​The South’s Oldest (and Oft Forgotten) Rivalry

welsh

Virginia is an even 7-7 against UNC since former coach George Welsh retired in 2000. 

Ask any self-respecting Virginia student who our rival is and they will undoubtedly answer, “Virginia Tech, of course.” Now, I love beating the Hokies just as much as the next person, but in my four years at the University I’ve noticed that, to most students, Virginia Tech seems to be our only rival. What I want to know is: why not UNC?

The tradition between the Cavaliers and the Tar Heels on the playing field stretches back over 120 years to 1892, when the two teams first competed in football. In that first year, the schools split two contests held little more than a month apart, and the series has been a regular fixture ever since. The teams have played a total of 119 times — more than they have faced any other program — and continuously since 1919. No two schools in the Southeast have played as often or as long, leading to the series being nicknamed “The South’s Oldest Rivalry.” In addition, only two series between BCS conference schools in the entire country have been played more: Minnesota-Wisconsin and Kansas-Missouri, both primary rivalries for the teams involved.

Now let’s compare this to the “Commonwealth Cup” with Virginia Tech. The first thing to notice is that the name of the Virginia-Virginia Tech rivalry isn’t nearly as cool. There’s not much intimidation or interest about a commonwealth or a cup. But the name “The South’s Oldest Rivalry” brings images of a Hatfield and McCoy-esque hatred to mind — a fight which has been going on for so long no one knows how it started, just that they’re not supposed to like the other side. And at 96 games — starting in 1895 and only being continuously played since 1970 — the Virginia-Virginia Tech series has been played over 20 times fewer than Virginia-UNC.

The longevity of the rivalry in football isn’t the only source of pride — the teams are incredibly balanced when it comes to beating each other. The record currently stands at 61-54-4 in favor of UNC, although Virginia is 20-11-1 since 1983. As a recent graduate (as of May), I have had the misfortune of seeing the Cavaliers drop all four contests against the Heels during my time at the University, including a hard-fought 28-27 loss this past fall. Virginia won the previous four before dropping the latest five to UNC, and I can just tell a new winning streak will start this year when the Cavaliers pay a visit to Chapel Hill.

Again let’s compare the rivalry with the Heels to the rivalry with the Hokies. Virginia Tech holds a 15-game edge at 54-37-5, including winning the latest 11. Playing the team from Blacksburg every year is a pretty dismal experience. Whether we lose by a little or a lot, it’s pretty much a constant that we lose. The Cavaliers have won just a single game in the series since the great George Welsh — that historic coach who brought Virginia to national prominence (at least for a little while) — retired in 2000. For as fun as it is to hate a team, it’s a lot more fun to beat them. That at least happens more than occasionally with UNC, and any good rivalry needs both teams to win often enough to keep it interesting.

Another thing all good rivalries have is scandal. Auburn-Alabama had Harvey Updyke, Stanford-Cal had the band on the field, and Virginia-UNC had Ronald Curry. For those who don’t know/remember this infamous figure, he was one of the most highly touted recruits to ever come out of the Tidewater region of Virginia — a stellar football and basketball player who overshadowed even Michael Vick, then still in high school. On September 4, 1997 during a nationally televised game between Virginia and Auburn, Curry verbally committed to the Cavaliers, and all was well. With the top QB recruit in the nation, Virginia didn’t recruit Vick, who would, of course, go on to play for Virginia Tech. Seven months later however, at the insistence of his high school basketball coach, who claimed he would have no shot at the NBA with the Cavaliers, Curry pulled a move out of “Game of Thrones” and stabbed Virginia in the back, flipping his commitment to rival UNC. George R.R. Martin must have felt bad about the maneuver, as Curry went only 1-3 on the football field against the Cavaliers and never made it to the NBA.

The South’s Oldest Rivalry has the history, the competitiveness, and the scandal to match up with any other series, just not the emotion from the fans. And why not? Both Virginia and UNC are top public schools that draw from the same pools of students, have very similar social scenes, and compete on every athletic field (not just football — look to soccer, basketball and lacrosse as well). The passion of the rivalry between Cavaliers and Tar Heels needs a revival, especially with the hated Terrapins having left the ACC for the Big Ten. Games against UNC were more than just another conference matchup in the past, and they definitely have the potential to get there again.

Peter Nance was co-Sports Editor of The Cavalier Daily’s 125th staff.

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