It's that time of year again when basketball mania is cranked up in the Bluegrass. Both Louisville and Kentucky find themselves ranked in the top 20 but with plenty of questions to be answered when the ball tips on December 28th. But there has been plenty of chalk talk on the site in the past few days. Ken Howlett and Glenn Logan have done a masterful job in this respect. I'm here to provide the Big Blue Nation with a story about why I have such a disdain for the Louisville Cardinals.
I'm a diehard Kentucky fan that lives in the Louisville area. I was born into a Wildcat family but I was brainwashed at an early age by a sinister pre-kindergarten teacher into becoming a Cardinal fan. This hurt my father's feelings to no end, but he supported me and even purchased Louisville gear for me to wear. I will never know the toll this truly took on his soul.
As the years went by I became more and more aware of how inferior Louisville was to Kentucky in basketball. My extended family used to gather for every Louisville vs. Kentucky basketball game and they were majority Wildcat backers. My cousin Chris and I were the only two that rooted for the Dirty Birds. Year after year, we were caught at the short end of the stick as Rick Pitino routinely knocked off Denny Crum. I stuck by the Cards but in the back of my mind I knew something was amiss. It didn't feel right. (And by the way, Chris is now a Kentucky fan as well).
I sat down one day and asked myself, "Why do I like Louisville?" After a decent amount of time, my 14 year old brain came up with the following rationale:
- I wasn't raised a Louisville fan. I was about five years old when I decided to like them because I thought the bird was pretty cool and I really wanted to please my teacher. Grades and scholastic achievements have always been very important to me. That's why I'm currently in the business of education.
- Denny Crum wasn't very cool and Freedom Hall was kind of a dump. My uncle took me there to watch a WWF event and I wasn't impressed.
- The Louisville players weren't very cool either. Tick Rogers, BJ Flynn, DeJaun Wheat and Bozack Smith were definitely not as cool as Tony Delk, Anotoine Walker, Jamal Mashburn, Derek Anderson and Ron Mercer. It wasn't even close.
- At the time, it had been 11 years since Louisville last won a national championship game.
- The only time I ever saw my dad cry was win Christian Laettner hit The Shot. Clearly, Kentucky basketball meant something to the fans on an emotional level that other fan bases could not comprehend.
- The Cardinal bird mascot wasn't cool at all. In fact, is quite lame. Birds don't have teeth. It's nature, folks.
I quietly made the decision the switch my allegiances back to where they rightfully belonged with the Kentucky Wildcats. I didn't tell anyone for a while as I didn't want to be branded as a bandwagon fan. But then the 1998 title happened. I fell in love with Tubby Smith and the Comeback ‘Cats. I was hooked from that point forward. I discarded my red and asked for blue. I came back home and it felt great.
Strolling Through the Park One Day
Fast forward to the early spring of 2013: Kentucky had been ousted in the first round of the NIT by some team named after some dude named Robert Morris and Wildcat fans were at their lowest since BCG trudged along the sidelines.
Kevin Ware Mania had gripped the nation and for the first time in recent memory, Louisville basketball was back on the map in a big way. Somehow, someway, they had become America's team.
I had resigned to not watch the Final Four or the national title game if the Cards were to get that far. I didn't want to pay attention to it; my Facebook page was already filled with Cardinal hubris and "Win 4 Ware" statuses. I had had my fill and was at peace with ignoring the crowning weekend of college basketball for the first time in memory.
My lovely wife had scheduled family pictures on Final Four Saturday (fellas, you know the drill). We were in a park in Louisville with our one year old son posing next to trees with broad, happy smiles. As were walking along a small road, I spied two elderly gentlemen sitting on a park bench. They were both dressed in Louisville garb and watching us as we approached. It was about two hours before game time and we were about halfway through our photo session.
As we walked by the men, they started waving at us. Being friendly, I waved back at them. We walked over to where they were sitting, on our way to the next photo friendly destination when one of them asked me, "Where are you all watching the game?"
I didn't quite know what to say, so my wife answered for me as sweet as could be, "My husband is a Kentucky fan so he isn't really interested in watching Louisville play today." By the expressions on their faces you would have thought that my wife had just told them that I was about to rob them blind and leave them for dead. They looked shocked, confused, disgusted, and genuinely hurt.
One of them piped up and said, "What do you mean he doesn't care? How dare he not cheer for the Cards? It's good for the city! Kentucky ain't in it! Cheer for Louisville!"
I politely told the gentleman that I really had no interest in the game and that I wasn't a fan of Louisville. He again spouted the same line, "It's good for the city if they win. Cheer for them." At that moment I became angry. Last season when Kentucky was in the national title game, I could count on my fingers the number of Louisville fans that rooted for Kentucky to win the national championship game because it was "good for the Commonwealth". Most Louisville fans I talked to were converted Jayhawk faithful. In fact, there was an open thread on a rival blog that was filled with the normal disgusting drivel.
I then posed the question, "Did you root for Kentucky to beat Kansas last year in the national championship game?" He stared blankly at me and then said, "Go Cards".
It then hit me how much Louisville fans actually hated Kentucky and how delusional they were to the fact that they are just as obnoxious, maybe even more obnoxious, than Kentucky fans. Louisville fans were downright offended that we weren't cheering for them, our biggest rival.
And this is where my dislike for Louisville really manifests itself. It's not that I dislike their players or coaches (OK, I actually dislike Rick Pitino, but that's another post topic); I dislike the attitude of the fan base more than anything.
They have a perception of themselves as cheering for the good guys. They think that everything about UK and UK fans are evil and wrong, which is totally fair to a point. But to call Calipari a cheater while giving Clint Hurtt a pass; or calling a Demarcus Cousins a thug while lauding the return of Chane Behanan; or calling Kentucky fans rednecks after they burned couches after the 2012 title but excusing riot police responding to celebrations after the 2013 title as fans just celebrating is downright embarrassing and disingenuous.
This is why I don't like Louisville. It's the hypocritical nature of the fan base. This is why I will be rooting as hard for Kentucky to win this game as I have in any rivalry game in the past. Because I can't get over the smugness and the faux humble persona.
A win would mean a final blow to the dreaded "Year of the Cardinal" that we've been hearing about for the past few months. How many people actually watched that documentary? Maybe 55% of Jefferson County?
I have family members and dear friends that are Louisville fans, my brother and my wife specifically, and I love them with all of my heart. But the rivalry is real and it is palpable. There are two days out of the year when we tread lightly around one another. When it's all over and feelings are no longer hurt, we come back together and talk about it while trading new smack talk.
This is all part of the rivalry experience and I'm completely OK with it. Both sides have their share of knuckleheads, but I feel our knuckleheads are a little more tolerable than theirs.
Go ‘Cats, Beat Louisville.
P.S. Just for fun: