Christmas came four days late in Kentucky’s largest city. The University of Louisville beat the University of Kentucky in men’s basketball 80-77, snapping a four-game losing streak to John Calipari’s Wildcats.
This annual game creates an emotional explosion in people all across Kentucky. It’s not just a game, fans of both teams will exclaim. It’s THEM. The Bad Guys. The Ones We Shall Never Embrace.
A 2010 flippant Calipari comment about his school’s lone footprint was inflated into the merchandising slogan “Louisville Doesn’t Exist.”
Some Cardinals fans label Calipari as “PayPal Cal,” suggesting that he’s paid players in violation of NCAA rules. Not true. He’s suggested new guidelines to allow for stipends.
Skepti(Cal) Louisville fans got a fresh “told you so” moment after the game when game film showed two Kentucky players did a secret switcheroo at the free throw line but that wasn’t necessarily at Calipari’s direction. UK officials later said the right player took the free throws. The video shows otherwise.
It is the madness of college basketball in a state with a myriad of other treasures that all become secondary to hoops.
And the losers typically smother their pain in sarcasm. From @NotJerryTipton on Twitter: “Louisville fans totally pumped right now. It’s like food stamps are being handed out, if they handed out food stamps once every 4 years.”
Kentucky is the reigning national champion with a terrific new team and an incredible recruiting class waiting to begin play in the fall of 2013.
None of that matters when there is joy in Louisville and disappointment in the rest of Kentucky.
Rick Pitino, “Traitor Rick” to many Big Blue faithful, once coached Kentucky in a blazing hot streak of Final Fours and one NCAA title. Now that he coaches “Little Brother” Louisville, some Cats fans say it’s like watching your ex hook up with your worst enemy.
Louisville’s athletics department is hailed as one of America’s most profitable. Kentucky needs to upgrade its home arena to best Louisville’s shimmering new KFC Yum! Center (financing challenges notwithstanding).
Pitino and Calipari have had a long, competitive relationship that’s fueled by mostly non-verbalized respect. They’re practically the same guy.
And the fans of blue and red are really the same guy; they just don’t want to redneckognize it (Thank you, Honey Boo Boo). Earlier this year, two geezer patients in a Georgetown, Kentucky dialysis clinic went to fisticuffs over UK and UofL’s first ever Final Four meeting.
Seconds after this latest game ended, UK fans were quick to go online and derisively reboot the Cardinals slogan/hastag L1C4 “Louisville First, Cardinals Forever” to “Louisville one, Calipari four.”
UofL fans love to taunt UK fans for burning couches in the streets during Kentucky’s recent championship run.
Back in March during Final Four week, Calipari famously told media members that his aggressive fan base is “nuts.”
Calipari: “Let me just say this. Our fans eat everything. They are piranhas. If you have an agenda, and you write a story that is agenda-driven, they will take out everything you have written and prove it wrong and then look at your background and look at what you’ve done,” Calipari said. “If you are going to attack Kentucky, just be right. If you have an agenda for another coach, to create something, I’m just telling you they are piranhas. They will come and eat your yard, your house. These people are nuts.”
The truth is that Louisville fans are nuts when it comes to this game, too. There is a segment of Louisville fans that believes Kentucky fans are racist. Other Louisville fans are stuck in the 1980s when Denny Crum’s Cardinals were dominating the game. Some Louisville fans taunt Kentucky fans for UK’s pre-Calipari history of multiple NCAA violations.
All American sports fans talk smack. Go anywhere and Big State U gets most of the public funding, political power, and fan base. Little City U controls the metropolitan area but is looked upon warily by the residents of the state at large. Ohio State/Cincinnati, Tennessee/Memphis, Penn State/Pittsburgh…it’s the same template everywhere else but in Kentucky, BASKETBALL IS KING.
And that’s what makes Kentucky’s statewide craziness so fun. You’re either aligned with the brawny bully State U or digging in with the City U underclass. It’s all good.
There’s nothing new to basketball insanity in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Yahoo Sports writer Pat Forde, then of ESPN.com, captured the craziness in 2005 when Louisville advanced to the Final Four as Kentucky fans had to stay home and pray for anyone to stop UofL from winning it all.
Their prayers were answered when Illinois blasted Louisville out of the national semifinal game.
Louisville fans should rejoice today. Kentucky fans should savor their status as defending champs.
There’s another come-to-Jesus basketball game on the way. Could be in March. Could be in December. Go ahead and start talking now. Yesterday’s game is in the books.