FanPost

Kentucky-Duke: An Example of My Sometimes Irrational "Sports Hate"


Late last week, I intended to compose this as a FanPost, but I got busy and didn't get around to it. Then, I tried to write a condensed version as a comment on Glenn's excellent article about the history of the UK-Duke rivalry. That got too long, so now it's back to being a FanPost. So enjoy and relate, or laugh at my irrationality, or just skip it because it's too dang long. Thanks for letting me post.

This post serves as somewhat of a catharsis for my nervous energy before the game, and to illustrate how totally irrational and inexplicable "sports hate" is. I'm a logical guy; I'm a friggin' INTJ on the Myers-Briggs, in total contrast to this post. Of course, I bear no actual ill will toward any of the folks named herein, and the content may be a little over-the-top (although probably not as much as you think).

Despite head-knowledge to the contrary, my heart says Kentucky-Duke is all about 1992. It was my second year as a serious UK fan, and I was 10 years old. My family was made up of some casual fans at best, and I didn't really know what all this probation stuff was about. I just knew that the Unforgettables were my guys - especially Richie Farmer, for some reason - and anyone that beat them was evil. I did mostly understand that the game was deep in the tournament and really important. I wasn't as mad about The Stomp in real-time as I was on further review. What got me was The Shot.

Sean Woods was supposed to be the hero of that game. That ridiculous floater going through the basket was the basketball universe's way of condoning my fandom, of letting me know that these were, in fact, the good guys who were destined to win it all. The mere seconds remaining on the clock were a formality - a brief interlude before the inevitable. I do remember wondering - even at 10 years old - why someone wasn't guarding the inbounds pass, but with child-like faith I accepted that Rick Pitino knew exactly what he was doing, and this too, would be seen as a stroke of genius. Until it wasn't. Of course, we know what happened. It was a great shot by a great college player. It's part of the game. But for me, it remains to this day a cruel act by a cruel man (ironically named "Christian")... spoiling the unfettered hopes and dreams of a 10-year-old child.

I didn't even really know what or where Duke University was at that point, but my sports hate for them began that night in my grandparents' living room. I remember a few months later when our church's youth Sunday school literature came in with a person wearing a Duke shirt on the front, and we all X'ed out the "D" and "E" in protest. I remember smiling to know that the greatest team of all time - the 1992 Dream Team - shunned Laettner as "the college guy" and his out-of-placeness on that team is forever documented on my Dream Team poster that has him very obviously Photoshopped in beside the great ones. I remember being glad he went to the abysmal NBA team in Minnesota and never became the dominant force some people thought he would be as a pro. I remember in 1998 when church started late because half the congregation was still in the parking lot listening to the game on their car radios. I celebrated, but it wasn't enough. I remember the ridiculous commentary by Billy Packer ("What's he doing to Wojo?") that solidified my already substantial sports hate for him. I remember learning about the Myron Piggie incident and the subsequent NCAA refusal to act. But it all lies on the foundation of The Shot.

Fast forward several years to when I join ASOB. I found reasoned commentary about how this was still a great game, how it signaled that Kentucky was back from probation faster than anyone thought possible, how it was just a guy making a great play. That's all true, my head knows. Many opine that some combination of time and the rematch in 1998 has healed the wound for them. In a post I'm too lazy to look up and link, Ken even wrote about how The Evil One was nice to him at the UK vs. Villains game, and for a moment, I considered that he might not be so bad after all.

But comes now the first meeting between the two in 11 years, and the old feelings well up inside me. Thoughts of the elation of once again beating the team with the not-quite-right shade of blue mix with the anxiety of knowing the game could go the other way. This is unthinkable. They are still the enemy... Enemy Number 1. Forget Bobby Hurley, Trajon Langdon, Myron Piggie, Corey Maggette, Wojo, and now Lance Thomas... all loathable in their own way. Forget the Duke fans, of whom I know few, but I've been told how annoying they are. Forget even Coach Ratface and the way his profanity-laced tirades against the officials get them to call fouls on flop after flop. Duke is Christian Laettner, and they are evil. No number of UK wins, no number of former Dukies that I have grown to actually like (Jay Bilas, Grant Hill, Elton Brand, etc.), perhaps nothing ever will change this for me. So when Coach Cal talks about making this an annual series, I worry my heart can't take the anxiety of seeing this team for which I hold such unbridled, vehement, irrational, (and yes, a little silly) sports hate every year, of knowing that a victory will be sweet but a defeat so much more bitter.

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