Kentucky vs. Louisville…My rambling thoughts

Every year since 1994, that it was possible, I had Louisville vs. Kentucky in my brackets.  Every year except this one.  So state of Kentucky…YOU’RE WELCOME!

My father rooted for the Cardinals.  He loved watching Never Nervous Pervis Ellison lead Louisville to the 1986 title.  I’m sure he loved watching Louisville win the 1980 championship as well.  I don’t know since I was only 3 at that time.

After the Cubs lost in the 1984 playoffs, my dad and I came to an unwritten agreement.  Outside of the Chicago Bears, we would not root for the same things so we could pick on each other in jest.  Since dad was a fan of Louisville, obviously, I started cheering for the Wildcats.  I will never forget my dad calling me one day on the phone while I was going to the University of Kentucky.  He was watching a UK game which happened to be airing on ESPN2 on tape delay.  I had just gotten back to my dorm room from the game when he called.  He was picking on me because UK was losing.  I told him that the game was already over and that UK won.  He didn’t believe me.  We stayed on the phone for about 20 minutes “arguing” about the outcome of the game before the tape delay showing of the game ended and I was right.

Having gone to the University of Kentucky and then having lived in Louisville for 5 years after getting out of college, I know how passionate the state of Kentucky is about college basketball.  Louisville routinely has the highest television ratings for tournament games.  The city is very intensely split with Cardinals, Wildcats and even Hoosiers fans.  No one can deny that there are many more UK fans in the state than there are U of L fans.  The fact that there are so many UK fans living in Louisville and even going to the U of L makes Louisville hate UK that much more.  They can’t understand and they definitely don’t like it.

UK hates Louisville because they are the loud mouthed little brother that keeps trying to prove they are better.  When I was going to UK, I sensed a respect for Louisville but also seeing them as an annoyance.  Sort of like how a bigger brother would view their competitive little brother.  However, that has changed over the years.  The two schools started playing in football and since UK football sucks all kinds of ass, Louisville has more or less controlled that series.  Kentucky then started to have trouble in basketball as well as Tubbyball became slow, tedious, unwatchable and unwinnable.  UK started to see Louisville as a threat.  Then the unthinkable happened for UK fans.  A man that had brought UK back from the brink of extinction became a “traitor.”  Coach Rick Pitino saved the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team.  On severe probation and almost receiving a death penalty a la SMU in football, Rick Pitino left the NBA and came to Lexington. He kept UK competitive in the bad times and then returned them to prominence.  He got them back to the Final Four in 1993 a year after The Unforgettables played the Greatest Game Ever against Duke in the Elite Eight.  He put together the best basketball team in history and won the 1996 national championship with a roster that had 9 players go on to the NBA.  NINE.  Think about that.  The next year, he got them back to the national championship game and they would have won if Derek Anderson hadn’t blown out his ACL.  After 3 Final Fours and 2 Elite Eights in 6 years, Rick Pitino decided to return home and take a boatload of cash to run the Boston Celtics.  He left the UK cupboard so well stocked that Tubby Smith won the national championship the following year and made it to the Elite 8 the year after with Pitino’s players and then never had much success after that with his own players.

How did UK fans respond to Pitino leaving for the Celtics job?  They called him a traitor.  They called him a sellout.  They taunted him on talk shows and radios when any one of them would have done the same exact thing.  It wasn’t unanimous among UK fans.  However, a couple of years later when Pitino was fired from Boston, he decided to return to coaching in college.  He decided to become the coach at LOUISVILLE!  The hatred for Pitino in Lexington became pretty unanimous after that and all of a sudden, the heated rivalry became a blood feud.  Baby brother won the support of mom and was now the favorite son.  Pitino worked his magic quickly and got Louisville to the 2005 Final Four and Louisville was beating UK at football AND basketball.  Then after UK finally gets John Calipari as coach, Pitino’s long standing hated coaching rival, the “traitor” label becomes complete when Pitino says that qualifying for this Final Four with Louisville is the greatest night in his professional life. Better than the 1996 national championship.  Better than the Greatest Game Ever.  Better than the 1993 or the 1997 Final Four.

On March 31, 2012, the dream game will be upon us.  Kentucky vs. Louisville in the Final Four.  Big Brother vs. Little Brother.  Coaching rivals that can’t stand each other after numerous UK vs. UMass and Louisville vs. Memphis slugfests.  A fan base that wants the blood of a traitor.  A state torn apart by the state religion…basketball.  I can’t wait and neither can anyone in the state of Kentucky and neither can CBS.  The ratings should be unbelievable if they do even an ounce of promoting all the drama involved in this matchup.


Go Big Blue.


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