[Ed. note: Hyperbole alert! Some of what you are about to read may be slightly overwrought.]
There have been darker times: like a losing record, national disgrace and the probation that came along with it.
There have been worse seasons: like the 14-14 Bombinos year that featured a 50-point ass thumping by Kansas and last season's mediocre-a-thon.
But there has never been a time in UK's storied basketball history in which it's been less pleasant, less entertaining, less gregarious, or more embarassing to be a Kentucky fan. And what's so remarkable is how little of it has to do with the team, its coach or the product on the court.
Take an hour and surf around the web. Read the stories 'written' by the local media. Read some of the name-brand (Scout, Rivals) message boards. Listen to sports talk radio in the Bluegrass and beyond. Tell me you're enjoying yourself. I won't believe you.
And lest you think this is some jeremiad against the already well-documented "Unreasonable Expectations," it's not. I have covered those plenty, and they do make for a thoroughly lousy way to follow the Cats.
No, this is about what it means to be a fan(atic), to be a part of a group bigger than you and your barstool buddies, to express pride in your team, your players, yourself. It's about collectively doing none of those, and obsessing about all the wrong things.
We are a Nation (Blue & Big) invaded by envy, shattered by schadenfreude, run through by emotions run amok. And it's killing us. Already we as a fanbase have a national profile so increasingly negative and universal that it's hard to imagine what could change it. Winning a national title would not. In fact, at this point, I'm of the opinion that a heightened level of success would only embolden our critics in the national media, beset upon as they would be by a nasty and petty Kentucky faithful whose sole purpose too often appears to be self-congratulations.
This attitude, this state of being, is a process years in the making. It comes from a deep-seeded sense of entitlement, from lessons learned from praying at the altar first of a prideful Coach Rupp, then again at his natural -- if much-removed -- successor, Rick Pitino. These are men whose outsized egos so perfectly encapsulated what must be in the true hearts of our Big Blue brethren that we pine for them today, like broken boys left standing alone, waiting for a long-departed queen, perpetually stuck at the prom.
Perhaps it is because of Tubby Smith, and I'm sure that will be the first answer of the Dynasty Offenders. Their litany of issues with the current head coach is so often repeated, Karl Rove could have drawn up the battle plan. But this goes deeper than that, and longer. These issues within us are not solely racial, and those whose attitudes have even the remotest skin color roots are easy to spot, and even easier to dismiss.
I'm talking about the way we represent ourselves, as if each of us owns a part of the Wildcats mystique and subsequently refuses to share it. Tubby Smith merely signed onto this trail of tears, and for all his faults, his graciousness and willingness to turn the other cheek to our collective hysteria is perhaps his greatest strength.
Maybe I've been away from my home state too long to understand it. Or maybe I've been willfully ignorant to it all along. Has it always been this way? I knew Kentucky was a border state, afflicted with a deep-seeded duality that while once palpable and bloody was now little more than Red vs. Blue, Hall vs. Crum, silly and simple. Or so I thought.
Putting aside the numbers pro or con, the proofs and stats and facts, the goddamned truth, why does it have to be this way?
Who among us earned the right to dictate who or what is right, who are the guardians of the program's specialness, who knows and who does not? And it no such roles exist, why then do we spend so much time genuflecting on our own place in the stratum of fandom? Witness this very long-winded tirade ...
Isn't basketball supposed to be fun? Even if you take it seriously, as clearly I do, isn't there supposed to be a point beyond which you shrug your shoulders and say 'Well, it's not what I expected, but it's mine'? And why, if you do not agree with those questions, is the impulse seemingly so irrisistably strong to lash out at those who disagree, on whatever points?
I'm at a loss here.
For every Tubby Smith 'apologist,' there is a fan so blind to the realities of the college game that he refuses to admit parity is upon us. For every Tubby Smith 'hater,' there is a fan whose loyalty to his program's coach is so great that he cannot break from his belief that it will all be OK if we just keep saying so. For every screed in defense, there are howls of protest. And vice versa.
Will it end? Can it end? And if so, how? Does any right-minded person, at this point, honestly believe that a new coach will not face the same internal divisions, only affixed to some alternate facet of the job? Can you imagine a Jay Wright, a Billy Donovan, a Mark Few were he to win 17 games and face a pending NIT bid?
I don't even want to think about what that man might face. Fact: Smith has never really come that close. Last year and the 2000-01 season were easily his worst, and both crossed the 20-win plateau. Last season's 8 seed in the NCAA tournament was by far Tubby's worst. Never has his team sweated out a yes/no Selection Sunday, merely a where/how.
Maybe there's nothing that can be done. It will continue to eat us from the inside until we even suck the fun out of winning. We've nearly done so. Our current team won 11 straight games, is second in the conference behind an admittedly superior Florida team coming off a national title. With a talented, if flaky, junior class featuring two McDonald's All-Americans -- the standard by which even the whiniest of Tubby detractors sets talentwise -- there is ample opportunity for both improvement and success. And yet, so few are talking about winning, and so many focus on losing.
We are beset by envy on the recruits we did not get. So much so that it is almmost begrudgingly that folks in the Commonwealth will talk about how good our current group of freshmen is, what they contribute. We didn't get that guy, Tubby 'whiffed' on this other one.
Maybe it's always been this way and I was too caught up in my own hopefulness to see it. Maybe the Internet has just brought out those backroom benchsitters and made them anonymous heroes. And, sure, maybe a little winning is all it will take to cure our ills. But I don't really believe that.
Would a bounce here or there in the 2005 Elite Eight have wiped out the naysayers? Hardly. To hear our fans talk, the last 'few years' have been down. Nevermind that 2-seed, 2OT loss. We're so obsessed with what isn't happening, with theoretics, we can't even allow ourselves to enjoy the success we do have. And there is lots of it.
How many of us wake up excited about our program? How many of us look forward to next season? Seems to me like very few. And don't try and chalk this up to some "ten-loss" Tubby business. This is bigger than one man, and flies in the face of all facts. Next year would see a stellar senior class take the lead and a talented group of freshmen grow into sophomores and become the backbone of the bench. And yet, all we can talk about is recruiting.
It's sad and frustrating. I wish I could do more than just write my own complaint sheet here, but I'm sort of resigned to the situation. It's certainly bigger than this one little blog. It's an infestation, and it's killing us slowly.