Mike Rutherford, owner and operator of the excellent Louisville Cardinal blog Card Chronicle, and who also serves as SBNation's college basketball editor, recently wrote an article for SBNation entitled, John Calipari has become 'larger than life' at Kentucky.
Before I continue, allow me this: I (sort of) know Mike. I like Mike. He's been a guest on Wildcat Wednesday (1340 WBGN) with me at least once, and I've emailed back and forth with him about a few different things over the last three or four years. He's always been pleasant and polite, and he's outstanding on the radio. But ...
Upon reading the headline, my brow furrowed with a question, as I thought to myself, "I wonder if he pulled it off?" The "it" I refer to is Rutherford's ability to be objective with his words (not that objectivity is something one finds on the sports pages anymore), because as anyone who has read Card Chronicle with any regularity knows, Rutherford HATES Kentucky (yeah, those are caps). I don't mean he has an aversion to the 'Cats, I mean he hates UK with passion equal to his love for the Cards. I don't know this for sure, but I would wager Rutherford would cut off half of his left pinkie if UK would just ... go away.
I understand Mike, because I'm a lot like Mike, only inversed.
As I settled in to read his column the first question that popped into my was, "How will he handle the vacated wins?" Will he beat Cal to death, as many other writers and talking heads do, or will merely mention and move on?
After Rutherford calls Calipari's "attitude" while he was at UMass "contentious," citing the "John Chaney" incident as an example (Chaney threatened poor Cal with bodily harm after a UMass/Temple game in xxx), he continues with this about the vacated Final Fours:
"Then, most infamously, there are his 1996 and 2008 Final Four banners, which have been taken down at UMass and Memphis, respectively, after the discovery of NCAA violations."
Compared to the libelous nonsense I've read writers like Jeff Goodman (the most devious sort of fellow) and Pete Thamel espouse in their respective Calipari/Kentucky columns, Rutherford comes off looking like a Cal sympathizer with his one-sentence shot across the bow.
Later in the piece, though, it seems Rutherford insinuates that UK's biggest, most passionate fans reside in eastern Kentucky.
"Stop a random man or woman wearing blue in Eastern Kentucky and chances are strong that they can tell you how many national championships the Wildcats have won, the number of Final Four banners hanging from the rafters inside of Rupp Arena, and how President Kyle Macy would have flawlessly solved the American health care crisis."
In order to be more accurate, Rutherford should have began the sentence this way; "Stop a random man or woman in any part of Kentucky and chances are strong that they can tell you ..."
Rutherford's neglecting to recognize the far-reaching shadow the Big Blue Nations casts over the entire state can surely be overlooked, though. After all, being outnumbered by such a significant number of troops has to be intimidating to Card fans.
His shot at UK's fans love affair with Macy, well, I have to admit, I thought it was pretty funny.
Rutherford, perhaps suffering from "championship drought" (a condition which strikes fans of schools who have gone 26 or more years without a national title), ends his piece this way.
"For Kentucky fans, the price of Calipari's success is the familiarity of the program so many of them grew up with. No more four-year contributors, no more border war with the Hoosiers and no more game to appease the palate of the oft-tortured Wildcat fans in Louisville. And that seems to be alright with Big Blue Nation.
"These are Calipari's Cats, and this is Calipari's Kentucky. At least until he stops winning."
My, and other Kentucky fans' "familiarity" with the program is based on a long history of great teams, great players, and great coaches. Possibly not having, as Rutherford puts it, "four-year contributors" under Coach Cal, is inconsequential to me, as it is to most other Kentucky fans, and it certainly doesn't qualify as a "price" to pay for success.
The short-time college super star is simply a product of a bad NBA Player's Association rule. And it's better to take advantage of it, than be taken advantage of. It is, though, good to know Rutherford has confidence that Cal will continue to incinerate the recruiting trail with a Big Blue blowtorch, rendering UK absent any four-year contributors.
As far as not playing Indiana. I'll miss watching the game, that much I know. But don't so quickly place the blame squarely and solely on Cal's shoulders, Mr. Rutherford. Kentucky offered to play IU, in Indianapolis, two years in a row, with only one return game required. I'm not sure anyone -- with the exception of IU AD Fred Glass and Tom Crean -- could ask for, or expect a more generous offer.
But it is this Rutherford quote from above, that is uniquely priceless " ... and no more game to appease the palate of the oft-tortured Wildcat fans in Louisville."
Hey Glenn Logan (who lives in Louisville), you feel "tortured?"
If "tortured" means insanely happy and content, with a touch of giddiness, then color Louisville-based 'Cat fans tremendously "tortured." I believe it's four straight wins for UK over UofL, the last soul-pleasing victory coming in the "tortuous" 2012 Final Four.
And It's Kentucky that's the talk of college basketball; it's Kentucky who has to shoo away top-10 recruits because the cupboard is full; it's Kentucky with 11 first round NBA Draft selections over the last three years; it's Kentucky with three national titles, and six Final Fours since Louisville last cut down the nets on the last day of the season; it's Kentucky who has owned Louisville since 1999, winning 10 and losing four, and going 21-11 against the Cards since the rivalry renewal in 1983.
In the here and now, regardless of where UK fan resides, whether it be Mayfield, Pikeville, Covington, or Louisville, what's happening in Lexington is an embarrassment of riches. A burgeoning juggernaut. In other words, pure "torture."
Finally, Rutherford, with his last sentence, succumbs to pure projection, aka, wishful thinking, with his Cal-is-king-of-Kentucky "At least until he stops winning" theory. Here, I don't really blame Rutherford. If I were a Louisville fan, even one briefly disguised as an objective writer, it would be difficult at best to not wish gloom and doom upon the 'Cats and their fans. It's simply the nature of a smoldering rivalry.
Overall, I thought Rutherford did a nice job with the piece. He's a very good writer who wields a sharp pencil, and I don't mind him pulling it out every now and then to give 'Cat fans the business, even if it is for SBNation and not Card Chronicle.
It is Kentucky vs. Louisville, after all. Being purely objective is generally not an option.
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!