Kentucky basketball fans are ecstatic, frenzied, and nearly berserk in their support for their teams.
And that’s just the other 364 days of the year.
Saturday — when Kentucky plays in-state, arch-rival Louisville in the NCAA Final Four — things will be much, much more extreme. Given the importance of the game (winner goes to the national championship) the state has descended into madness, the rivalry amplified to what one local paper has called “Civil War.”
And I’m disappointed.
This should be the state’s finest hour — our place in the limelight of the national stage — not a brother vs. brother fight to the death. For years Kentucky basketball fans have fantasized of a match-up where the two state powerhouses would battle for national supremacy. This dream game should be a moment where Kentuckians stand in solitude and smile as the rest of the country looks at us in awe. Instead, Kentuckians are at each other’s throats.
Vitriol between the warring factions has been unrestrained. Message boards are lighting up as pro-Kentucky and pro-Louisville fans exchange sentiments that include, but are not limited to, “I would rather have a sister in the whore house than root for UL.” (Thanks Kenny H, on March 26, at 9:19 p.m., you’re really painting Kentuckians in a grand light.)
The blogosphere has also run amok. Kentucky Sports Radio, a senselessly biased Kentucky Wildcats blog, almost demands that all heretics meet the axe.
“There’s no way support two entities so fundamentally opposite from one another,” Matthew Hayes says (bad grammar included). “Some of the unenlightened might try to hide behind the excuse that they root for all teams from Kentucky but that’s just cowardly.”
It’s disgusting. And Hayes is out of his mind. Two “entities so fundamentally opposite” — what is this, a chemistry lesson on acids and bases?
Sure, there is a disparity in the quality of each team. This season’s Wildcats are a godly combination of pure athletic skill and amazing team chemistry. Louisville is a scrappy squad led by Rick Pitino, Kentucky’s ex-coach, who in the 1990s made the Wildcats into the modern national power house, then jumped to the NBA, then joined what is known as “the dark side” to Kentucky fans.
I write as a Kentucky Wildcat fan (duh), but one who has also attended both Kentucky and Louisville. I am a rare breed, though.
The state has historically been split between fans of the Wildcats and the Cardinals. I don’t know what it is like to be Palestinian or Israeli, North Korean or South Korean, or someone from Northern Ireland, but I know Kentucky hate.
Once, during a Kentucky-Louisville football game, a Louisville fan drunkenly yelled at me as I walked by, saying that Lexington (the city UK is located in, and where the game was being held), was “dirt.” I, in response, walked up and kicked dirt on his leg, drunkenly saying “Welcome to Lexington.” (Ironically, I began attending the University of Louisville a couple of months later to work on my master’s degree.)
So, yeah, it can get passionate.
But it shouldn't get overly-passionate now.
As a Kentuckian living abroad (in New York City), I’ve always been an unabashedly vocal diplomat for my state. I rep Kentucky blue, but damn do I love when Louisville beats up on some other team, preferably one on the east coast, specifically when it’s Syracuse or UCONN.
Kentucky has a lot to prove to the rest of the country, and when the basketball teams from the state dominate the rest of the country, it feels … awesome.
Because Kentucky really isn’t seen as an awesome place.
Kentucky ranks in the top 5 most obese states in the nation (hard to argue). The state is the third most “depressed” (psychologically) in the nation. Louisville — the state’s largest metro area —is the 5th saddest city in America (I actually really enjoyed living there). Staggering stuff.
The rest of the nation considers Kentucky to be a back-water (don’t lie, you know you do). “Do they wear shoes where you’re from?” has been a frequented line to Kentuckians whenever they travel outside of state boundaries.
And still war, not celebration, dominates the state.
On Saturday, the great Louisville v. Kentucky game cometh.
If you’ve made it this far into the story, I would encourage you to play this song, to set the mood.
I’m a (state of) Kentucky fan. On Saturday, I’ll be rooting for both teams.
Editor’s Note: Chris predicts Kentucky will win by 15. And then win the national championship.