Why Sports Fans Should Be Game to Visit North Carolina

Luke DeCockSummer is the perfect time to explore a new state or rediscover treasured destinations in your home state. With two daily routes ready to deliver you to the best spots in North Carolina,  we headed to Tobacco Road to talk sports with one of the state’s top sports columnists, as if you need another reason to check out the Tar Heel State.

Luke DeCock has worked in Raleigh, N.C., for The News & Observer since 2000. Over the last 14 years he’s covered several Duke-North Carolina games, ACC and NCAA basketball tournaments and, yes, even the Super Bowl. We sat down with the Evanston, Ill., native to learn more about some of the Triangle’s hidden sports gems.

Our trains go to Raleigh, Durham and Cary, so we understand how awesome the area is. What about it might surprise people who’ve never been?
It isn’t one big city, so it’s relatively easy to get around and generally accessible, but collectively, the area has all the amenities of a much bigger city, most notably some fantastic restaurants. You get the best of both worlds that way. That’s especially true of the sporting scene, where you have three major college programs with passionate followings — North Carolina, North Carolina State and Duke — crammed into a relatively small space along with a professional team, the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes. There’s even a thriving curling club.

What’s your favorite sports memory from working at the News & Observer?
The Hurricanes winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. The idea that there would even be an NHL team in North Carolina had seemed fanciful only a decade earlier, let alone win a championship. The entire area rallied around the team, bringing fans of the different college teams together in an unprecedented way, and the entire arena stood for all of the deciding Game 7.North Carolina Trains

Duke and UNC can be fighting words in North Carolina. Can the weekend visitor stay impartial and still enjoy the rivalry?
Absolutely. The passion for college sports in this area unites residents even as their specific loyalties drive them apart.

It’s easy to soak up that intensity without even going to a game. Just wander through either campus — including Krzyzewskiville, Duke’s famous tent city where students camp out for tickets to upcoming basketball games — or strike up a random conversation at a sports bar, because just about everyone has  a strongly held and not-so-flattering viewpoint to share about their rival. Sometimes watching the fans react can be even better viewing than the game.

For sports fans visiting the area, what are some of the best can’t-miss attractions?
In Durham, only a few blocks from the Amtrak station, is the old Durham Athletic Park where the movie “Bull Durham” was filmed. It has been renovated, but in almost every way still looks the same as it did in the movie. The Bulls now play in a new, modern stadium not far away. The famous bar scene in the movie was filmed at Mitch’s Tavern, just off the N.C. State campus.

If readers can only take one train trip to the Triangle, what matchup should they go to?
Duke and North Carolina get all the headlines, and deservedly so, but that rivalry is as much a national phenomenon as it is a local one. The rivalry that splits more families in this area is North Carolina and N.C. State, the two largest public schools in the state. And needless to say, tickets aren’t quite as hard to get.