the fact that some of my first words were “Duke sucks”. Really, it’s no wonder that I grew up with an unwavering contempt for all things Duke blue. Coach K and his self-righteous crew of floppers and floor-slappers were just so…well, hatable.

This being said, I never quite understood why my dad seemed to truly relish victories over the Wolfpack. I knew all too well the value of sticking it to the Blue Devils, but NC State? In my mind they were irrelevant. There were always plenty of Duke fans with whom to trade smack talk, but my grade school years were pretty much devoid of any encounters with State backers. So who cared if we beat the wuffies?

Then things changed. My senior year of high school arrived, and with it came the social clamor surrounding college acceptance letters. In the span of a few weeks the number of Wolfpack fans at my school grew exponentially. Suddenly there were just as many people in red as there had ever been in dark blue. What’s worse, several of those people were my friends.

This is why Raleigh will forever remain on my radar. You see, while our clashes with State might not always live up to our battles with Duke on the court, they are always much more personal off the court.

Which leads me to the difference between Carolina-Duke and Carolina-State: some of the things that make the Carolina-Duke rivalry so great are the same things that keep the student bodies so very separate. UNC is, after all, a public school with a state-mandated 82% of each freshman class coming from within North Carolina. Inversely, a quick look at Duke’s demographics reveals a paltry 14% of students coming from in state.

In this respect the two universities are opposites, a fact which may go a long way towards explaining to outsiders why the schools find it so hard to get along. But as a student, what is it like to be part of the Hatfield and McCoy story that is UNC-Duke? Apart from the compulsory exchanging of taunts at athletic contests, you really have no interaction with your undergraduate counterparts at that school 8 miles down the road. This is, quite simply, because you don’t know any of them. While you may know dozens of people from high school who joined the ranks of the wuffies over in Raleigh, odds are that you’re not on a first name basis with very many dookies.

Though a win or loss to NCSU might not garner recognition on a national scale, it’s much more important in terms of earning bragging rights in your own backyard. On February 23rd, I fully anticipate reclaiming those rights from the first row of the risers. I suppose for now, though, all we can do as Tar Heel fans is sit back and let the Wolfpack howl (it is, after all, what they do best). Perhaps the best way for us to avoid repeating the events of Saturday night is simply to recognize that this triangle we occupy has a third point. Strangely enough, it isn’t a shade of blue.

You can follow Alexon Twitter @ajcollette

image by katie bailey / dth