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When It Comes To The Louisville-Kentucky Rivalry, Middle Ground Is Hard To Find

Rivalries. They produce some crazy stuff.

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Nothing defines college sports more than rivalries, and the willingness to go out and say intemperate things about a rival. It’s part of the fan experience, and we at A Sea of Blue are certainly (happily) guilty of mocking, deriding, and having a little good-natured fun with all our rivals, particularly the Louisville Cardinals.

Mike Rutherford has a piece up over at Card Chronicle entitled "Humility, grace and the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry" that is little more than a chest-thumping demonstration of the inferiority complex that the Cardinal faithful have to live with every day. It was an amusing read, and I’m going to take just a minute or two to respond to a few of his points.

But before I do that, let me point out that Mike and I have no personal issues that I know of. We have met, sat beside one another at the 2012 Final Four, had some nice conversation, and have always been on cordial terms. But when one of us tees it up, it’s only fitting that the other respond. That’s how rivalries work, after all.

For whatever reason, prudence and civility seem to be a pair of traits that our friends 75 miles to the East have yet to master.

Astonishing. One need only read Card Chronicle’s comments, then read those at A Sea of Blue to make this remark seem absurd in the extreme. I have no problem with how Mike runs CC, although he definitely takes a much more liberal view of decorum than I do. But leaving that aside, Cardinal fans imagining themselves masters of propriety compared to Kentucky fans is risible in the extreme. I get that all fan bases have a self-styled sense of moral and intellectual superiority over their rivals, but I detect a heaping helping of hubris in Mike's writing that makes the "humility and grace" title look juuust a bit outside:

You can’t ask me to lay off the softballs, I’m afraid.

Before you assail the "prudence and civility" of another fan base, it is usually wise to have your own house in order. I get that Cardinal fans see themselves as urbane, cosmopolitan, and better educated than Kentucky fans. However, you can scour the Internet until your Google-y eyes bleed blue hunting for a site where Cardinal fans can have a rational conversation with each other, let alone others, without all-consuming hatred and disdain for Kentucky seeping out. At least here, we hold it mostly to disdain and it doesn't seem to infect every conversation.

So for all this supposed moral superiority, Cardinal fans’ actions more closely resemble BIFD (butthurt in the first degree, hat tip: Popehat) than the mild-mannered rectitude Mike ascribes to them.

The top-ranked recruiting classes, the No. 1 rankings, the unprecedented amount of NBA Draft picks and, most recently, the pursuit of perfection – it’s all led to an increasingly popular sentiment from Kentucky fans that the Wildcats are the college basketball equivalent of Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide. The rightful ruler of the hardwood ready to take the baton from its SEC brethren once the final whistle blows in mid-January.

Where to start with this? How about with the fact that even Alabama fans see Kentucky as the basketball equivalent to their school’s dominance, or so I have heard a number of them profess. Whether or not it is a useful simile is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but it’s hard to argue with results that place both programs competing for their respective sports’ titles every year. Certainly Louisville basketball doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Crimson Tide football.

The Cardinals are pretty good, no doubt, but I don’t think you could find anyone outside of the River City who would suggest the Louisville program has even been close to Kentucky in terms of either recent or historical success. This is a fact, and as we know, facts are stubborn things, and feelings are… well, feelings.

Kentucky has received No. 1 votes in each of the last three preseason coaches and Associated Press Top 25 polls, and has started the last two season as both set of voters’ pick to cut down the nets at the end of the year. In those three seasons, the Wildcats have lost in the first round of the NIT, been a No. 8 seed which advanced all the way to the title game before losing to a No. 7 seed and become the first team in college basketball history to start a season 38-0 before bowing out in the national semifinals.

It’s a résumé that is more eccentric than it is impressive.

Again, where to start? If Louisville were to have this record rather than Kentucky, I can well imagine Mike would be singing hosannas to the historical greatness of his favorite program, and rightly so. Yet when it is Kentucky who has earned such a breathtaking scope of success, BFID must be redressed by characterizing it as "eccentric," and therefore somehow less than impressive. After all, to properly describe it as the remarkable, even historic achievement that it is would require — dare I speak it? — humility and grace.

Regarding the NIT appearance, did it escape Mike’s notice that Kentucky lost Nerlens Noel, one of the best young players now in the NBA, to a season-ending injury halfway through SEC competition in that year? I think that’s important, don’t you?

One of my favorite things about being a Louisville fan is that the average red and black supporter celebrates wins and is saddened by losses. I will take that option every single time when the alternative is being satisfied by victories and infuriated by losses. Sorry if that comes off as too boastful.

It would be boastful, indeed, if it were true. Alas, we all know very well, and all too personally, that it is not so. But if that’s how Mike sees his world, who am I to come in and inject discordant blue reality into his comfy little red and black universe? I hope he will say "Hi" to My Little Pony for me.

To me, this is less of a brag than typical of the "We are so much better than them because we’re cool city-dwellers and they’re country bumpkins" argument you will find in many large metropolitan areas in reference to us "country folk."  Sadly, it’s the same sort of specious stereotype most Americans have to live with every day in one form or another, it’s just reconstituted into a form that fits the argument. But legend has it that it is the country folk who are notable for their gentility, and it is the city dwellers who are known for their brusque, excessive, and offensive mannerisms. Louisville must just be special, I guess.  Either that, or you know, because cognitive dissonance.

In Mike’s defense, none of us are free from confirmation bias and partisanship when it comes to our favorite teams. But regrettably, too many fans subscribe to the mock-worthy and misappropriated concept embodied in the famous Barry Goldwater quote about liberty; "Extremism in the defense of [insert your favorite team or cause here] is no vice." Extremism is always a vice, and partisans of both sides who engage in it feed the perception of universal insanity among college fans. Kentucky, sadly, as well as every other group of self-identified sports fans (including, contra Mike, Cardinals fans) has always had their fair share of nitwits.

Mike seems to love to use the nitwits as a broad-brush with which to paint every rival fan.  Humility and grace indeed.