I do not have to tell you about the lack of love lost between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals. This in-state rivalry is heated no matter how good or how bad either or both teams are. Smack talk happens, insults are flung, and we always can count on it happening whenever we approach any game where the two teams face each other. We cover mostly football and basketball, but the game is always ramped up, even if it is the academic teams pitted against each other.
The weather was perfect for football, at least in my eyes. A cool, crisp morning and a sunny, slightly warmer, gorgeous afternoon. Just the Saturday before I had braved the elements and sat through terrible heat for a football game. Heat that I promise no football player wearing full pads and helmets should not have to play in. This weather day was welcomed by players and fans alike.
We arrived bright and early to park and make the trek across University Drive, gear in tow, to meet up with our tailgating crew. We were not fortunate to find blue lot passes, but the orange lot was close enough to be grateful for a spot. We knew our party had set up the tent the evening before and we sort of knew it's location. Who would have thought it would have been so difficult to find a blue tent, on an island, straight down from Gate 11? I know, right? The fact that cell service at Commonwealth is a near impossible facility caused us all to resort to playing by old school tactics. I sometimes laugh at the youngsters when they are disconnected. There was life before cell phones, we just had to be more creative. After what seemed like four miles and 178 wrong blue tents, we found their blue home away from home.
My constant urging of others that morning to be early did not go as I had planned and the 'Cat Walk, sadly, I missed. I hardly waited for an introduction to our hostess when I learned that she had just returned from Gate 1 and had been there for it all. My inquiring mind needed the details and I wanted it all. She filled me in with how Coach Stoops carried his youngest with the older walking alongside. I felt the moment when she almost teared up just talking about it. She smiled proudly as she described how sharp the team looked all dressed up. I could tell she bled blue. I could see it on her face. Blue was in her soul and I felt what she saw.
It was almost game time and we made our way through the lines at the gate and at the 'refreshing stations' in time for the coin toss. Honestly, the lines for the little boys room was longer. I kid you not. I have been saving that information to share all this week.
I have no idea how many houses divided there are among the two teams, but trust me, there are many. Fans in our section happened to be privy to many couples that were obviously among that statistic. The first obvious ones sat directly in front of me and politely spoke as they climbed over us to get to their seat. As she asked for my forgiveness I smiled and jokingly commented how she and her family could proceed but I could not forgive her attire choice, a black shirt with a red bird on it. We both laughed and she reminded me we were all friends. I concurred. Then I watched another blue/red couple wander in, and another, and another. They were everywhere. As for me, I cannot comprehend sleeping with the enemy, but to each his/her own.
From the first Javess Blue kickoff return the fans were in this to win it and I could feel it. A quick three and out quietened us only momentarily. The Cards quickly returned the favor with three quickies right back at us. The crowd cheered with each Wildcat gain and cheered with each Card stoppage or loss of a yard. On each of the Cards third down's the crowd noise was almost metal band-concert-loud and I was certain that we were aiding our defense with getting Teddy and company off the field. We stomped and clapped and screamed until I was certain my voice would still be missing on Monday morning. You can imagine the velocity of the cheers when Za'Darius Smith and Alvin Dupree finally got open to sack Teddy Bridgewater in the second quarter. I think the crowd was waiting on the edges of their seats for that one.
Halftime came and the UK was only down by seven. A margin many thought would be larger than life, but that hadn't happened. Kentucky had fight in their veins. I sat at halftime reflecting, watching both schools bands co-perform My Old Kentucky Home and while it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside, I was still watching the time clock tick. I was ready to continue with the game. I hoped our young Cats were just as ready.
When UofL scored their first touchdown in the second quarter, I noticed a slight change in the atmosphere. The crowd became a bit more subdued, but I laid it aside and blamed it on the happy flowings of the pre-game parties starting to wane . The Cardinal divide of the split couples were noticeably louder and the blue half a lot more reserved in the latter half as 'Cat fans awaited some spectacular game-changer to miraculously happen.
I do not need to tell you all how this one ended on the scoreboard. Our 'Cats did not come out on top, but I think they landed firmly on their feet. They fought the fight and did not give up. I came away from this game feeling a lot more optimistic than even I had hoped. The vibe around Commonwealth was electric, in a way I have not witnessed in a long a while. The lone air raid siren is not what I will remember about this game. The players really wanting to excite us fans is what moved me.
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!!