Kentucky Wildcats: A Non-Partisan NCAA Championship Game

USA TODAY Sports

Cheer for the Cardinals? I'm being told that's what I should do. Here's why that won't happen.

For those of you who are fans of both Kentucky and Louisville, and I know there are some out there (and I used to be one), this is not for you. I recommend you don’t waste your time reading it, and for heaven’s sake, please hold your sanguine commentary in consideration of those of us who are afflicted with the "can’t be a fan of both" disease.

If you’re like me, you’re a Kentucky fan, and Louisville is the enemy rival. That’s rule #1 for most Wildcats fans. We’re used to living it every day.

This year, however, the universe has seen fit to bless our rivals with numerous very good sports teams. From the victory in the Sugar Bowl over highly favored Florida, to the more-or-less expected success of the men’s basketball team, to the shocking run to the final game for the women’s basketball team, this is a year that Cardinal fans wouldn’t have dared to dream about at this point last year.

Sometimes that happens in sports, and we have to give our foes credit for a job well done, even when it pains us to do so. Matt Jones at KSR penned this article today which made a couple of salient points that I’d like to expand upon. First, a bit of brutal honesty:

Watching it from the land of Blue can be difficult to stomach. If you are like me, this past week has been a bit more than a Kentucky fan should reasonably be expected to handle. Louisville friend of mine often say to me, "you are just jealous!" and at least for this week, they are right. While I would never want to actually be a Cardinal fan (or have to use the phrase #L1C4 in anything but a mocking tone), this week has been hard not to envy.

I agree 100% with Jones on this point. It’s hard not to envy the Cardinals’ success this year, and I would be less than truthful if I didn’t admit to feeling somewhat green-eyed as well. They have had a lot of things fall their way in a short time, and it has been a fortuitous combination of good fortune and hard work on their part.

But jealous or not, we have to respect what they’ve done even as it galls many of us to do so. Their teams have played extremely well all at the same time, and that sometimes happens. Perhaps that will eventually happen at Kentucky, and given what we know is going on, I’d say our chances are good for the future. But the now belongs to the Cards.

So as we sit on the cusp of the national championship basketball game that includes Louisville, with another to follow for the ladies tomorrow night, I’ve found myself wrestling with what to do. But first, a bit of history.

I was, long ago, like some of those fans to whom I addressed the first paragraph of this missive. When Louisville went to the championship game in 1980, I cheered them as lustily as I did Kentucky in 1978. That all began to change after I joined the U.S. Navy.

This is probably too much information for some, but the U.S. Naval Submarine Force is the kind of place where you must check any sensitivities you have at the door. If you don’t, any weaknesses you have will be ruthlessly exploited by shipmates trying to get a reaction. That’s a particular problem in the close quarters of a nuclear submarine, and so I quickly learned to disguise anything that irritated me from others, lest I invite an endless set of explorations of whatever drove me crazy.

And it came to pass in those days the advent of the Dream Game, that first meeting between Louisville and Kentucky back in the 1983 Mideast Regional final that began the modern series. The crew, of course, knew what a basketball fan I was (having suffered many beatings at my hands on the court) in general, and Kentucky fan in particular, and most of them took the side of Louisville in that game due the press repeatedly mentioning Kentucky’s refusal to play the Cards during the regular season. Naturally, when Louisville won in overtime, I had to suffer in carefully-arranged silence. The newly-discovered bandwagon fans had their days, and I became less enamored with Louisville.

Despite that, after separating Naval service, I was still favorably inclined toward the Cardinals – that is, until I got my first post-Navy job, which happened to be in Louisville. After exposure to multiple Louisville fans every day, and especially their insufferable smugness during the investigation and probation beginning 1989, I became disinclined to support Louisville anymore. A few years later, when the program was resurrected under Rick Pitino, I got to experience the shoe firmly on the other foot, and even though I declined to return the venom, I experienced significant schadenfreude, and I doubt my smugness escaped the notice of my Cardinal fan co-workers.

Which brings me to now. So what do I do tonight? Consider this from Jones’ piece:

And speaking of "True Blue" UK fans, a change has occurred throughout parts of the state that has also been troubling. Due in part to the Ware injury, and in part to some bizarre notion of "state pride", many UK fans are seeing folks trying to guilt us into supporting the Cardinals for a title win. This reached its crescendo today when Lexington Mayor Jim Gray suggested UK fans should "get behind the Cardinal Red on Monday."

Now maybe I missed something, but I don’t exactly remember a groundswell of support from Card Nation last year as UK went for a Championship. Beyond Rick Pitino’s supposed "bring the title back to Kentucky" statement to Calipari at the end of the semi-final (which I have a hard time believing was either (a) said or (b) if said, heartfelt), I dont recall much movement from the UL faithful to "get behind the Wildcat Blue." In fact, I recall the opposite…a city full of newly-found Jayhawk supporters hoping to keep "that dirty, cheating Calipari and his one and done nomads" (actually they didn’t use the word nomad because that would have required too great a vocabulary) from realizing a dream. [Editor’s note – "Mercinaries" is the official, press-sanctioned description among UK/Calipari haters.]

Uh-huh. I seem to remember that, too, and numerous call-in shows where Louisville fans would reiterated their desire for the Wildcats to be unsuccessful in their attempt to claim their 8th national title.

So forgive me if I cannot support the Cardinals tonight in their quest. At the same time, I don’t feel comfortable actively supporting their opponent – I do have some emotional investment in Louisville, even if it is mostly to see their brains beaten out on the basketball floor at every available opportunity by the Wildcats. I still get excited remembering Rex Chapman’s abuse of the Cardinals in December of 1986.

So tonight, I am an agnostic about the winner. Rather, I will cheer good basketball, be it Cardinal or Wolverine, and may the best team win. I will be happy to offer my heartfelt congratulations to the winner, whoever it is.

It may not be sexy, but it’s the best I can do. Sorry, Mayor Gray – your request is respectfully declined. It's just a bridge too far for this Kentucky fan.

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